Last Saturday afternoon, the story broke in Dallas that Dirk Nowitzki chose to opt out of his contract and become yet another member of this historic free agency class.
I first heard the news driving down the highway and nearly drove into a ditch when the story broke. After gaining control of the car and being talked out of driving into oncoming traffic, I actually started to think about the ramifications of Dirk possibly leaving.
From purely a basketball standpoint, you could make an argument that Dirk has been one of the most embattled and unappreciated NBA players of the past decade.
Whether or not that's fair to define a career of incredible consistency on two poor postseason performances is an argument in itself.
However, Dirk is not appreciated enough on the national level and in Dallas as well.
Think of the NBA franchises that are defined by their best players. I'll admit LeBron in Cleveland (although in my opinion that will be changing soon), Wade in Miami (see LeBron), Duncan in SA, Kobe in LA are the top four ,but then I think you have to put Dirk next.
According to basketball-reference.com, from the '01 to '10 seasons, Dirk averaged at least 25 and eight. In the past two seasons, he has shown no signs of slowing down in spite of reaching the ripe old age of 30, averaging 37 minutes a game during his career.
In his MVP year of '06-'07, he became only the fifth member of the 50-40-90 club in a season (50 percent FG, 40 percent from three, 90 percent FT.)
This past year, before Carl Landry inadvertently tried to eat his elbow in December (four days after he had Landry's teeth removed out of his elbow, Dirk suited up and scored 27) he was an MVP candidate while still finishing with solid numbers of 25 and seven.
To answer the critics that say Dirk isn't tough enough, he has played in at least 76 of 82 games each year during his entire career. To answer the critics that say he doesn't have low post moves, he added a beautiful spin move on the block, a turnaround five footer that's impossible to guard, an up and under move from the same distance, to go along with the fact he still does a great job at getting to the line.
To answer the critics who say he sucks in the postseason, he has carried this team in the postseason for the past three seasons.
In '08 he did it against the Hornets on a bum ankle, last year he put up huge numbers against the Nuggets despite the unforgettable Crista, Crystal, Cristine Taylor scandal, and you can not fault him for the Mavs collapse to the Spurs this year (that belongs to Carlisle, Terry, and Kidd).
Oh and by the way, he's seven feet tall.
That all being the case, Dirk is not appreciated enough in the league and I even think in the city of Dallas which is why I would not hate him for leaving. In the two weeks after Dallas' premature playoff exit, this was sadly the most popular quote of the week, "You can't win a title if Dirk is the best player on your team."
That's garbage, pure and simple just like the supporting cast of the Mavs was this past series against the Spurs.
I vote you can't win a title when your second best players are the likes of Caron Butler, Jason Terry's front-running self, and especially if Erik Dampier is getting more than 20 minutes a game to set screens.
No, it's not Dirk's fault the Mavs haven't won a title. I will concede the '06 finals he choked, plain and simple and given the early exit this year, that may be the closest he ever comes. But Dirk has been a warrior for this team for over ten years now and I'm concerned that people don't realize the extent of that.
As far as free agency goes this summer, my gut feeling is that he will stay. Cuban will do anything and everything to keep him and Dirk has been on record of saying it would mean far less if he were to win a title elsewhere.
I have my concerns though.
1. See above paragraphs on Dallas not appreciating Dirk.
2. The press conference of Dirk after the San Antonio series. He looked utterly defeated in every sense of the word. And yes I know they had just lost but let me explain.
There was no emotion at all, he seemed hopeless, like someone who had come to the realization that maybe it just wasn't meant to be. He wasn't mad, angry, or even upset; just completely lifeless as a result of the crushing end to another disappointing season.
How many more of these playoff series losses can an individual athlete take with one franchise? How many more times does Dirk have to be subject to the question of how you just can't win a title if he's the best player on the team? How many times can you put yourself through a great regular season only to watch your team crumble in the postseason?
It has to get old.
The question now is, has Dirk had enough? If he stays in Dallas, something has to happen this summer. He needs a reliable second threat and so far Dallas has failed at finding that player. Think of the past title winners: Kobe has Gasol, Kevn Garnett had Allen in '08, the Spurs always had Duncan and Ginobli, and so on so forth.
However, Dirk appears to be too loyal to leave now. He came to this franchise as a 19 year old kid with a god awful haircut and has grown into one of the biggest stars in Texas.
He has developed into a first ballot future Hall of Famer and will go down as one of the greatest big man shooters of all time (I would make the argument, he's one of the best 15 big men period.) All that's left now is a title.
While all this speculation could simply be a financial issue, it's still opens the door to the questions of what's going to happen next.
On one hand, Dirk simply might be looking to get another long term deal before the next Collective Bargaining Agreement knocks the max contract amount down.
On the other more unlikely hand, this could be Dirk challenging the organization and the city of Dallas for that matter to see how much they want him.
In sports, the grass is always greener, the best is always somewhere else. I'm afraid some Dallas fans are soon turning guilty of this as well.
To quote the Counting Crows "You don't know what you got till it's gone," and hopefully everyone comes to their senses and realizes if Dirk leaves, then the hope of winning a title without someone who has given so much to a team is just that, gone.