After a tough season in which they missed the playoffs for the first time this century, the Dallas Mavericks have reason to be optimistic heading into the near future. Dirk Nowitzki, who has been the heart, leader and best player for the Mavericks for several years now, is reportedly planning on taking a major pay cut in order to help his team win sooner rather than later.
According to ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon, Nowitzki plans to take a "significant pay cut" one year from now when his current (guaranteed) contract runs out. Said Nowitzki, "At this point of my career, it's all about competing and winning. It's not about money."
Now heading into his 16th year in the NBA, Nowitzki continues to amaze me with his loyalty, selflessness and pure dedication to basketball and the city of Dallas. I still remember vividly prior to the 2010 NBA season when people around the country expected Nowitzki to go and join a contender.
That was the summer of free agency, when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and others were all trying to find their respective paths onto teams where they could win without having to carry the load. Already people were talking about Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Amar'e Stoudemire and all the other players who switched cities in 2010 and 2011 in the pursuit of winning championships.
While plenty of players went with the biggest paycheck and many more went with the best team, I remember Nowitzki's experience the most because he had a very specific goal. He wanted to win a championship, and he wanted to win it in Dallas.
When Nowitzki decided to stay in Dallas, choosing to not even take a maximum contract, it surprised nearly everyone. With no star power beyond Nowitzki himself, the Mavericks were written off quickly enough as no longer being title contenders.
While the Miami Heat were the obvious favorites, the San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and even the young Oklahoma City Thunder all seemed more interesting than the Mavericks, whose only remaining star lingered only out of loyalty.
It would be an understatement to describe the national reaction to the Mavericks winning the championship that year as shock.
What separated Nowitzki from his contemporaries that year in terms of his legacy was not that he had won his first championship. It was that he had won it in the city where he began his career with some of the same teammates he had spent years losing with. Rather than simply skipping town and joining a team that was already ready to win, he transformed the team that was already there into a team that was capable of winning.
Many stars in their later years join up with teams that are obvious contenders. Some well-known examples include players like Karl Malone, Gary Payton, Shaquille O'Neal, Steve Nash, Ray Allen (twice) and a plethora of others.
There is nothing necessarily wrong with doing so. However, in this era when players have far less attachment to the cities in which they play than they ever did in the past, it is refreshing and at least intriguing to see that Nowitzki still cares about playing in Dallas. It appears to be obvious that Nowitzki would rather try and fail in Dallas than go anywhere else and succeed.
For all of these reasons, I believe Nowitzki completely when he says that he will willingly accept a pay cut to help the team win one year from now. Doing so opens up the possibility for the Mavericks bringing in top-tier players to help them win a second championship in the city where he wants to win.
Chris Paul and Dwight Howard are obvious targets but not the only ones. With Nowitzki presumably willing to play for as little money as it takes to help the team win, one would expect that the Mavericks will find a way to turn that salary cap space into players of value, one way or another.
With free agency being more important than ever and with players more so than ever being judged on how many rings they win instead of what they did to win those rings, players like Nowitzki are a dying breed.
At least, health providing, we will be able to watch Nowitzki for a few more years.