Dirk Nowitzki didn't exactly make it a secret that he intended to give the Dallas Mavericks the ol' hometown discount when he reached free agency this summer — in fact, he flat out said last May he'd be willing to take "a significant pay cut" and said this March that he "[couldn't] even imagine" leaving the Mavs after 16 years in Dallas. The only question, really, was what financial figure would make both the 7-foot German and the Mavs' basketball brass feel comfortable and respected moving forward.
Well, thanks to noted Dirk watcher Marc Stein of ESPN.com, it seems we've got our answer: three years "in the $30 million range," a $10 million per year average annual value that would represent a very significant pay cut from the $22.7 million he made in 2013-14. (It is, in a sense, pretty fitting that Dirk's chosen this summer to take the same sort of reduction that his longtime adversary, Tim Duncan, took for the San Antonio Spurs when he hit the market two summers ago. Once they decide to hang 'em up, we won't see their like anytime soon.)
Shortly after news of the agreement broke, Dirk went on Twitter to share (a muted version of) the good news:
— Dirk Nowitzki (@swish41) July 3, 2014
(That's "Mavs Fan For Life," to the uninitiated. Get your minds out of the gutter, y'all.)
Nowitzki's new deal will take him through age 39 and maintains his no-trade clause — one of a dwindling few let in the NBA — which should ensure that he does remain a Mav for life. Then again, it also includes a player option "that would allow Nowitzki to return to free agency in the summer of 2016," according to Stein:
Fresh off completing a four-year, $80 million contract in which he left some $16 million on the table, Nowitzki has agreed to take a far steeper pay cut this time in hopes of leaving enough salary-cap space for the Mavericks to sign top free-agent target Carmelo Anthony or multiple contributors with their considerable salary-cap space this summer.
Sources say that the Mavericks intend to extend a lucrative offer sheet to Houston Rockets free agent Chandler Parsons or try to sign Cleveland Cavaliers free agent Luol Deng if Anthony, as expected, elects to re-sign with the New York Knicks.
Nowitzki will come back as, at best, the second highest-paid Maverick next year, thanks to the pre-draft trade that imported center Tyson Chandler's $14.6 million 2014-15 salary from the New York Knicks, but Dirk doesn't seem to mind playing second financial fiddle to the paint-protecting running buddy with whom he won the 2010-11 NBA championship. Whether he'll be busted down to third wheel by the addition of Anthony, Chandler's former Knicks teammate, remains to be seen; the high-scoring forward, who opted out of his Knicks contract late last month, visited Dallas for what owner Mark Cuban called an "all basketball and business" meeting on Wednesday, but the Mavs are considered a long-shot to secure Melo's services.
Simply securing Dirk's, though, is a pretty great move, even if it was one that we all expected. After struggling through a 2012-13 season that saw him miss the first 27 games after arthroscopic surgery on his right knee and miss the playoffs for the first time in a dozen years, Nowitzki bounced back in a big way this past season, earning his 12th All-Star berth after averaging 21.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game on customarily brilliant 50/40/90 shooting splits, while taking 3-pointers at a higher clip (4.5 per 36 minutes of floor time) than he had in 11 years.
He ranked 10th in the league in Player Efficiency Rating (23.6, well above the league average of 15, and his best mark since the '07-'08 season), finished 14th in MVP voting and passed Oscar Robertson for 10th all-time on the NBA scoring list. He teamed with backcourt additions Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis to produce pick-and-pop poetry masterminded by head coach Rick Carlisle, propelling the Mavericks to a tie for the second-best offense in the league in terms of points scored per possession (109-per-100, level with the Miami Heat, according to NBA.com's stat tool) in a 49-33 campaign that ended in a thrilling first-round playoff series that saw them extend the eventual NBA champion San Antonio Spurs to seven games.
It speaks to the remarkable depth of the power forward position in the NBA in 2013-14 that Nowitzki's season wasn't rewarded with a berth on one of the three All-NBA teams; you could've made real arguments for Dirk's efficiency over LaMarcus Aldridge's volume scoring, or for Dirk's importance in pushing Dallas to the playoffs over Kevin Love's gaudier numbers in a lottery finish with the Minnesota Timberwolves, and you probably wouldn't have gotten especially furious arguments. That's how good Nowitzki was, even at age 35, and that's why $10 million a year for him at this point is a pretty beautiful price for Cuban and company.
Now that Nowitzki's locked up to serve as the offensive focal point and Chandler's back in the fold to (hopefully) lead an improvement over a defensive unit that ranked 22nd among 30 NBA teams in points allowed per possession, the Mavericks will have to figure out what it'll cost to keep veteran free agents Shawn Marion, Vince Carter and Devin Harris, and how long they'd have to pay them, to take another crack at competing for a title in the increasingly crowded West. It would also seem to behoove them to pursue a better replacement at the point for Calderon than rising sophomore Gal Mekel and Raymond Felton, the underwhelming baggage that came along with Chandler in the Knicks deal, if they want to continue operating the same sort of shooting-heavy, mistake-light offense that was so successful last season.
Whether or not they're able to retain their key vets and add some additional firepower, though, the Mavericks have made the decision to reward and revere the man who has made them relevant for the past 15 years; they have recognized their saint, and he's smiled on them with a sweetheart deal. Sometimes one good turn begets another.
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