The last two times he has hit free agency, Dirk Nowitzki has re-upped with the Dallas Mavericks on multi-year contracts that came in well below the top dollar he could have commanded. All told, the 7-foot sharpshooter left an estimated $88 million on the table in those negotiations to reduce the hefty luxury-tax bill that owner Mark Cuban faced for shelling out high salaries year after year in hopes of fielding a winner, and so that Cuban and general manager Donnie Nelson could have the financial flexibility to pursue complementary talent to pair with Nowitzki in pursuit of NBA titles.
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It worked once. Dirk’s $16 million 2010 haircut helped Dallas swing the deal that imported Tyson Chandler and provided the wiggle room to add or retain multiple pieces (Brendan Haywood, Ian Mahinmi, Peja Stojakovic, Corey Brewer) who all contributed to the first NBA championship in Mavericks franchise history, the one that saw Nowitzki play the best ball of his life to lead Dallas past the Year 1 Big Three Miami Heat and into the ranks of the game’s undeniable greats. It hasn’t worked since, though, and after five years without a single playoff series victory despite Nowitzki giving Cuban a Joakim Noah contract-sized discount back in 2014, the 38-year-old future Hall of Famer got quite a make-up call in free agency, according to longtime Dirk whisperer Marc Stein of ESPN.com:
The Dallas Mavericks and face of the franchise Dirk Nowitzki have finalized their expected new deal with another bump in pay that sets up the star forward to earn $50 million over the next two seasons and play until age 40, league sources told ESPN.
Sources said Friday that the Mavericks have tacked an additional $10 million onto the original two-year, $40 million contract that the sides, as ESPN first reported, agreed to earlier this month.
The new pact, sources say, calls for Nowitzki to earn $25 million in each of the next two seasons, though he has said repeatedly that he will decide about playing beyond 2016-17 after gauging how he feels at season’s end.
The second year of the contract, sources say, is fully guaranteed for $5 million of the $25 million at the Mavericks’ option, although any decision about Nowitzki’s playing future is expected to be made in conjunction with owner Mark Cuban, given the long-standing and close bond the two share.
The new deal comes on the heels of Nowitzki opting out of the final year of his previous three-year, $25 million pact, which would have paid him $8.7 million for the 2016-17 season. He’ll nearly triple that next year.
As Tim Cato of Mavs Moneyball notes, even a $20 million average annual value would have represented something of a friendly deal for a player who certainly could have commanded a maximum-salaried contract that topped the $30 million mark. There’s a reason why the Golden State Warriors reportedly had interest in Dirk if their pursuit of Kevin Durant didn’t pan out; the dude can still roast an opposing defense with the best of them.
Though he’s as creaky as horror-movie floorboards after 18 NBA seasons, Nowitzki remains one of the league’s more consistent and effective offensive focal points, averaging 18.3 points in 31.5 minutes per game on 45/37/89 shooting splits to lead last year’s Mavs in scoring. With Dirk on the floor, Dallas scored an average of 107.7 points per 100 possessions, which would have been the NBA’s fifth-best offensive efficiency mark during the regular season; with him sitting, the Mavs cratered to 100.6 points-per-100, which would have been its fourth-worst, slotted in between punchless units in Phoenix and Brooklyn. When Dirk isolated a defender to attack one-on-one, he produced the same number of points per possession as NBA MVP Stephen Curry. When he went to work in the post — which he did on more possessions than all but five players in the league last year, often from his now infamous office at the nail or the high post — he produced the same number of points per possession as MVP runner-up Kawhi Leonard.
Nowitzki just keeps climbing the all-time scoring list, passing Shaquille O’Neal this season to move into sixth place. He will enter the 2016-17 campaign just 509 points shy of reaching the 30,000 mark for his career, and 1,928 points behind Wilt Chamberlain for the No. 5 spot. Health permitting, a new two-year deal figures to give Nowitzki, who scored 1,372 points in 75 games this season, a real shot at topping the Dipper. Perhaps more importantly to the German, it could also set him up to join Kobe Bryant as the only players in league history to spend 20 seasons with one team.
Nowitzki’s desire to match the Mamba on that score, and his seemingly ceaseless loyalty to the franchise that traded for him on the night of the 1998 NBA draft, is inarguably admirable. Since that magical 2011 run, though, the Mavericks’ braintrust has struggled to hold up its end of the bargain and make contending-caliber moves worthy of Dirk’s devotion.
After winning the 2011 championship, fearing a frightening financial future under a new collective bargaining agreement, Cuban and Nelson dismantled Dallas’ core. They allowed Chandler, Caron Butler, J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson to walk in free agency, and made a disastrous bet on Lamar Odom, resulting in a first-round knockout that set the stage for what has been a half-decade marked by failures to woo top free agents: Deron Williams and Dwight Howard in 2012, Chris Paul and Howard in 2013, Carmelo Anthony in 2014, DeAndre Jordan in 2015, Mike Conley and Hassan Whiteside this summer. Despite his continued excellence, “Chopped” Champion-level work of combining mismatched ingredients by tactical genius Rick Carlisle, and all those hometown discounts, Dirk has spent the autumn of his career outside serious contention, never making it out of the first round and finding himself at home by early May to watch younger, better constructed and more complete squads vie for the sport’s grandest prize.
With reported top targets Conley and Whiteside staying home with the Memphis Grizzlies and Miami Heat, respectively, and hoped-for post-Dirk star Chandler Parsonsing join Conley in Tennessee, Dallas once again found itself forced to make the best of second- and third-tier options. They plucked the Warriors’ cast-offs, helping Golden State make room for Durant by paying $95 million for Harrison Barnes and sending out a second-round pick for Andrew Bogut. They brought back Deron Williams and Dwight Powell, and brought in Seth Curry, and filled in the blanks as best they could … which they’re able to do thanks in large part to Dirk, the linchpin who still lights dudes up and makes life easier for his teammates, even as he readies for Year 19.
“Dirk gets to do whatever he wants to do, period, end of story,” Cuban said last month, according to Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com. “Dirk gets to do what Dirk wants to do. If Dirk wants to be the head coach, we’ll move Rick over a little bit. Dirk’s [done] so much for this franchise that he’s earned that opportunity.”
Dirk had the choice to leave for one last crack at glory, but instead he chose to sign up for more of the same. The Mavericks might struggle at times on either end of the floor, but they’ll compete, they’ll get better contributions than you’d expect from guys you thought were cooked, and they’ll win enough to vie for a playoff spot. It won’t be thrilling and it won’t be new, but after all those discounts, Dirk finally got made whole. He’ll get $50 million to keep getting venerated by everybody he sees, and he won’t have to pay movers. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.
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