By holding on to Dirk Nowitzki and overpaying him to finish his career, the Dallas Mavericks probably doomed themselves to a few more years of mediocrity, which is similar but still so different from how the Los Angeles Lakers handled the Kobe Bryant situation in his final two years.
It seems like the Dallas Mavericks have given up. On what? On trying to compete for the best players in the market. Nowitzki spoke about the free agency situation a bit earlier in the offseason, not quite understanding why is it that the top free agents don’t consider the Mavericks as a prime destination. Every year, the Mavericks usually land a meeting with the hottest chip on the table, but are never front runners. Maybe it has something to do with the city, the franchise, Cuban, or even Nowitzki himself?
The Mavericks aren’t tanking. They’ve decided to do this: Give Nowitzki a cushy retirement phase. They’ve gotten a bit weaker compared to last season, probably, while Nowitzki himself becomes a little bit older, and have put a lot more money into making him happy. Not too long ago, Cuban wasn’t happy with the money Nowitzki was making while he was still nursing his injury, missing almost half of the 2012-2013 season. Nowitzki took a massive pay cut to help the Mavericks compete in free agency. Now, he’s one of the highest paid players in the NBA, making $25 million a season over the next two, possibly his last in the NBA.
In this interesting post by Tom Ziller on SB Nation makes some comparisons between the way Nowitzki is probably going out, and how the retirement seasons of Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant went. And the bottom line is commending the Mavericks for giving Nowitzki a big contract at the end of his career, as Cuban said during the summer that Nowitzki will get whatever he asks for, and that’s that.
And this reminds me of the Lakers putting Kobe Bryant ahead of everything during his last two years. They gave him a two-year contract which ruined their cap space, enabling them to go on a tanking process, or simply realizing they’ll be forced to because of cap limitations, and no superstar wanted to play next to Bryant. But the Lakers were criticized for tanking and ruining Bryant’s final years, while Bryant was criticized for cap-blocking the Lakers, not to mention his ego and presence ruining the development of younger players.
So why are the Mavericks classy for paying Nowitzki as much as possible, and maybe even above market value? Why isn’t Nowitzki seen as someone who is standing the way of the Mavericks getting better? Obviously, it has a lot to do with perception and the opinions on both players. But Bryant, despite some good nights, was clearly not the same player, even when healthy, ever since the 2012-2013 season and even before. Nowitzki has declined, obviously, but not as much as expected, making him somewhat of an ancient wonder still roaming the league, kind of like Duncan in his final years, although a lot more capable of taking on offensive duties and responsibilities.
I’m not a fan of tanking. I prefer to see teams, including the team I support, doing everything possible to compete for a playoff spot, instead of fall into the abyss of constant losing while gambling on hoarding draft picks and relying on ping pong balls and not good management, coaching and player development. The Mavericks are somewhere in between, hoping that once the Nowitzki era is truly over, it won’t be too difficult to pick up the pieces.