Dirk Nowitzki just had a birthday, but unlike most people, Dirk may not have been celebrating turning another year older.
After all, with every year that passes, Dirk Nowitzki comes closer and closer to that inevitable moment all NBA players must face, the time when they are no longer able to play the game they love at the highest level.
At 35, Nowitzki is not quite there yet, but the clock is certainly ticking. And with the knee problems Dirk experienced a season ago, the end may be closer than any Mavericks fan is hoping for.
With that being said, it is up to the Dallas Mavericks front office to determine where to go from here with that in the back of their minds.
After winning an NBA championship in 2011, the Mavericks have gone downhill the past two seasons, bowing out in the first round in 2012 and not even making the playoffs this past year.
The Mavericks are staring now at a cupboard that seems relatively bare. They have only four players locked up under contract for next season, and potentially their three best players from this year's roster are all in their mid-30s with Shawn Marion and Vince Carter joining Nowitzki.
That's what makes this offseason absolutely critical to the near future of the Dallas Mavericks organization.
The Mavericks have some cap space to work with, but they need to take full advantage of that if they wish to make a playoff push once again.
Despite his age and injury problem, Dirk Nowitzki is still as of today one of the top scorers in the NBA when healthy.
Nowitzki may begin to lose his ability to attack the basket and his lateral quickness over the next few years, but he will always have that silky smooth jump shot and an array of dekes, moves, pivots and twists he uses to create separation from his defender.
But, the question is whether or not Dirk is still playing at a high enough level for a team to win a championship with him as the No. 1 option.
Dallas certainly doesn't seem to think so, considering its intense pursuit of Dwight Howard this offseason.
That's not necessarily a slight on Nowitzki's talents, but the team recognizes that in the league today you need to have more than one solid scoring option to win consistently, and Dirk, at this stage in his career, is better suited to be that No. 2 threat.
However, if the Mavericks do decide to go in a different direction in free agency to land Howard or some other big name, it could end up changing the way the Mavericks play and could mean serious adjustments need to be made by Nowitzki.
In the first month of the 2012-13 season, even while Dirk was still recovering from his knee surgery, the Mavs were holding it together mostly because with their new roster, they were able to adapt a more up-tempo style of play.
Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo were excelling, getting out into the open court and playing a freer style than you might normally expect from a Rick Carlisle-coached team.
Dallas was fifth in the NBA in fast-break points by the time Dirk returned in late December, and although it managed to stay near the top of the NBA in that ranking throughout the season, you could see that with Dirk back in the fray, the team focused more of its offense around him in the half court.
Mayo in particular saw a significant drop-off as the season wore on, scoring over 20 points per game in November down to barely over 11 in April.
Depending on its roster next season, Dallas may want to look back into trying to adapt a more up-tempo style of play even though it doesn't fit Nowitzki's skill set.
If the Mavericks do get younger (which they should be focusing on), they are going to likely have a squad that will want to get up and down the court.
With an athletic big man like Howard, the team can create more fast-break opportunities after a defensive stop in the paint.
Dirk may not be the first one getting up and down the court, but there are few players more dangerous in the league on a trailing three-point shot than Nowitzki, so he would still get plenty of opportunities.
Also, Dirk may be looking at more limited minutes this season to keep him fresh, similar to what the San Antonio Spurs have done with Tim Duncan late in his career.
This could allow the Mavericks to put out five quick, athletic players at the same time and try to outrun their opponents, which is not something the Mavs have been known for in the past.
All this is contingent on the Mavericks signing free agents who fit that style of play, but the point is that Nowitzki may need to adjust next season and beyond.
Even if the Mavericks don't try to become a full-on fast-break squad, they could make some adjustments in their half-court style.
What should be the Mavericks' strategy this offseason?
While much of the offense now runs through Dirk, if the team is able to acquire another star, there may be some possessions throughout the game when Nowitzki doesn't touch the ball or hangs out at the three-point line.
Although this is different from what Dallas is used to, it may be a necessary step in keeping the team competitive.
There may even be times when Dirk, as clutch as he is, is not the top option for a potential game-tying or -winning shot because a new player has emerged as a bigger threat.
The idea is that the Mavericks need to be creative and open-minded going into next season. Gone are the days when the team attempts to mold every roster move to cater to Dirk Nowitzki's strengths and weaknesses as a player.
Instead, what the team needs to do is assemble the best available roster and then rely on a future Hall of Famer Nowitzki to make the needed adjustments to fit in with them.
Only then will the Dallas Mavericks be able to make a surge back up the standings in the Western Conference.