Dirk Nowitzki turned 35 last month. He’s been in the league for 15 years. He’s an 11-time all star. He’s an NBA champion. He’s won both the MVP and Finals MVP awards. He’s a sure lock, first-ballot Hall of Famer. Yet, Dirk and Mark Cuban feel like the 7-foot German isn’t ready to hang up his sneakers, or in any case, quit being a superstar.
It’s been three years since the Dallas Mavericks were true contenders; of course, they won the NBA title that year. They didn’t have a big three like the Miamis and the San Antonios. They had a superstar in Dirk and really good supporting cast members.
They had Tyson Chandler, a former defensive player of the year, who Dirk had called “the most athletic center he’s played with” (no offense to Erick Dampier or Shawn Bradley). They had one of the best sixth men, 3-point shooter and 4th-quarter scorers in Jason Terry. They had another Hall of Famer in Jason Kidd, one of the best point guards in NBA history, despite reaching 40 years old. But most importantly, they found a way to win, sweeping the Lakers, beating the Thunder and defeating the big three in Miami.
That’s when the wheels began to fall off the wagon. Cuban was intrigued with getting All-Star free agents, rather than to keep what was good in Big D. He didn’t resign Chandler, spark-plug J.J Barea, Corey Brewer or Deshawn Stevenson, and Peja Stojakovic retired.
Dirk, Kidd and Jet remained intact, but the team didn’t have any depth, on their way to a first-round sweep to the Thunder. Their title defense lasted a mere four games.
The following offseason, Cuban was ready to sign the likes of Deron Williams (who played one year with the Nets) and Dwight Howard (in his last season with the Magic). Cuban had played his cards right up to this point, clearing cap space and ready to sign two max players to team up with Dirk. But on the day of Williams’ meeting, Cuban, rather than sit down himself with Williams and his agent, chose to leave it in the hands of his personnel and go tape an episode of his show, Shark Tank. Whether or not that played a factor in Williams’ decision, we’ll never know, but we do know he went back to the Nets. On the very same day, Jet, who was a free agent, signed with the Boston Celtics.
Needless to say, they also didn’t get Dwight Howard. So now, Cuban and the Mavs were stuck with just Dirk (Kidd went on to sign with New York). They also had aging stars in Vince Carter and Shawn Marion, an up-and-coming rookie in Jae Crowder, but lacked the one thing a good team needs, and that’s a point guard, or should I say, ball-handler (talking about the Heat and LeBron).
Last season, they went on to sign a chunk of decent players, just so they could fill up their roster. They signed Darren Collison, Chris Kaman and O.J Mayo all to one-year deals. It started off bittersweet, as Dirk had knee surgery and missed the first 27 games of the season, but the Mavs got off to a good start, first stunning the Lakers on opening night.
All in all, Dirk missed 29 games last year, averaging only 17.3 ppg (his lowest since his rookie campaign). But as Dirk was finding his groove, good things were in sight, especially after the All-Star break. Dirk averaged 18.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg and shot 51 and 43 percent from the field and downtown, respectively, and the Mavs went 18-12 after the break, which projects to a 49-win season and would have put them as the sixth seed playing the Nuggets in the first round. Instead, Dirk missed the All-Star game for the first time in 11 years and the Mavs missed the playoffs for the first time in 12.
But now, with a new season upon us, a fully healthy Nowitzki (who by the way, is a proud new father), and a cast of pretty good players, those who have been there, done that. At 35, Dirk has a good two to three years left in him, four max. Of course, Dirk, who’s in his final year of his contract extension, has to resign with the team, but has also said he is willing to take less money. The Mavs are set to do damage in the next couple years with a revamped lineup that looks great on paper.
Let’s start with the bench. Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright and Vince Carter return. Bernard James, who the Mavs had to drop in order to sign Monta Ellis, is set to resign with Dallas. Ricky Ledo, Shane Larkin and Gal Mekel are all rookies. Larkin injured his ankle and is set to return sometime in mid-November.
The starting five will be headlined by Dirk and Marion and consist of a different point guard, shooting guard and center for the third straight year. The Mavs signed Jose Calderon to four years, after missing out on Howard. Calderon is capable of running an offense effectively and is a good scoring point. The skillful Ellis, who signed a three-year deal, will be the two guard and no doubt will be the number two scorer on the team. Finally, he’s no Howard, but Samuel Dalembert, who signed on for two years, can defend the paint and grab boards, just like Tyson Chandler, though I think Dalembert is a long-shot at even being in the DPOY conversation.
Ellis, Calderon and Dalembert aren’t superstars nor are close to being Howard or Chris Paul, but things can only get better for the Mavs as Dirk is ready to show the league that he’s not done yet.