Dirk Nowitzki is nothing if not loyal. But he isn't oblivious to reality either.
What a story that is. What a tale it still has the potential to be.
Player begins his career with a team and ends it with that same one, without ever leaving in between. Epics such as those simply don't exist anymore.
Kevin Garnett forced his way out from underneath the Minnesota Timberwolves. LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers in ruins. Paul Pierce will no longer retire as a lifetime member of the Boston Celtics.
History is littered with the chronicles of almost. Certain players have almost spent their entire careers with one team. Almost.
Few are in the position Nowitzki (and Kobe) are. It's difficult to spend the entire length of one's professional tenure with the same team. Ties are severed so frequently, it's frightening. Players leave to chase championships and teams deal away aging stars to facilitate rebuilds.
Things always seem to fall apart, for whatever reason.
Dallas and Dirk are often thought to be above said trend. Their collective roots run deeper than money, rebuilding and the future in general. Dirk won a ring for the Mavericks, and though he'd like to spend the rest of his days contending, it's not necessary.
"Now that I already reached my goal (of winning it all), I really want to finish my career in Dallas," Nowitzki told Sam Amick of USA Today back in April.
See? Winning doesn't matter as much as riding the remainder of his career out with the Maverick does.
Anyone who claims the previous premise is undeniably wrong doesn't know what they're talking about. Dirk could stay in Dallas for the next few years and retire with the Mavs without ever leaving, no matter what state they're in. Yet that doesn't mean winning isn't important.
"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," he explained to Amick.
Dirk still wants to win, preferably with the Mavericks, but there's no way he's above leaving next summer if they're not in a position to contend.
Dallas has been brimming with optimism over the past few summers. The Mavs had enough cap space to reel in names like Deron Williams, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, among others. Each year, they've chased a course-altering star; each year, they've failed.
Since when is Ellis enough to satisfy a team thirsty for a championship? Last time I checked, never.
Don't get me wrong, the Mavericks are a good team, maybe even playoff-bound. They're also one Dirk Nowitzki injury away from dining in the NBA's basement.
At 35, he should no longer be shouldering that kind of burden. He belongs next to another superstar, one who is in his prime, prepared to assume control of the franchise on a whim.
Dallas doesn't have that second star, though. They swung and they missed for a second straight offseason. If that happens again, for a third time next summer, the Mavs may find themselves where they never wanted to be—sans Dirk.
Mark Cuban and the rest of the franchise know this too.
"Of course he doesn't want to fight for an eighth seed in the future; none of us do," Cuban said back in April. "Beyond that, like he has told me and the world, he can't see himself being anywhere else."
He's also never been faced with the prospect of what he and the Mavericks have to offer not being enough.
Big D is considered a desirable destination, one where players want to be if they wish to win while living out some bizarre chicken-finger fantasy. Cuban is willing to shell out as much cash as it takes, and to Dirk's credit, he's amenable to taking a massive pay cut next summer.
All in the name of winning.
Thus far, that scenario hasn't been enough. Selling prospective free-agent targets on Dirk and the Mavs' future financial flexibility hasn't garnered the endorsement of a marquee name. Williams stayed in Brooklyn, and Howard is shuffling on off to Houston.
Next year may not be any different. The Mavs will be weighed down by Calderon's contract, searching for a star or two among a cluster to buy into Dirk, Calderon and whoever else is in Dallas as a contender.
Maybe they'll land their big fish in what will be a sea of superstars. Or maybe not. Just like this summer. And the one before it. When nothing the Mavs said or did was enough to get who they really wanted.
Eventually, whatever spiel the Mavericks are slinging may not be enough for Dirk. A player like him, faithful and true, can only be sold on a series of Plan Bs for so long. And those Plan Bs can only stave off what is becoming an inevitable rebuild for a fixed period of time too.
Dallas is approaching its limit.
Contingency plans aren't supposed to be a way of life. They're a means to extending the essence of an initial vision, of something greater. For the last two years, they're all the Mavs have had, all Nowitzki himself has had to look forward to.
An inability to reverse that leading into next summer could then change everything.
"I tried to make the best out of it the last two years, and then I had some injury problems," Nowitzki said of what's transpired in Dallas.
He was talking about 2011, when after defeating the Miami Heat to win his first NBA championship, the Mavericks began to dismantle their core, the one he loved so much..
It started with Tyson Chandler leaving for the New York Knicks, and it continued with Jason Kidd and Jason Terry seeking refuge elsewhere one year later. How it will end is up to Dirk, one of the last vital pieces of that team.
"But looking back, I think it was sad [losing all those guys]," he admitted. "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."
It has been a big summer for the Mavs—a big failure. Compared to what that they had in mind, these last two offseasons have been a monstrous disappointment.
Devoid of any other options besides filling out their roster with second-tier talents and zeroing in on what can happen one year from now, the Mavs are one last failure away from an intrinsic desire to win potentially trouncing a sense of resolute loyalty.
One last failure away from Dirk possibly leaving Dallas in search of what the Mavs promised him, but ultimately couldn't deliver.