Dirk Nowitzki's New Contract Gives Dallas Mavericks Title Flexibility

Ben Leibowitz@BenLeboCorrespondent IIIJuly 4, 2014

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Dirk Nowitzki was never going to sign with a franchise other than the Dallas Mavericks this summer.

Now that he’s agreed to ink a three-year, $30 million deal to stay with the Mavs, per ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, he’s kept the organization’s championship window wide open.

In addition to maintaining the increasingly rare no-trade clause in his new contract, the 36-year-old, 12-time All-Star upped the ante of his previous deal by opting for less money.

“Fresh off completing a four-year, $80 million contract in which he left some $16 million on the table, Nowitzki has agreed to take a far steeper pay cut this time,” Stein wrote.

The hope is that Dallas—a franchise just three years removed from an NBA championship—will be able to use its cap flexibility to sign a big-name free-agent prize like Carmelo Anthony.

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Admittedly, that mantra backfired on the front office in recent years when Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Deron Williams all signed long-term contracts elsewhere. (Though missing out on the latter was a lucky twist of fate for the Mavs.)

If Melo opts to stay with the New York Knicks and Phil Jackson or chooses to sign on with a different situation entirely, the Mavericks are poised to set their sights on other small forwards like Chandler Parsons and Luol Deng, per Stein.

Nowitzki told ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM, per Stein, “[Mavericks owner Mark Cuban] knows I don’t want to go anywhere and he doesn’t want me to go anywhere. We’re guessing that will be over pretty quick and then we can focus on making this franchise even better.”

Focusing on improving the roster is one thing. Taking a significant pay cut to open up space to do so? That speaks to Dirk’s loyalty and desire to win a second ring.

Short-Term Gain

The Mavericks already made a splashy offseason trade with the New York Knicks by swapping Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Wayne Ellington, Shane Larkin and draft picks for Raymond Felton and, most importantly, former Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler.

Eric Gay/Associated Press

The 7’1” skyscraper was one of the most integral pieces of the Mavs’ championship squad. During the 2011 playoffs, Mavericks opponents posted an offensive rating of 102.3 while shooting an effective field goal percentage of 47.8, according to Basketball-Reference.com. When Chandler was on the bench, those numbers ballooned to 111.9 and 49.1 eFG%, respectively.

The 31-year-old isn’t the most durable big man out there. He missed 43 games combined over the past two seasons in New York. Still, his familiarity with the Mavs organization, and past success playing beside Dirk in the frontcourt, ensures that team chemistry won’t be a problem.

Felton is certainly a downgrade from Calderon at the point, but Dallas may not be done making moves in that regard.

According to a tweet from Yahoo Sports’ Marc J. Spears, Cuban has contacted Sacramento Kings free-agent floor general Isaiah Thomas.

Despite improving statistically in each of his first three professional seasons, IT2 continues to be one of the most underrated guys at his position. Just check out his stats when compared with Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star (and max contract signee) Kyrie Irving:

Bleacher Report’s D.J. Foster is certainly intrigued by the prospect of seeing Thomas wind up in Dallas:

While the Washington product’s calling card is his scoring prowess, he’s also an underrated defender. Bleacher Report’s Adam Fromal noted the diminutive 1-guard’s propensity to usher quicker guards to the hoop in his NBA 200 series.

However, he also wrote, “Thomas is an unrelenting bundle of energy who constantly forces the issue, whether he’s closing out on shooter, bolting around screens or just pestering players without the ball.”

If he falls in line as a Plan B signing, the Mavs offense would be downright lethal.

Also, don’t discount the fact that Nowitzki is still playing at an elite level. After an injury-plagued 2012-13 campaign, the 7-footer suited up for 80 games in 2013-14, averaged 21.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and posted 49.7/39.8/89.9 shooting splits. He was just percentage points away from the heralded 50-40-90 season.

The former MVP already showed he can lead a team to a title without bona fide stars surrounding him. He’s older now, but the unique skill set remains.

Long-Term Gain

The possibilities of competing beyond next season may wind up being what Dallas hangs its hat on. Honestly speaking, that’s not a raw deal.

The acquisition of Chandler is two-fold.

One, he’s a defensive anchor who already helped Dirk and the Mavs win the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Two, he functions as a $14.6 million expiring contract next summer.

Cuban and Co. could move forward with the veteran center via contract extension. Contrarily, they’d have the option of using that cap space on a new star-caliber talent during the 2015 offseason.

LM Otero/Associated Press

Nowitzki will be locked in at a modest price tag for the foreseeable future. Unlike Los Angeles Lakers future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant—who is set to make $23.5 million and $25 million over the next two years—Dirk’s figure allows for plenty of wiggle room.

Even if the Mavericks don’t woo a guy like Anthony, Deng or Thomas, they’re in position to be free-agent players for a while.

Adding firepower for the short-term is an obvious priority. The Mavericks reached the playoffs and put a scare into the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs in the first round. There’s reason to believe they’re one big piece away from competing on the highest stage once again.

Still, this isn’t a make-or-break summer in Dallas, which adds an intriguing dynamic for the future.

Dirk’s Window

Nowitzki is still playing at an extremely high level, but how long will it last?

Does he have just one great year left in tank? Can he continue at his current pace for two seasons or more?

As long as his durability remains relatively constant—specifically in time for the playoffs—he has plenty to offer.

Nowitzki has never been a great defensive player, but now Chandler can both cover his weaknesses and keep his fellow big man fresh for the more glamorous end of the floor.

The Mavericks may be considered a dark-horse candidate for big-name free agents, but Nowitzki has granted management the ability to chase those guys now and into the future.

The twilight of Dirk’s career is commencing, but he’s given himself an opportunity to ride into the sunset as a champion.

Salary information courtesy of ShamSports.com.


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