Per a report via Dwain Price of the Star-Telegram, Dallas Mavericks superstar power forward Dirk Nowitzki is suffering from swelling in his right knee. This is the same injury that hindered Nowitzki in 2012 and contributed to his worst statistical output since the turn of the millennium.
Season averages of 21.6 points and 6.8 rebounds on 45.7 percent shooting are only admirable when you aren't of Nowitzki's caliber. Which very few in the history of this league actually are.
As for how the Mavericks are going to handle this situation, a "wait-and-see" approach is being taken, according to Nowitzki:
I think last year I dealt with it and we did some treatment twice, and after that the swelling didn't come back for the rest of the season. I'm hoping the same for this year.
Just the body has got to get used to all the running and jumping again, and hopefully it'll respond here in the next week or so and then I'll play throughout the whole season. But we kind of have to wait [and see] how it's going to respond next week.
The best-case scenario here would be to find out that the injury is less severe than expected. The swelling would go down, and Nowitzki would be able to play through the 2012-13 regular season with little-to-no pain at all in his right knee.
The worst-case scenario, however, is that Dirk will require surgery. In turn, the German big man would miss an extended period of time, and the Mavericks' postseason aspirations would crumble beneath their feet.
Youth Doesn't Mean Improvement
Just because the Dallas Mavericks brought in younger, tougher and more athletic players than they had a year ago does not mean that the team can survive this injury. This is especially evident when considering the fact that the talent they acquired has never stepped up and led a team to the postseason.
In 2012, Chris Kaman was with the 21-45 New Orleans Hornets. Darren Collison battled injuries and lost his starting job to George Hill. O.J. Mayo, meanwhile, saw his best two NBA seasons between 2008 and 2010. Those performances led to the Grizzlies finishing at 24-58 and 40-42, respectively.
A solid core of players, but far from a postseason contender.
Can the Dallas Mavericks make the postseason without Dirk Nowitzki?
This is not to say that Mayo and Collison cannot maximize their potential and lead the Mavericks in Nowitzki's absence, because they could. With the guidance of Shawn Marion, who remains one of the game's elite all-around defenders, the Mavs could pursue 45 wins.
Unfortunately, there just isn't enough depth behind them to make up for the loss of a superstar who has led the Mavericks for over a decade. Speculative promise is all this team has.
Could Elton Brand Replace Dirk?
Elton Brand was once the exception to the previously stated belief. As one of the game's fiercest competitors and most feared interior weapons, Brand averaged at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game in four of his first eight years in the league.
He was capable of leading a team to the postseason and did so with the 2005-06 Los Angeles Clippers. Unfortunately, Brand ruptured his left Achilles tendon in 2007 and just hasn't been the same player since.
Brand has topped 14 points per game just once in the past four years, failing to average nine rebounds in any of those seasons. Although he remains a great leader and a reliable player on both ends, he's far from the star he used to be.
For that reason, it would be difficult to justify the belief that he could fill the void that Nowitzki's surgery could potentially leave. Brand and Chris Kaman would make for a respectable frontcourt, but they just wouldn't be able to carry the team as far as they are hoping to go.
Forty-five wins is a reasonable expectation if the perimeter players hit their stride. But without Dirk, there is no postseason.
West is Rising
A year ago, the bottom of the Western Conference was uncharacteristically weak. The Utah Jazz slipped into the postseason with a record of 36-30, which equates to a 45-win season in a full 82-game schedule.
Just for the record, a 45-game winner hasn't made the postseason in the Western Conference since 2007.
As we approach the 2012-13 regular season, raise your expectations to a more familiar level. Unlike a year ago, all NBA teams will have a full training camp to build chemistry and develop an understanding of what they hope to accomplish as a team.
In turn, a 45-win season will not be enough in the West. The only hope a team with that many wins would have of making the playoffs is a sudden league realignment that sends it to the Eastern Conference.
Even if that were enough, don't expect the Mavericks to feel very comfortable about being able to make a postseason run. If Nowitzki is sidelined, the improved competition will become all the more difficult to stop, considering they all have borderline elite offensive power forwards.
Paul Millsap and the Utah Jazz have grown stronger, while Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves, LaMarcus Aldridge and the Portland Trail Blazers and David Lee and the Golden State Warriors have all made key acquisitions to improve their playoff odds.
The bottom of the pack is rising in the Western Conference. With no room for error, the Mavericks better pray that Dirk Nowitzki can avoid surgery. Otherwise, they will miss the postseason for the first time since 2000—Dirk's second year in the league.