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Why he'll be available
The only difference between last season's one-year rentals and this summer's longer investments is the fact that the Dallas Mavericks just added a few years to their cycle of mediocrity. Any gains in terms of talent were marginal at best.
Jose Calderon brings ball control and three-point shooting but at the expense of athleticism in the backcourt. Monta Ellis adds a scoring touch but has the same problems with consistency as O.J. Mayo minus the size and shooting stroke. Samuel Dalembert might be a better defensive partner for Nowitzki, but Dallas still replaced a former All-Star with a fringe starter.
Nowitzki knows he can't keep playing forever. He told the Star-Telegram's Mac Engel earlier this summer that he thinks he's "gotta a couple good years left."
Given the less-than-impressive roster improvements this summer, that puts the 35-year-old on course to play out the twilight of his career on a team with no championship hope.
He's spent all 15 of his NBA seasons in Dallas, which means any potential move at this point won't happen easily.
He has a no-trade clause and told ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon that he "could never see myself playing for another franchise." Also, owner Mark Cuban told reporters via ESPN.com, "There's no way I would trade him, no matter what."
But Cuban owes it to Nowitzki to give the former MVP what he wants, which he told USA Today's Sam Amick, is not "playing for the eight or nine seed." A No. 7 seed—really the most optimistic outcome for this roster in 2013-14—is not what Nowitzki has in mind.
Cuban and Nowitzki realized their championship dreams together in 2011. If either wants to make it back to that glorious stage, then this relationship has to end.
How a deal gets done
For Nowitzki to get back into the championship chase, he won't even need to leave the state of Texas. With James Harden and Dwight Howard on board, the Houston Rockets are legitimate contenders without Nowitzki.
Houston has a gaping hole at the power forward spot. Nowitzki's perimeter game would create optimal spacing for Howard and Harden to attack. His $22 million contract expires at season's end, meaning he could still take this title run with Houston then return and ultimately retire back in Dallas if that was his wish.
For Cuban and Co. to swing a deal for Nowitzki, they'll have to remember that they are trading the 35-year-old version of him. Nowitzki is an ideal third option on a championship club, maybe the No. 2 man with a stacked supporting cast, but he's not a leading man and won't be bringing a superstar return.
Houston's Omer Asik would headline Dallas' trade haul. He had two starts on his NBA resume before last season and still left 2012-13 as a walking double-double (10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per game).
Jeremy Lin's contract is necessary to make this deal work financially. Patrick Beverley could assume Lin's starting role, something he could do even if Lin isn't traded, and veteran Aaron Brooks would battle rookie Isaiah Canaan for the backup point guard spot.
Understandably, the Mavericks just signed Jose Calderon to a four-year deal, brought back Devin Harris and drafted Shane Larkin, but Lin gives something Dallas still severely lacks: a tradable asset.
Flipping Lin in a subsequent deal with an expiring contract like Shawn Marion or Vince Carter only strengthens the initial Nowitzki trade. Along with future draft considerations, Dallas could have its pick of second-year forwards Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas.
If Cuban and Mavericks fans remember which Nowitzki they're trading, a package of Asik, Lin, Jones/Motiejunas and draft picks is a respectable haul. It will sting at first, but expect that pain to diminish as Asik makes his next step and Donnie Nelson finds a taker for Lin and an expiring contract.