Do the Mavericks dare part ways with their superstar if they miss the playoffs for a third straight year?
Dirk Nowitzki's name is synonymous with the Dallas Mavericks franchise. He holds franchise records for points, rebounds, made field goals, made three pointers and one day will have his number hanging from the rafters at the American Airlines Center.
And if the Mavericks don't make the playoffs, they need to look into trading their franchise player.
Dirk is Dallas' only real trade piece, and given the team's lack of promising youngsters, he may be the only way for the Mavs to bring in any young talent or draft picks. Now that's not to suggest the Mavericks could snag a young superstar for an aging Nowitzki, though getting a package of picks for Dirk certainly would make the future a bit brighter.
But despite this tempting option, Mark Cuban and the Dallas brass should keep Dirk. And the reasons for doing so have much deeper impacts than any "tank for picks" strategy does.
Curious? Then let's keep going.
Before we go into exactly why Dirk needs to be a Mav for life, let's set the scene for the this year and go over the reasons trading him needs to be considered.
In 2012-13, Dirk Nowitzki only played 53 games. Recovering from knee surgery cost him two months of the season, a season which was statistically one of his worst. His decline prompted Charles Barkley to give something of a eulogy for Dallas's star.
Father Time is catching up with him. That's the way it happens, you drop off the face of the earth. His days of being the man are over.
Dirk's 2014 All-Star Game selection makes Barkley's declaration seem quite premature.
Nowitzki has undergone a statistical revival of sorts, but maybe more importantly has led this Mavericks team to a 32-22 record and in competition for a playoff spot. He has proven he not only is far from washed up, but he is a top player in this league for the time being.
Given his turnaround, it's plausible a contender could be interested in his services. Think of Houston. A pure stretch 4 would work wonders for its system, and Omer Asik has been wasting away since the team pulled in Dwight Howard this offseason. That might be a nice fit for Dirk's services.
Granted, this is all speculation, and the salaries in this hypothetical situation are a bit wacky. But the point is there is a market for Nowitzki and his skills.
And given the dearth of young talent on this Dallas team, the Mavs need to start thinking of the future. When Dirk really starts to decline, there is nobody to step up and take the reins. Trading a guy who might only have two good years left for a future of some kind is something Dallas would be foolish not to consider.
All that being said, the Mavs need to keep their man. Mark Cuban thinks so too, and he cites culture as the reason why.
Culture is very important to the Mavs. Your best player has to be a fit for what you want the culture of the team to be. He has to be someone who leads by example. Someone who sets the tone in the locker room and on the court. It isn't about who talks the most or the loudest. It is about the demeanor and attitude he brings. It is amazing how when the culture is strong, the chemistry is strong. When the Mavs have brought in players that didn’t fit or buy in to our culture it created on the court and off the court problems. It's possible to handle one guy who may not fit it. It’s going to have a negative impact on your won and loss record if you have more than one.
Our culture is one of the reasons I won’t trade Dirk.
That was from Mark Cuban's personal blog, and it was an entry he posted in August about the past couple years in Dallas. He explained why he let the core go after the 2011 title, and why he made the moves he did going forward. It's a great read for any Mav fan looking for a glimpse into Cuban's basketball mind.
And in this case, Cuban's basketball logic is sound.
A winning culture is one that does not come easy. It takes years of success, the right personnel, some luck and even more perseverance.
And once you lose it, it's hard to recapture. And on the other side, teams like the Spurs can maintain that culture and have proven to be successful year in and year out.
Keeping Dirk around ensures not only will the team be respectable for the next few years, but it will have the type of veteran leadership a winning team needs. Nowitzki is the heart of Dallas' culture, and trading him would deal a huge blow to the psyche of the franchise moving forward.
Cuban also raised another point, this time a bit more tangible than culture.
What I do know, at least what I think i have learned from my experiences in business is that when there is a rush for everyone to do the same thing, it becomes more difficult to do. Not easier. Harder. It also means that as other teams follow their lead, it creates opportunities for those who have followed a different path.
He's talking about tanking: Where teams strip their roster down to the bare bones, lose tons of games then attempt to rebuild through the resulting high draft picks. Oklahoma City is the shining example of this, and the Clippers with Blake Griffin have benefited from the same strategy.
But Cuban's business sense tells him following the pack is not smart. Tanking was once a market inefficiency because few teams were doing it. And we've seen how taking advantage of market inefficiencies works in baseball too thanks to Michael Lewis' Moneyball.
Given this logic, maybe Cuban's middle-of-the-pack mentality is now the inefficiency. Whether you agree with Cuban's logic or not, it's obvious his mind is made up. So even if the Mavs miss the playoffs, Cuban won't budge on the Dirk issue.
Those familiar with what Boston did this offseason might call that stance stubborn.
Boston's core was aging, and it had two pieces in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett that were on the downhill yet still valuable players on the right team. So the Celtics traded the two vets, including the lifelong Celtic in Pierce, to the Brooklyn Nets for what was essentially a package of draft picks.
Seems reasonable. Why can't the Mavs do that?
What it comes down to is the franchise. Boston has 17 NBA championships. Dallas has one. Celtic lore is layered with all-time greats and some of the best players the game has ever seen. Dallas just has Dirk.
What I'm getting at is Boston already had the franchise guys who only played in Celtic green. They had the legends and the Celtic lifers. The Mavericks franchise has never had anyone to hang its hat on, never had a guy even sniff the status of NBA great.
Dirk would be that guy.
He would be the first great Mav. He has already given the franchise its identity and its only championship. Now he deserves the chance to retire with the team he made. Even if it misses the playoffs and his skills decline, Dallas needs its legend. It needs its Russell. Its Jordan. Its Duncan.
And that has to be worth more than taking a gamble on some picks from a playoff contender.
Maybe coach Rick Carlisle summed it up best. When he was asked about what his thoughts were on Nowitzki playing in Dallas till he neared 40, Carlisle responded to Eddie Sefko of DallasNews.com in his typical dry, yet in this case insightful, way.
“I certainly hope so,” Carlisle said. “It’d be good for all of us if he was.”