According to ESPN Dallas, Dirk Nowitzki is already publicly speculating about his future with the team. Even Dirk's not sure as to whether the Dallas Mavericks should trade him or build around their superstar:
"We knew that coming in, that eight or nine new guys on one-year deals is not really an ideal situation, but what else is there to do? So either you break the whole thing up and trade me, or you get a bunch of one-year deals and try to be a player next summer. That's the decision we made, so now we've got to fight through it."
When evaluating how Dirk Nowitzki might age, I think of two players who have markedly different roles. The first is Kevin Garnett, he of the ageless frontcourt production. The second is Steve Nash, point guard extraordinaire and former teammate of Dirk's.
In the case of Kevin Garnett, we have someone who looked done—or, at least, on the downslope—a couple years ago. KG had a relatively weaker 2009-2010 on account of knee surgery (via ESPN). The result was that many of us wrote our Garnett eulogies, right before he caught a second wind.
In the case of Steve Nash, superior shooting has preserved his career far beyond what any reasonable observer would have predicted a decade ago. Nash is 38 years old, plays a young man's position and still performs at an above-average capacity.
So, at age 34, I see shades of Kevin Garnett and Steve Nash in Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk is large and long like KG, and both boast an overhead unblockable jumper. Dirk shoots incredibly like Nash, and both manage to burn opponents while moving at around two miles per hour.
With that in mind, Dirk at 34 years old isn't as scary as the average player at 34 years old. While he may not be worthy of $22 million next year, Nowitzki is still a solid guy to build around in the short term.
The "stretch four" is a coveted specialist, and Nowitzki might be the greatest stretch four of all time. He still retains much of his old skill, as shooting doesn't diminish with age. So long as Nowitzki can walk, he can probably help the Mavericks win games.
Dirk is only under contract for one more season after this one, but it's hard to see how Dallas will benefit from trading him, considering that the return would have to be a mishmash of contracts totaling over $20 million. It would be a shame if the Mavericks concluded the Dirk era by trading his expiring contract for moderate talent in return.
Fortunately, I don't believe this is the Dallas plan. Mark Cuban appears poised to flank Dirk with talent, after signing him to a reasonable deal in 2014.
Think Kevin Garnett again. The Celtics did better to sign him for a reasonable three-year, $36 million contract than to go fishing for other options. Garnett valued playing with Doc Rivers and accepted something of a loyalty discount.
Expect a similar move from Dallas, especially since they have salary cleared in 2014. At the moment, the Mavericks have less than $8 million in committed money after the 2014 season (via HoopsHype).
Some of that should get spent on Dirk, and a lot of that should get spent on Mark Cuban's plan for the future. Dallas will have enough money to build around Dirk. The question is whether they can snag whatever free agents they're after.
In the meantime, Nowitzki remains someone capable of playing at a high level. He can do this until he retires: