Shortly after celebrating his 38th birthday, Dirk Nowitzki has a decision to make: Go back to the Dallas Mavericks to sign what might be his final contract in the NBA, or take a chance, and try to find somewhere he has a better shot of winning a championship at.
Nowitzki is a free agent. Like most offseasons, it seems the Mavericks are losing to everyone, or simply not in the competition, when it comes to signing impact players. Harrison Barnes could come over if the Warriors don’t match the max contract offer sheet the Mavericks signed him to, but it isn’t enough to make a team to battle the best in the West. And while it seems impossible imagining Nowitzki playing for someone else, a lot depends on what his priorities are at this point.
He very well may be 100% sure he wants to finish his career in Dallas. He’s the all-time leader for the Mavericks in pretty much everything. The only MVP this team has ever had. An NBA champion and Finals MVP in 2011. He averaged 18.3 points per game last season, and has remained quite healthy the last three years, missing a total of 14 games. He’s still scoring 20 points or more per 36 minutes. A little bit slower, a lot older, but he’s pretty much the player he always has been. Not as good, but still special, and unfortunately for the Mavericks, still their best.
The plan was to build a team that doesn’t make Nowitzki its top offensive player. Mark Cuban tried, tried, and always came up short. The big names in free agency sometimes talk to them, but always go somewhere else. Chandler Parsons bolted the moment he had the chance. Wesley Matthews had a horrific shooting season. Deron Williams is coming back, but it’s 2016, not 2010. Justin Anderson is a great guy to have on the team, but when adding all the pieces together, this is barely a playoff team in the West. Forget about championship.
And if Nowitzki wants to be a champion one more time, or at least feel like he’s playing for one, he needs to go elsewhere. With all the money being thrown around, he might even get the same kind of deal the Mavericks can give him. Nowitzki made $8.3 million last season, opting out of his deal. Even if he takes even less money once he signs to help the Mavericks, it won’t help: There simply aren’t enough good players out there to help this team pull a complete makeover. Maybe not even in two years.
Mark Cuban hasn’t done very well when it comes to team building in the luxury tax era, never wanting to venture too far into realms sometimes a team must head into. He’s been able to keep the Mavericks relevant since winning the championship in 2011, but they haven’t won a playoff series since that title. While their 2011 championship team came out of nowhere in a sense, it’s nowhere close this time. We saw that in the series against the Thunder. The Mavericks won’t be better next season, not by enough. Unless Nowitzki has no qualm about a few mores of simply playing, without one specific goal in mind, it might be time to do the unthinkable, and leave.