In 2011, the Dallas Mavericks did the unthinkable. The Rick Carlisle-led group defeated the unanimously favored Miami Heat, defending champion Los Angeles Lakers and upstart Oklahoma City Thunder on their way to their first NBA championship in franchise history.
The sharpshooting core was led by superstar and eventual Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk averaged 27.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists with a slash line of .485/.460/.941 during the postseason.
He also solidified his status as a first ballot Hall of Famer by bringing an NBA championship to Dallas.
Less than 18 months later, the Mavericks are in danger of reaching the polar opposite of their magnificent feat. Without their superstar, the Dallas could find themselves competing for the first overall draft choice instead of a playoff berth.
And yes, they could be without their superstar.
According to Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News, 11-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki will be battling a knee injury for the second consecutive season. Considering how negatively it affected his play in 2011-12, this doesn't offer encouragement for 2012-13.
Nowitzki averaged his worst scoring and rebounding numbers since 2000 and shot his poorest from the floor since his rookie season in 1999. Not even Dirk himself appears too confident in what the future holds.
“We’ll see how [the knee] responds,” [Dirk Nowitzki] said. “But the longer we wait, obviously the worse it is. If we have to do something, it’d be better to do it quick...But we’re still hopeful that this is a temporary thing. If we relax and rest it for a week and see how it goes, then we’ll have a better idea.”
This "wait and see" approach cannot make Mark Cuban and company too happy. Unfortunately, it appears to be the only logical steps to take as they evaluate the necessity for potential surgery.
How concerned should Mavericks fans be?
“Scared is a strong word,” [Nowitzki] said. “Obviously, it’s unfortunate. Last year, we dealt with it. Hopefully, it’ll respond here in the next week or so, and I’ll play throughout the whole season...The good thing, or different thing, this year is that my legs are actually pretty strong. I lifted all through the summer. So hopefully this is just temporary.”
As previously alluded to, there is a chance that Nowitzki will require surgery. Considering this type of injury has been been bothering the big man for over a year, the chances that he'll need to go under the knife increase.
Unless he's willing to play through pain and perform out of character for another 82 games, plus the postseason, Nowitzki may not find an end to this until there is surgery. If he does, that end may be further and more severe damage.
A harsh reality for a Dallas Mavericks team that had built this season up to be the year they make another run at a title.
With an infusion of youth and the addition of quality veterans, that all appeared to be a reality. If Nowitzki is out of the lineup, however, this team becomes one of underwhelming talent and undetermined chemistry.
Although Shawn Marion, Elton Brand and Chris Kaman would have made for an elite core five years ago, age has taken its toll. Unless Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo emerge as legitimate stars, the Mavs could be in trouble.
On the bright side of things, a down year may not be the worst thing for the Dallas Mavericks. Nowitzki is now 34 and the Mavericks lack a proven star to carry the team into the future.
Although O.J. Mayo is projected by some to fill that void, what harm would there be in Dallas having their first lottery draft pick since 2000 when they blew it on Etan Thomas?
The focus is not on building for the future, though. For a franchise that is driven by an owner with the acceptance of nothing less than perfection, the maximization of the Dirk Nowitzki era is the only option from here on out.
If the team fails to win another ring with one of the greatest players of all-time, the roster will be blown up and this summer's period of free agency will be a frenzy. You know, just how this past summer was when Cuban missed out on every single big-name player on the market.
The window is closing. If Dirk Nowitzki opts to get surgery, that's one less year the team has to make the most of it. If he remains active, the window could be closed completely by further damage being done to his knee.
The biggest decision in Dirk Nowitzki's career is now upon him. What will he choose?