Now on the wrong side of 35, Dirk is still a superstar, and according to Cuban, he's also an MVP candidate.
Speaking on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM's Galloway and Company, the Dallas Mavericks owner claimed that his prized forward could crack his way into the MVP conversation next season (via ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon):
If there's one missing piece between what everyone is saying and what we're doing, everybody, I think, has dismissed Dirk -- like Dirk is done and he's on the downside and he can't play anymore and he's not the type of contributor that he was.
Knock on wood, if we stay healthy, I think people are just missing Dirk in ways they shouldn't. Like I've been telling him, Karl Malone won an MVP at 35 and there's no reason why he can't be considered in an MVP conversation at 35.
Nothing like setting the bar extremely high, am I right?
Karl Malone did indeed win Most Valuable Player honors when he was 35, but that age is usually reserved for the downswing of a player's career followed by an inevitable exit. Coming off a season where his knee held him to just 53 games, the odds are stacked against Dirk, just like every other 30-something athlete.
Funny thing is, Cuban has a point.
The 17.3 points per game Dirk averaged last season were the lowest since his rookie year and ended a string of 12 consecutive campaigns in which he notched at least 20 points a night.
But those 17.3 points came on the heels of knee surgery, next to an invasion of unfamiliar faces. By season's end, he still had the Mavs at .500, injecting what proved to be transient playoff hopes into a roster that just wasn't good enough.
Looking ahead, there is even less for Dallas to be excited about. Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon aren't quite Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, and the Mavs' bench is a potential disaster. Missing the playoffs for a second straight season isn't only plausible, it appears likely.
Should the Mavs wind up securing a postseason berth, however, we can't doubt that Dirk will be at the forefront of their good fortune. For them to sniff a breath of playoff air, he's going to have to play like the superstar Cuban knows he is.
In doing so, he'd also meander his way into the MVP discussion Leading this merry band of misfits to a playoff appearance would deserve that much. And he doesn't even have to win. Being mentioned would say enough.
"Maybe Dirk won't win an MVP," Cuban said. "But trust me, Dirk can still play."
For the Mavs to play for something other than a lottery selection next season, Dirk will indeed need to prove he can still play.
At an MVP level, no less.