In this instance, the club's definition was cut in half in a matter of days. ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon reports that the Mavs are "optimistic" Dirk's recovery will take just three weeks, according to "multiple sources."
That's a sharp contrast from the six-or-more weeks initially predicted, and it's about as fast as anyone comes back from arthroscopic knee surgery.
So, of course that's what the 34-year-old forward is eyeing.
There are more than a few reasons to hope he makes it, too.
For starters, the Mavericks' roster is a disparate combination of new faces including O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison, Chris Kaman and Elton Brand.
Conventional wisdom suggests that Dirk being around will make it easier for those guys to adopt the roles they'll play throughout the season. Because so much of the offense runs through him, internalizing that offense in his absence isn't ideal preparation.
More importantly, Dirk clearly means something to the bottom line: wins and losses.
Though the difference between missing three weeks and five or six weeks may seem negligible, this team could very well find itself making or missing the postseason on account of the narrowest margins.
Despite the seemingly unassailable justifications for rushing Nowitzki back as quickly as possible, there are some pretty compelling arguments for a more cautious approach.
Even when it comes to building chemistry, there's something to be said about empowering Dallas' new faces to take ownership of the club while Dirk watches. When you're talking about guys who've either been relegated to the bench (Mayo) or used as fourth options (Collison, Kaman), taking responsibility for scoring the ball could be invaluable.
Though Dirk's return will necessitate some adjustments, it's easier for an already-confident scorer to scale his efforts back than it is for him to find that groove while deferring to a shooter of Nowitzki's caliber.
There's certainly no way around what the sharpshooter will contribute to Dallas' place in the standings, but that in itself could be construed as a case for waiting.
If there's any serious risk that an early return increases the likelihood of causing more knee soreness, Dallas has to proceed carefully.
The Mavs could survive a Dirk-less November, but they would struggle mightily to remain competitive throughout the season in the event he incurred nagging pain or was forced to the sideline for another month or two. However improbable, those kind of worst-case scenarios are pretty bad.
A lot worse than a five or six-week hiatus.
At some point, the Mavericks also have to assess what they stand to gain from three more weeks of their best player. Even at full strength, this team probably won't do much better than it did last season—at least until the playoffs begin.
With some key veterans and a coach like Rick Carlisle, you can't write this team off when it comes to a seven-game series where adjustments are so vital.
You also can't count on them to win 60 games. The reality is that these Mavs are likely to get that sixth or seventh seed once again, and are hoping to storm through the postseason as an underdog. Chances are three more weeks of Dirk won't translate into a third or fourth seed.
Dallas' regular season should be construed as a laboratory for the playoffs, an opportunity for Carlisle to toy with different lineups and plays and experiment with an aim toward the games that really count.
If there's really no question about Nowitzki's readiness, maybe this discussion is all for naught. If, however, there's even the slightest of doubts about his ability to remain healthy after such a quick turnaround, this isn't the time for heroics.
That time will come soon enough.
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