You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone, much less a professional athlete, who'd ever want to go "under the knife." Expenses aside, the whole thing's quite a hassle—going under anaesthesia, spending hours on an operating table and, of course, enduring a grueling recovery thereafter.
It's certainly understandable, then, that Dirk Nowitzki would want to put off surgery on his swollen right knee, if not avoid it entirely, and explore his other options in the meantime. Nowitzki's knee started acting up again during Dallas' Eurotrip earlier this month, following a win over Alba Berlin in Dirk's native Germany. As he told Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com after missing the Mavericks' home game against the Houston Rockets on Monday:
I'm doing everything I can not to have surgery. I guess that's obvious that I really don't want it done now. If I want to do it, I would love to do it after the season, get through the season somehow, but the swelling came back three or four times now. That's obviously not good news.
If it's going to keep swelling up on me, that's obviously not a way to go throughout an 82-game season and hopefully long playoff run.
Obviously not, though the Mavs would be fortunate to embark on a "long playoff run" of any kind this season, with or without Dirk. Dallas may well be in the "danger zone" this season, teetering between a low playoff seed and a spot at the bottom of the NBA Draft Lottery, after whiffing on Deron Williams and Dwight Howard this summer.
GM Donnie Nelson did well to maintain financial flexibility for 2013 while reloading in the interim with the likes of Darren Collison, OJ Mayo, Chris Kaman and Elton Brand. Still, the 2012-13 squad, as currently constituted, is a far cry from the one that shocked its way to the title in 2011.
In fact, Dirk, Shawn Marion, Rodrigue Beaubois and Dominique Jones are the only holdovers from the group that hoisted the Larry O'Brien Trophy in Big D not a year-and-a-half ago.
The longer Dirk's out, the longer it'll take the revamped Mavs to figure out how to play together. Despite his advancing age—he turned 34 this past June—Nowitzki remains the central figure around which Dallas' entire operation is organized. After all, he's the future Hall-of-Famer, the team's leading scorer and the go-to guy in crunch time, with the cojones and the know-how to make the proper play.
There's simply no replacing a guy like that. The Los Angeles Lakers would be in a bind without Kobe Bryant, the heart and soul of their squad, but could certainly survive in a pinch, with Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol picking up the slack.
Dallas has no such superstar reinforcements, to say the least. Elton Brand was an All-Star power forward once upon a time, but injuries and the normal wear-and-tear of an NBA career have left him little more than a shell of his former self.
And don't even get me started with Brandan Wright, for whom Dirk once offered advice that some believe he'd do well to heed sooner rather than later:
If arthroscopic surgery is, indeed, the way to go for Dirk, then he's bound to miss the start of the season. Whether he calls up the surgeon now or decides to weigh the alternatives a bit longer will determine how much of the campaign he sits out. Dirk, for his part, understands this (per Tim McMahon):
I’m usually a pretty fast recovery guy, but you never know. Once they look in there, it might be a lot worse, might be a lot better. I guess that nobody really knows [the recovery time]. No doctor in the world can tell you.
I guess if we do decide next week to do that, it’s not looking good for the beginning of the season.
Luckily for the Mavs, their early-season schedule should be relatively navigable sans Dirk. After opening salvos against the Lakers and the Utah Jazz in late October, Dallas will have to dance with the Bobcats (twice), the Trail Blazers, the Raptors, the Knicks, the Ricky Rubio-less Timberwolves and the John Wall-less Wizards during the first two weeks of November.
Should Nowitzki have to sit out longer, the Mavs would run into a much tougher portion of their schedule—five out of seven against returning playoff teams, plus a home game against the Warriors—without their franchise superstar.
Hardly ideal. Then again, neither is knee surgery, though that may well be the way to go for Dirk. Let's just say, it's never a good sign when a player has to have his knee drained twice in any two-week span.
Much less during training camp, before the rigors of the regular season have set in.
There's still hope for Dirk and the Mavs, though, that he won't need to have his knee scoped after all. Nowitzki encountered similar discomfort in his right knee last season, which contributed to his horrific first half (17.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists), by his standards. But, after taking a week off to work on his conditioning in January, Dirk went the rest of the way without any knee troubles of which to speak while averaging 23.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists.
It's likely that experience from which Nowitzki is drawing his present resolve, to stay the course without winding up in a hospital bed.
At this point, the Mavs can only hope that Dirk is "right" to refuse the knife, lest it be their fading hopes in the West, along with some of Nowitzki's cartilage, that are trimmed as a result.