Dirk Nowitzki Expects to Play Through 2015-16, but Should He?
On the heels of his 30-point, 13-rebound effort (both season highs) against the Los Angeles Lakers Sunday night, he told ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon that he expects to sign a new contract after his current deal expires after the 2013-14 season.
There's some obvious benefits for both the player and his team in voicing his intentions already.
For starters, there won't be any prolonged "will he or won't he" talks surrounding the franchise next season. Nowitzki and the Mavericks just need to look at their most recent opponent, the Lakers, to understand the inherent dangers of housing a superstar (in L.A.'s case, Dwight Howard) with an unidentifiable course for the future.
Nowitzki also has the luxury of approaching the 2014 offseason like any other. He won't lose any preparation time while debating over his career, which could have been detrimental considering he'll be 36 years old when this takes place.
But this stops short of being a guaranteed positive for both parties.
The Mavericks now have a clear delay in their post-Nowitzki rebuilding project. Assuming his level of play remains consistent, that's not necessarily a bad thing. But should his abilities start to deteriorate or his aging body starts to fail him, the Mavs could be sacrificing their future in pursuit of win-now goals that will not be attainable.
As for Nowitzki, there's always the possibility that Mavericks owner Mark Cuban's superstar pursuit comes up short once again. Nowitzki was not at all impressed with Cuban clearing out nearly the entire 2011 championship roster on fruitless hopes. So there's a chance, even if it's remote, that another unproductive free-agent period lessens Nowitzki's sense of urgency for the upcoming season, given that he plans to play a few seasons beyond that.
So the question for both Nowitzki and the Mavericks is whether or not the player should plan on sticking around for "maybe two or three years" after his contract expires.
While there are potential risks, given both his age and anticipated salary level, there are far more positives that make this a wise decision.
Limited to just 26 games thus far after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, he's been a shadow his former self this season. His scoring (16.0 points per game), rebounding (6.2) and field-goal percentage (43.5) haven't been this low since his rookie season of 1998-99.
But assuming he can avoid these injury setbacks moving forward, his style of play lends itself to a better-than-most aging process.
Nowitzki doesn't overwhelm defenses with athleticism, rather he relies on his 7'0" frame, fanciful footwork and deft shooting form for his production. He's certainly not going to shrink, and that footwork and instructional DVD-quality motion are simply muscle memory at this stage in his 15-year career.
And he doesn't need tremendous lift on his fade-away jumper—one so impressive, ESPN's Sport Science once broke down the intricacies involved in his go-to move and what makes it a nearly impossible shot to defend.
Of course, Nowitzki will likely need some help from Cuban if he hopes to see another championship run before his career is over.
While he should remain a proficient scorer throughout his NBA tenure, Nowitzki's days as a contender's star player and focal point may be dwindling. Including his assault on the Lakers, he has as many games with 20 or more points (six) as he does with 10 or fewer this year. He's never been known as being an above-average defender or rebounder, and it's a likely bet that he'll lose further ground in both areas over the coming seasons.
The Mavericks appear to have found a few keepers among their space-saving, one-year contracts, but they haven't yet found that the elite talent needed to turn this club back into a contender.
But the deep pockets of Cuban and the assumption that Nowitzki will remain in Dallas for several more seasons could be enough to lure in that type of player, either this coming summer or the next. Both the 2013 and 2014 free-agent crops are flooded with talent, and Dallas could be a major player in each of them if the right player doesn't come along this season.
With a clean bill of health for Nowitzki and a bit of magic from Cuban, the Mavericks will have all of the ingredients needed to keep the big man's twilight years filled with playoff runs and championship hopes.
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