At this point, the Dallas Mavericks seem to be operating with two things in mind: Trying to become a legitimate playoff team in the West again, and giving Dirk Nowitzki the kind of retirement years he deserves.
The 39-year old, who signed a two-year, $50 million deal last season (second year is a team option) is a free again. The Mavericks declined the team option not because they don’t want Nowitzki to play for them, but because giving him $25 million a season at this point (he played less than 27 minutes per game in 2016-2017, missing the playoffs) makes no sense. The plan is to still go on a year-to-year basis with Nowitzki, the best player in franchise history, it’s only MVP and the record holder of almost every possible statistical category the Mavs have. He averaged 14.2 points per game last season, his lowest since his rookie year. However, when it came to per 36 minutes, the drop wasn’t very significant compared to the two previous seasons.
So how much will Nowitzki take? The Mavericks are hoping they can sign him for $4.3 million, their mid-level exception. The Mavs, without the Nowitzki money, have almost $30 million available to use next season. Some of it will go to re-sign Nerlens Noel, who they plan on being a part of their future alongside Harrison Barnes. Burned from bad experiences in previous year, the Mavericks will probably stay away from big-name free agents, who don’t tend to give Dallas a serious thought. Jrue Holiday of the New Orleans Pelicans isn’t going to be someone they go after as well. Dennis Smith, their first round pick in the draft, is someone the Mavericks have a lot riding on, trying to finally steer the franchise in a direction which isn’t about shuffling players every offseason. They haven’t made it out of the first round (if they make the playoffs at all) since winning the championship in 2011.
Nowitzki? It seems he just wants to retire a Mavs player and contribute where he can. Although he might not be too keen on seeing such a significant drop in his salary, he won’t be playing for $25 million – as important as he is to the city and the franchise, it just doesn’t make any sense to pay him so much money. He gave a hometown discount in two seasons (2014-2016), and probably will go in that direction again.
Nowitzki has been in the NBA since 1998, about to begin his 20th NBA season. The 2007 NBA MVP, Nowitzki has a career average of 21.7 points per game. He has 13 All-Star appearances and 12 different All-NBA mentions. While he’d love to make another deep run in the playoffs, it doesn’t seem like he’ll try and chase a ring with a different team. Leaving the Mavericks in a year or two with the franchise in a good position might be the best he and Mark Cuban can hope for as the best European player in the history of the NBA is entering his true twilight years on the basketball court.