How badly does Dirk Nowitzki want to win a championship next season?
The 36-year-old is taking a dramatic pay cut with the Dallas Mavericks so that the organization could pursue restricted free agent Chandler Parsons.
Details of the contract courtesy of ESPN.com's Marc Stein: "Sources told ESPN.com that Nowitzki's new contract, which was officially announced Tuesday, is actually a three-year deal worth a mere $25 million."
Stein notes that Nowitzki had his choice of suitors, adding, "Sources say that Nowitzki received strong interest in free agency from the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Lakers to leave Dallas for max-level money but refused to engage in negotiations with either team."
During a summer when Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh both remained with their teams—taking big money in the process—only Nowitzki gave a serious hometown discount, just as he promised he would a summer ago.
Stein describes the ultimate rationale for Nowitzki's decision:
Nowitzki consented to such a steep pay reduction -- from last season's $22.7 million to the roughly $8 million he'll get for this coming season -- to give the Mavericks added flexibility to strengthen the supporting cast around him.
Dallas used the resultant cap space, in conjunction with Chandler Parsons' agent Dan Fegan, to create a lucrative three-year offer sheet to the restricted free agent that the Rockets ultimately decided they couldn't match.
Nowitzki's contract will continue to have a no-trade clause but—as Stein notes—will mean "Parsons will essentially be making $7 million more than the Mavericks' face of the franchise this coming season."
Over the course of his career, Nowitzki's made quite a bit more money than Parsons. And apparently Dirk decided that was good enough, electing to pursue another title with his team of the last 16 seasons.
And passing up around $15 million annually in the process.
The financial chivalry meant Dallas could add one of the offseason's prized free agents in Parsons, a 25-year-old forward with good length and a feathery touch. Last season—his third—Parsons averaged 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and four assists, boasting a 37 percent success rate from beyond the three-point arc. He's a lethal spot-up shooter and plenty athletic.
The Mavericks desperately needed an upgrade on the wing after trotting out Shawn Marion and Vince Carter during the 2013-14 campaign. The veterans have served well, but Dallas coveted a difference-maker in his prime.
The kind who could extend Nowitzki's title window.
Tyson Chandler's addition could be a big part of the equation, too. Chandler fortified Dallas' 2011 title-winning defense and still plays at a high level—posting 8.7 points and 9.6 rebounds last season with the New York Knicks.
On paper, the Mavericks don't necessarily jump out at you as much as some star-laden teams, but that underestimates head coach Rick Carlisle's ability to bring out synergy from his teams. Even as the eighth seed in the 2014 playoffs, the Mavericks gave the San Antonio Spurs all they could handle in that first round.
In retrospect, it was the Spurs' most difficult test of the offseason.
And that was without Parsons or Chandler.
Dallas has gone from a team with dark-horse potential to a legitimate title contender, thanks in large part to Nowitzki's contractual sacrifice. Top to bottom, this roster has gotten better—and could get better still, should someone like Mo Williams agree to make a similar sacrifice.
If there's a weakness in the Mavericks' rotation at the moment, it's that Raymond Felton and Devin Harris don't wow you at the point guard position. A platoon that included Williams, however, would be far more compelling.
The NBA remembered this season that you don't need a trio of superstars in their primes to win a championship. That should give the Mavericks hope. Though Nowitzki, Parsons and Ellis are a solid "Big Three," they won't compare in star power to competitors like the Oklahoma City Thunder or Houston Rockets.
The Mavericks will almost certainly remain underrated, but that should suit them just fine. They've done well as underdogs.
The acquisitions of Parsons and Chandler will get a lot of the attention, but the quiet re-acquisition of Nowitzki will be Dallas' most important of all. He's one of those few guys who always give their teams a chance.
And he's been doing it for a long time.
As CBSSports.com's Zach Harper notes, "Dirk is the franchise's all-time leader in games, minutes played, field goals made, field goals attempted, 3-pointers made and attempted, free throws made and attempted, offensive and defensive rebounds, and points scored."
"You can count guys like Dirk on one or two fingers," said team president Donnie Nelson, according to The Dallas Morning News' Eddie Sefko. "We’re so lucky to have him. He’s a winner."
He was a winner last season, too. But he needed help.
Carmelo Anthony was the first choice, and he certainly would have ranked highly when it came to adding that star power. But Parsons is a more than respectable plan B. Consistently good though he's been in each of his last two seasons, there's a strong argument to be made that we haven't seen the best yet.
With the number of touches James Harden and Dwight Howard were getting, Parsons was never the focal point of Houston's offense. He has the opportunity to be that guy in Dallas, especially with Nowitzki entering the twilight of his career.
His value will be felt in more than points alone. Parsons is the kind of shooter who instantly creates floor spacing, adding a dimension to the Mavs offense that Marion couldn't on his best day.
Should Marion return, he'd make a solid backup and bring a defensive change of pace in the second unit. But Dallas needed another top-shelf scorer.
And thanks to Dirk, that's what they got.
By taking half of what he's arguably worth and about a third of what he could have reportedly made on the open market, Nowitzki has restored his Mavericks' ability to hang with the very best—which is a scary thought considering how well they hung with the best a season ago.
In a league that's full of stars and even a few winners, Nowitzki's one of the very few who can also be counted loyal.
And worth every penny he so nobly turned down.