Could Dirk Nowitzki Bolt the Dallas Mavericks If Mark Cuban Doesn't Make Splash?

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Could Dirk Nowitzki Bolt the Dallas Mavericks If Mark Cuban Doesn't Make Splash?
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Mark Cuban better put on his one-piece bathing suit and make a cannon ball-like splash this summer, otherwise Dirk Nowitzki might join Tyson Chandler, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry.

Not that Nowitzki, who will be a free agent in 2014, would consider joining them in the literal sense. Both the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics are capped out beyond reason. But he would consider leaving the Dallas Mavericks, just like them.

Though Cuban would paint a picture of a team with a vision, who encouraged all three to migrate toward greener pastures and colder climates, he'd only be depicting half of the truth.

Dallas was (and remains) a team with a vision, one that could have included Chandler and Terry had they not been so expensive—and one that was supposed to included Kidd, had the rapscallion (half kidding) not turned his back on Cuban himself.

That same vision, however, also included Deron Williams. Or Dwight Howard. Or both. The vision was not comprised of one aging superstar (Nowitzki), a tumultuous scorer (O.J. Mayo), an under-appreciated playmaker (Darren Collison) and a slew of odds and ends. And it certainly didn't entail the Mavericks dwelling amongst the bottom of the Western Conference, outside of the playoff picture and seeking shelter with the rebuilding and lottery.

USA TODAY Sports
This isn't the type of team Dirk or Cuban had in mind.

But it's there that the Mavericks sit—Deron-less, and clinging to the outside (and incredibly unlikely) chance that they'll be able to snag a marquee name like Chris Paul or Howard this summer.

Cuban is a man of many hats, jokes and blank checks, though. He'll have a contingency plan. His devices may consist of pursuing the toxic and inexorably inefficient Brandon Jennings, but hey, it's a plan.

Is it a scheme that will keep Nowitzki in Dallas beyond next season? Not necessarily.

Per Sam Amick of USA Today, Dirk's preference is to remain with the Mavericks, but he needs to see results before he can make a decision:

Now that I already reached my goal (of winning it all), I really want to finish my career in Dallas. But saying all that, I don't want another year next year with the same as this year, (with) the frustration and playing for the eight or nine seed. I think we all know that this is a very big summer for us. (Mavericks general manager) Donnie (Nelson) knows. Cuban knows. We want to get back to the championship level.

There are a few things we can take away from this, one of which is Nowitzki has a championship ring, just in case you forgot. He has it, wears it and maybe even sleeps with it.

The most pressing matter within Dirk's honest response comes with regard to his patience. He has that ring, yes, and winning another title isn't so important that he'd jump ship and land with the Miami Heat (though he could). Contending, however, means something to him.

By the time the summer of 2014 rolls around and Nowitzki is a free agent once again, he'll be 36. He'll still have that championship bling, but that doesn't give Cuban and the Mavericks license to piece together a convocation of nobodies, toss jerseys on them and call them "Dirk's team."

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
Is the end of Dirk's reign in Dallas nearing?

I'm not saying this is what Cuban does. He's a fierce competitor who would go bankrupt defending his Mavericks, or until he pops a blood vessel arguing with Skip Bayless. Whichever comes first.

In the interest of making Nowitzki's decision an easy one, though, he has essentially one year to build a team worthy of contending with, let's say, the top five teams in the Western Conference.

Hopefully, Cuban's not reading this. Or if he was, hopefully he stopped. Because that's not a lot of time.

Should the Mavericks attach themselves to a free agent like Paul or Howard, then there's nothing to worry about. Barring a string of unlikely events, neither are headed to Dallas. And while there's always Josh Smith (or Jennings) or the trade market, Dallas may be operating under an impossible deadline. Not an unreasonable one, but an impossible one.

Nowitzki hasn't given them an "or else" ultimatum, but he's made playing for a relevant team a prerequisite. If the Mavericks can assemble a top-five conference outfit, then his decision becomes a no-brainer next season. Stay with the team you started with. Continue defining the organization you helped put on the map.

But what if Dallas fails to procure the necessary talent that convinces Dirk the franchise will do more than attempt to actualize a harvest of maybes, though? Well, then we don't know what will happen.

Nowitzki could wind up staying with the Mavericks no matter what. Contenders or not, Dallas is where he began his career. It's where his heart and beard lie.

But just because he could return no matter what doesn't mean he will. 

These days are long gone.

Watching Dirk suit up for any other NBA team that isn't the Mavericks seems sacrilegious. Like Kobe Bryant sporting Boston Celtics green (oh wait...). But that doesn't mean it's absurd. Improbable? Yes. Impossible? No.

Nowitzki, who is averaging 16.9 points and 6.1 rebounds on the season, appears to have a few prolific years left in him. Assuming his legs hold up, Cuban himself sees no reason why he won't play for three more seasons.

However many years he has left is almost irrelevant, though. He doesn't want to spend his remaining time bearing the burden of losing, of (likely) postseason-less basketball. He still wants to contend, or at least feign contention.

Should the Mavericks be able to afford him that opportunity, then great. If not, I firmly believe he'll consider leaving, and perhaps ultimately follow in the footsteps of former teammates.

It's not like he won't have options. Plenty of teams are slated to have an overwhelming amount of cap space, and even more would welcome Nowitzki with open arms and checkbooks should he sign at a discount. And he could sign at a discount. By next summer, his career earnings will have totaled more than $200 million. As long as he wasn't as flippant with his cash as Allen Iverson, he'll have the option of making less in order to win more.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Next season could be Dirk's last...with the Mavericks.

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Does that mean he'll take his talents to the Los Angeles Lakers, presumably alongside Howard, a hopefully healthy Steve Nash, perhaps LeBron James and a significantly cheaper Kobe? No. Of course not. He doesn't need to accept the veteran's minimum or anything close to it to play with Goliath.

But he could. Or he could go somewhere else, like to the San Antonio Spurs. He could go anywhere—even the Heat, provided he's keen on playing for the equivalent of peanuts and Miami keeps its expensive core together.

He can do whatever he wants, play for whomever he pleases. And he will. 

"But looking back, I think it was sad," Nowitzki said (via Amick). "I miss some of those guys we went to war with every night, but I think it's going to be a big summer for us."

At least, that's what he and the Mavericks hope. Otherwise, next summer will be even bigger.

More eviscerating, too.

 

*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports, 82games.com and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.

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