Dirk Nowitzki must be consumed with internal conflict right now. On the one hand, he wants to spend his twilight years contending for NBA titles. On the other hand, he wants to finish his Hall of Fame career with the Dallas Mavericks.
Who, at the moment, look like anything but championship material now that their 12-year playoff streak is all but kaput. As Nowitzki recently told Sam Amick of USA Today:
"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."
Going from the NBA draft lottery to title contention in a year is no easy feat, to say the least, and will require at least one free-agent coup on Dallas' part this summer. Such seems less likely than ever, what with Chris Paul and Dwight Howard likely to stay in LA and Josh Smith, who's hardly on their level, looking like the best option on the market.
All of which points to another down year in Big D in 2013-14 and, perhaps, an impetus for the giant German's exodus from the only NBA home he's ever known. He's got one year left on his current deal, and though he turns 35 this June, he expects to ink another deal before his playing days are through.
As he should. Nowitzki's regained a significant measure of his former superstar form of late, after battling through knee problems and poor conditioning for most of the campaign. Father Time may be undefeated, but it'll be a while before he can touch Dirk's seven-foot frame or his silky smooth jump shot.
That being the case, if the Mavs are bound for a full-scale rebuild and Nowitzki wants another ring, it might behoove the two parties to part ways, sacrilegious as that may sound. Granted, the chances of Dirk suiting up for anyone other than the Mavs rest somewhere between "slim" and "none," though these seven destinations would make the most sense for the most prolific Euro in NBA history.
Mark Cuban's distaste for the Los Angeles Lakers has been well documented, but the Mavs' eccentric owner also happens to be a savvy businessman who doesn't let personal tiffs get in the way of sound basketball decisions.
And it's not as though Cuban's never talked shop with the Purple and Gold before. He signed off on a deal to bring Lamar Odom from LA to Big D shortly after the 2011 lockout, and though Odom failed miserably with the Mavs, the move made plenty of sense for the team at the time.
The prospect of ending his career by reuniting with Steve Nash and joining forces with longtime rival Kobe Bryant would probably be an enticing one for Nowitzki, considering all the success he once enjoyed with Nash and, later, at Bryant's expense. He'd also fit perfectly into Mike D'Antoni's delayed plans to turn the Lakers' offense into a state-of-the-art scoring machine with his ability to stretch opposing defenses by way of the three-point line.
The Lakers, for their part, could swing such a deal in one of two ways:
1) By sending Pau Gasol to Dallas. Gasol has one year left on his deal at a shade under $19.3 million and has looked much more like his old self of late now that he's relatively healthy and the Lakers are employing him in the post again.
2) By signing-and-trading Dwight Howard to the Mavs. Howard had Dallas on his shortlist of ideal destinations when he was still stuck with the Orlando Magic and would be the sort of superstar around whom the Mavs could build for the future.
Of course, both deals would be plenty risky, to say the least. Adding Nowitzki to a team that already features far too many thirty-somethings would only hamper the Lakers' already abysmal defense, especially if Dwight is the one to depart. But LA may very well be keen to ship out at least one of its All-Star centers this summer, and they could certainly do worse than receiving Dirk in return.
If Western Conference foes are fair game, then why not lend Dirk to the Oklahoma City Thunder as a "rental?"
The Thunder—and, more specifically, head coach Scott Brooks—have long been derided for their stubborn insistence on Kendrick Perkins' inclusion, despite his slow-footed defense and nonexistent offense. Then again, OKC still ranks among the top four in both offensive and defensive efficiency, with Perk playing a significant role, so he can't be all that bad for the team, can he?
We'll see come playoff time, when the Thunder are left to rely heavily (perhaps too heavily) on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to carry the scoring load. Kevin Martin has been a solid shooter off the bench and Serge Ibaka has evolved into a competent partner in pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop situations. But neither player comes close to compensating for the skill, creativity and unpredictability that James Harden brought to the table once upon a year ago.
Nowitzki could be that third scorer in OKC while simultaneously thrusting the Thunder into the new age of pro basketball. He'd bring plenty of scoring and shooting ability to a frontcourt that, outside of KD, lacks anything consistent in that vein.
Such a trade would require plenty of creativity on the part of OKC general manager Sam Presti. Perkins' bloated salary wouldn't even cover half of the more than $22 million that Dirk is owed next season. It seems highly unlikely the Thunder would include Ibaka's contract to make the money work.
Though, if there's anything we learned about Presti from the James Harden trade, it's that he's not the least bit afraid of rolling the dice if need be.
Still, even he knows better than to give up an athletic, 23-year-old rising star for a soon-to-be 35-year-old with recent knee troubles.
Speaking of James Harden, he's helped to transform the Houston Rockets from a preseason lottery team to one bound for its first postseason appearance since 2009.
But as great as the Rockets have looked this season—with Harden playing like a superstar next to Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik gobbling up rebounds, and Chandler Parsons producing for pennies on the dollar—they still lack a dependable starter at power forward. They spent the first few months juggling minutes between Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris at that spot and have reopened the competition to include Greg Smith and rookies Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas and Thomas Robinson since acquiring Robinson at the trade deadline.
Perhaps one of those four will emerge as a reliable starter. Or, perhaps Rockets GM Daryl Morey will tire of the auditions and cash in some of his chips for a sweet-shooting veteran forward who's plenty familiar with the state of Texas.
