Being a Dallas Mavericks fan for 12-plus years, I never thought what it would’ve meant if Dirk Nowitzki stayed with the Milwaukee Bucks, the team that drafted him ninth overall in 1998.
You also have to wonder how it would’ve played out for both teams. Would Nowitzki be the same Nowitzki if he was in his 16th season with Milwaukee? Would Nowitzki have issues, move around the league, or would the Bucks be the better contenders than the Mavs since his arrival and win a title before Dallas?
Nowitzki was traded to the Mavs for the likes of Robert “Tractor” Traylor, who was drafted that same year with the sixth pick, and the rest is history.
All through the ’90s, the Mavs struggled mightily. If Dirk didn’t come over to Big D, would that struggle continue until now.
The Bucks were just all right. They drafted Ray Allen and made the playoffs, but never would make a run.
After missing out on the playoffs for seven straight seasons, George Karl was brought in to coach the Bucks during the 1998-99 season. They had drafted the likes of Allen (1996) and Glenn Robinson (1994), both who could score in bunches. Sam Cassell came over after winning two titles with the Rockets, and was a pretty good point guard. Tim Thomas was a nice big man, and nobody questioned his work ethnic. Nowitzki likely would’ve started at the five, where Traylor started after coming over in the trade. Vinny Del Negro and Dell Curry were the first two off the bench. At the time, even you’d be scared of this lineup:
PG Sam Cassell
SG Ray Allen
SF Glenn Robinson
PF Tim Thomas
C Dirk Nowitzki
Reserves: Dell Curry, Vinny Del Negro, Rafer Alston, Michael Curry
In 1998-99, the Bucks finished 28-22 in a lockout season and 7th in the East, ending their playoff drought. The Bucks would go on to lose in the first round to 2nd-seeded Indiana in three games.
Dirk struggled in his rookie season, averaging eight points and three boards while shooting 41 percent in 47 games, starting 24. I don’t see the Bucks changing much in Dirk’s first year if he had stayed in Milwaukee. First round sweep sounds about right.
As for Dallas, like Karl, the Mavs got a new head coach in Don Nelson. They also acquired Steve Nash from Phoenix, who started alongside Shawn Bradley and Michael Finley. With Nowitzki, Dallas finished 19-31 and missed the playoffs for the ninth-consecutive year. Even if Dirk was with the Bucks, I think 19-31 or worse is where the Mavs would’ve been.
If the Bucks had kept Nowitzki, Milwaukee would’ve had Dirk, Robinson, Allen and Cassell until the 2002 season (Robinson’s last). Allen and Cassell’s last year with the Bucks came the following season. So that bunch would’ve played together for four more years.
After Robinson’s departure, the Bucks could’ve had a big three in Dirk, Allen and Cassell.
Nowitzki turned a corner during his sophomore season, averaging 18 points and seven boards while starting 81 games. He upped that to 22 and nine while starting all 82 games in his third season. Would he have done that in Milwaukee?
Who knows how Dirk’s career would’ve panned out if he had stayed in Milwaukee. Maybe he’d be the same person, but in a Bucks jersey. Maybe he wouldn’t have clicked with Allen, like he did with Nash, and could’ve been out of the league shortly after.
Being a Mavs fan, we’ve been through the ups and down, appearing in two finals and winning one title. Dirk has played all 16 years in Big D and is a 12-time all star.
He will go down as the greatest international player and one of the greatest shooters of all time. He is on pace to crack the top-10 in career scoring all time and holds most Dallas-franchise records.
No doubt, one day his number 41 will be retired and hung in the rafters and expect a statue to be made in front of the AAC in his honor. I wouldn’t even be surprised if Cuban named the court in Dirk’s honor.
Since 1998, this is how the two teams have compared…
756-426 record (0.639 win percentage)
11 50-win seasons
2 division titles
12 playoff appearances
65-66 playoff record (0.496 win percentage)
13 playoff series wins (24 overall)
3 conference finals
2 NBA Finals (2006, 2011)
1 NBA title (2011)
2 Sixth-Man of the Year, 1 MVP, 1 Coach of the Year, 1 Finals MVP
557-625 record (0.471 win percentage)
1 50-win season
1 division title
8 playoff appearances
19-34 playoff record (0.358 win percentage)
1 playoff series win (10 overall)
1 conference final
1 Executive the Year