Will Dirk Nowitzki's Extreme Loyalty to Dallas Mavericks Finally Pay Off?

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Will Dirk Nowitzki's Extreme Loyalty to Dallas Mavericks Finally Pay Off?
USA TODAY Sports

Dirk Nowitzki's free-agent negotiations with the Dallas Mavericks held as much suspense as a single-candidate election. Or so we thought, anyway.

The 7-foot sniper stuck to the script, promising a pay cut and staying true to his word. Yet, while the plot never changed, it took enough unexpected turns to drop the collective jaw of the basketball world.

First, let's get to the finances.

Previous reports tabbed Nowitzki's new deal as a three-year pact "believed to be in the $30 million range," as sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein. Judging by the former MVP's most recent stat line (21.7 points on .497/.398/.899 shooting, 6.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists a night last season), the rate was an unbelievable bargain.

Then, word leaked Tuesday of Nowitzki's actual salary, again courtesy of Stein's sources. It turns out the Mavericks didn't get him at simply a reduced rate, the price they paid for their franchise face was nothing short of a Black Friday door-buster:

"This is easily the early pick for best contract of the offseason," Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver wrote. "Even though Nowitzki remains one of the very best players at his position in the league, this new deal is so heavily discounted that it's almost comical."

Somehow, the price was even better than it sounded.

According to Stein, Nowitzki accepted his clearance-sticker contract after declining max-deal overtures from the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers:

For the 36-year-old—who finished the 2013-14 campaign 10th in player efficiency rating (23.6), 10th in true shooting percentage (60.3) and 11th in total win shares (10.9), via Basketball-Reference.com—helping his franchise was more important than helping himself.

If that sounds familiar, it should. Nowitzki took a four-year, $80 million deal from Dallas the last time he sat at the negotiating table when he could have pocketed $96 million.

"You can count guys like Dirk on one or two fingers," Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said, via Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News. "We're so lucky to have him."

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

There are varying degrees of good fortune. There's "I found a quarter on the street" luck, and then there's "I cannot count all the zeroes in my Powerball jackpot prize" luck. It's safe to assume Nelson was referring to the latter.

At this number, Nowitzki might be better than a winning lottery ticket. Put his deal alongside some of the others floating around the league, and his value grows exponentially:

That's all well and good for the Mavericks, but what's in it for Nowitzki?

For starters, his sacrifice helped Dallas put a stronger supporting cast around him.

After acquiring former Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler to anchor their interior, the Mavs pried rising swingman Chandler Parsons away from the Houston Rockets with a three-year, $46 million offer sheet his old employer didn't match. Veterans Richard Jefferson and Rashard Lewis helped replenish some of the second-team floor spacing lost when Vince Carter signed on with the Memphis Grizzlies.

The point guard position still needs some attention—Raymond Felton and Devin Harris figure to fight for the starting spot formerly held by Jose Calderon—but the stars seem to be aligning for the Mavs to spend Nowitzki's twilight years competing for something substantial.

"I love the core we have here with Tyson [Chandler], Monta [Ellis] and Dirk," Parsons said, via Mavs.com's Earl K. Sneed. "I think we have a chance to do some special things here."

Time will tell if the Mavs have enough to contend in the gauntlet that is the NBA's Western Conference, but there are reasons to be optimistic.

The Mavs tied with the Miami Heat for the league's second-most efficient offense last season (109.0 points per 100 possessions), via NBA.com. Between Nowitzki and Ellis, who put up 19 points on 45.1 percent shooting and 5.7 assists, Dallas will bring back the two key offensive contributors from that group.

In Parsons, the Mavs also have a versatile third wheel that last year's team lacked. The Swiss Army knife averaged career highs in points (16.6), rebounds (5.5) and assists (4.0) last season, and he might have been only scratching the surface of his true potential.

"He shoots the long ball, he’s able to put it down and create, he’s a very, very underrated passer, a great chemistry guy, and really kind of an old-school multi-talented player," Nelson said, via Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Now, Parsons will obviously be helping strengthen a strength, and his acquisition might not help with the Mavs' Achilles' heel: defense. For that, they'll lean on the other Chandler, the defensive centerpiece of the franchise's 2011 championship team.

"The 31-year-old skyscraper already showed he could complement Nowitzki as a defensive anchor," wrote Bleacher Report's Ben Leibowitz. "As long as he stays relatively healthy, there’s no reason to think he can’t fill that niche again."

With Chandler manning the middle, the Mavs finished the 2010-11 campaign ranked seventh in defensive efficiency. That standing has slipped in each of the three seasons since, bottoming out with last year's 22nd ranking, the worst of all 16 playoff participants.

Dallas' dual-Chandler approach addressed the franchise's biggest need and increased the explosiveness of an already potent offense. Remember, this is a team that rattled off 48 victories last season and pushed the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs the full seven games in their opening-round series.

USA TODAY Sports

The Mavs should be really good in 2014-15. They have the chance to be great. Ultimately, that's what Nowitzki has been after, that chance to compete with the NBA elites.

"At this point of my career, it's all about competing and winning. ... I want to compete over these last couple years," he said last summer, via ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon. "That's going to be the goal."

The Mavs, with a massive assist from the Diggler himself, have given him just that. However, that might not be the only reward he reaps for showing this tremendous amount of loyalty.

By committing his future to the only NBA franchise he's ever known, his legacy is sealed as the rare sports star who endured both the good days and the bad ones with the same team. He never chased a ring nor pursued the biggest pay day.

Whatever move helped the Mavericks, that was the road he followed.

Glenn James/Getty Images

Players like him don't come around often, and that has nothing to do with the fact that he's a 7-foot scoring machine with a borderline unguardable fadeaway. What sets Nowitzki apart from most of his peers is that loyalty, an idyllic myth for most of the sports world, has actually driven his career decisions.

He'll forever be remembered as a Maverick for life and might have a front-office seat set aside for him after his playing days. He has dominated between the lines, but his allegiance to his team transcends the sport itself.

The Mavs might not be able to reward his loyalty with another championship ring, but his decision has already paid off. He has a special place in the NBA annals, and nothing can ever take that away from him.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

 

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