I'm referring, of course, to Dirk. He'd fit seamlessly into Houston's new-age, spread pick-and-roll offense while further accelerating the Rockets' already rapid rise through the ranks of the Western Conference.
The issues with Houston, though, are not unlike those that would keep OKC from talking shop with the Mavs. For one, picking up a 35-year-old Dirk in the final year of a deal that will pay him more than $22 million in 2013-14 hardly fits in with the franchise's fiscally responsible youth movement, though Morey is well-acquainted with the value of an expiring contract; he used Kevin Martin's to nab James Harden from the Thunder and probably wouldn't mind the ample cap space that'd be left behind in the summer of 2014.
That is, assuming Morey would be OK with giving up Asik and/or Linsanity for Nowitzki. Francisco Garcia's team option could come in handy here, but other than that, the Rockets aren't exactly stacked with cap flotsam at the moment.
Then again, if there's any GM with the guile to pull off a swap for an in-state superstar, it's Dork Elvis.
When it comes to clever management, there may be no better place to start than with Miami Heat executive Pat Riley. The slick-haired Hall of Famer has done a masterful job of surrounding LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with a fantastic fleet of three-point shooters—one that includes an old, once-bitter rival with one of the prettiest strokes of all time.
That description fits Ray Allen to a T, though it could just as easily apply to Dirk Nowitzki. He's ripped out the Heat's hearts on many an occasion, most notably throughout the 2011 NBA Finals, and remains in search of a second championship ring.
But, again, money makes this potential Benedict Arnold turn rather difficult, if not downright impossible, to pull off. The Heat already have upwards of $56 million in salary committed to their Big Three next season. Adding Nowitzki to the mix would propel their payroll well over the luxury tax threshold between just four players, not including the expense of the rest of the supporting cast.
Sure, Riles could attempt to convince Donnie Nelson to take back, say, Mike Miller, Joel Anthony, James Jones, Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers, but such would devastate a roster that appears bound for another championship as currently constructed.
As would sending any one of Miami's Heatles to Dallas in a deal for Dirk.
Hence, it'd behoove Miami to wait until 2014 to steal Dirk from Big D via free agency, assuming that possibility is anywhere on Riley's radar.
The Brooklyn Nets, on the other hand, might have the muscle and the willpower to add Dirk to their operation. A package of Kris Humphries (and his expiring $12 million contract), MarShon Brooks (and his underutilized scoring skills), Mirza Teletovic (and his penchant for airmail), some other cap fodder and a draft pick could work as a decent starting point.
Or, perhaps Nets GM Billy King can persuade the Mavs to take on Humpries and Gerald Wallace, with a draft pick or two to sweeten the pot.
In any case, Brooklyn could certainly use a scorer of Nowitzki's particular talents up front. Humphries has fallen flat at power forward, clearing the way for Reggie Evans, of all people, to swipe his starting spot as the season has gone on.
And just because the Mavs couldn't bring a Dirk-Deron Williams duo to fruition doesn't mean the Nets should be deprived of the same opportunity. Those two could make beautiful music as partners in pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop sets, be it with Nowitzki as the screener or as a secondary shooter awaiting a wide-open look.
Adding Dirk wouldn't do much for Brooklyn's middling defense, though he would presumably propel their offense right toward the top of the rankings.
And perhaps the team as a whole into title-contending territory.
The Chicago Bulls may not need a major deal, per se, to return to the upper crust of the Eastern Conference next season. As long as Derrick Rose heals up nicely from his torn ACL, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah continue to perform like All-Stars, and head coach Tom Thibodeau has his team hunkering down on defense, the Bulls will be among the top challengers to Miami's primacy.
But many—including Reggie Rose, Derrick's brother—have been quick to criticize Chicago for not pairing its singular superstar with another capable scorer, and (in some respects) rightfully so. The Bulls have sought out a perimeter partner for Rose for some time, but have thus far only found an over-the-hill and injury-prone Richard Hamilton to fill that role.
If the Bulls are going to count on an aging former champion with a sweet shooting stroke to help Rose win a title of his own, why not bring Dirk aboard? Chicago could send Carlos Boozer's onerous contract to Dallas as part of a deal. Or, if the Mavs don't bite on Booze (and, really, why would they?), the Bulls could open up the discussion to include Deng or Noah or make Carlos' contract worth Dallas' while by throwing in, say, Jimmy Butler, Marquis Teague and a first-round pick.
Chicago seems to have the requisite puzzle pieces to pique Dallas' interest, as well as the championship aspirations to appeal to Nowitzki's winning sensibilities.
Now, if Dirk would prefer to wind up someplace where his advanced age wouldn't be such an exception, he'd do well to seek out a future with the Boston Celtics. In Beantown, Dirk could go for one last hurrah with two other future Hall of Famers from his generation—Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce—while teaming up once again with Jason Terry, who served as Nowitzki's sidekick in the 2011 championships.
Surely the C's wouldn't mind employing a competent and consistent power forward, especially after watching Jeff Green and Brandon Bass bungle their responsibilities at that spot this season. Those two are still promising and productive enough to constitute an intriguing starting point for a package to send back to Big D.
Even though the nearly $28 million left on Green's deal (and the $13.3 million left on Bass') would probably give the Mavs pause.
Not that the Mavs wouldn't entertain such an offer if moving Nowitzki were to become a priority...and if Boston threw in a draft pick or two. As long as the Mavs don't demand Rajon Rondo and/or Avery Bradley as part of their return, a Dirk-to-Beantown deal wouldn't be entirely far-fetched.