That's not because Nowitzki isn't one of the league's greatest players anymore, because he definitely still is. It's just that no one reasonably expects Nowitzki to leave Dallas, even though he's an unrestricted free agent.
And there are teams out there, obviously, who would love to have him. The Houston Rockets, for example, would be an instant title favorite by putting Nowitzki next to Dwight Howard and James Harden. It's not as though there's a lack of suitors for the 35-year-old forward's services.
It's just hard to imagine Nowitzki playing anywhere else at this stage of his career. For the last 15 seasons, Nowitzki has been in Dallas, where he's cemented himself as a local icon and one of the greatest athletes in that city's rich history.
Perhaps Nowitzki's upcoming free agency would have a different vibe if the Mavericks didn't win the title in 2011, or if Nowitzki didn't routinely say that he'll be back with the team.
“So yeah, I still think I’m going to play a couple more years at a high level. And we’ll just have to wait and see, meet with Mark (Cuban) a bunch. I’m not going anywhere for a while. (...)
Nowitzki knows he will take a pay cut from the $22.7 million he made this season. It’s just a matter of how big of a cut. Something in the $10-million-per-year area might work. But the key is making sure Nowitzki is happy and there’s still enough money left to pursue in-demand free agents.
“We want to get better as a team,” Nowitzki said. “And I’m pretty sure I’m not going to sign Kobe’s deal – unfortunately (Bryant signed a two-year, $48-million extension). “We’ll find a good way where I feel respected for what I did and we still have enough money left for us to get great players in here. Cubes has been great to me and been loyal to me for a long, long time. I’m sure we’re going to find a great solution for everybody.”
It makes sense that Nowitzki wants to finish his career right where it started. The Mavericks overachieved this season and have some nice pieces to go along with potential max cap room to add a big free agent or multiple strong players.
Veterans should come flocking to Dallas once again, as well, as the lack of state tax, warm weather and luxuries provided by Mavs owner Mark Cuban create a welcoming environment. Playing for a well-respected coach like Rick Carlisle with an aptitude for hiding inferior defenders doesn't hurt, either.
There's plenty of reason why Dallas would still appeal to Nowitzki, and he comes off as being incredibly loyal to the fans and organization.
At this point, it seems like the better question isn't if Nowitzki will re-sign, but for how much and for how long.
Nowitzki's kept his longtime mentor, Holger Geschwindner, by his side all these years, and he provided some insight on Nowitzki's future to Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com:
Dirk is not living out of his physical abilities -- can [not] jump like crazy, run as quick as some -- so the thing is, on that level, I guess if he's not seriously injured he can play three or four more years easily. The basic idea is as long as it's fun to go into work on the court and it's still interesting, he should do it, because I think the worst is if you stop and then you sit at home and think, 'Oh,' and you want to come back. You know all the big names that tried to do that. That does not work and it doesn't make sense.
So play until you die and they drag you off the court. Then it's over. Then you really know it's over and you can live with it.
This all seems pretty cut and dry. Nowitzki will almost certainly re-sign for an amount that allows the Mavericks to recruit some great players, and the Mavericks front office will do what it takes to make sure Nowitzki is comfortable with the deal, both in terms of money and length.
There doesn't seem to be a sliver of hesitation from Dallas' standpoint when it comes to re-signing Nowitzki, as president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson recently told Mavs.com:
Obviously, you know, Dirk’s not going anywhere. He’s built this franchise and he’s been with us since Day 1. Certainly, there’s a negotiation that’s going to take place, but he loves this city and he wants to call it his home. We certainly reciprocate those feelings, and our hope is that we’ll get something done that’s not only in Dirk’s best interest but also affects the flexibility of the future of the Mavericks.
With so much certainty on both sides, it would be a shock if Nowitzki left Dallas after all these years. It's where he's built his legacy, and the Mavericks understand how important keeping Dirk is to the entire organization, not just the team on the floor.
It doesn't seem to happen as much in the modern sports world with free agency and more trading being prevalent, but Nowitzki seems destined to finish his career with just one franchise. There's a lot to be said for that kind of loyalty, both from the player and the organization.
While it wouldn't be a surprise if some teams with potential cap space like the Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards and others made soft inquiries, it will almost definitely be done as more of an obligation than anything else. No one expects Nowitzki to leave Dallas, and while the details still have to be hammered out, it sounds like he'll finish his career right where it started.