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NBA Free Agency: Where Do Dallas Mavericks Go Now That Dirk Nowitzki is Back?

DALLAS - APRIL 27:  Forward Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks reacts during play against the San Antonio Spurs in Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center on April 27, 2010 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Mike KassContributor IJuly 4, 2010

Everyone in Dallas was on the edge of their seat. The greatest Maverick in franchise history was on the free market, possibly courting offers. A few insiders knew he'd be back, and they were right. Dirk Nowitzki agreed to come back for a four year, $80 million contract with Dallas.

The move left some people confused, though. He could have gotten $96.2 million. Why did he take less money?

The answer is the team. Dirk loves the Mavericks. He loves Cuban. He loves Dallas. He figures that taking less salary gives the Mavs more room to sign a top-tier free agent.

Dallas already has a strong core of players. When a team wins 50 games for 10 straight years, you know they are missing very few pieces. However, those few absent pieces have hindered the Mavericks' title hopes.

Dirk's agreement contributes a significant amount of cohesion. That he would take such a substantial salary hit means Nowitzki never wanted to leave. The organization (players, management, etc.) can see such an action as, for lack of a better term, loving. His dedication can inspire others and bring them together.

This family-like feel is what some players often want and need. Sure, there will always be the black sheep and the outcasts, but that can be overcome.

Dirk's situation put the Mavs in the discussions. If he had simply re-upped with the Mavs, you would not have heard much about them. The fact that they made headlines with this, however, puts them in the limelight for sign-and-trade possibilities with other big names like LeBron and Joe Johnson.

Loyalty is a premium in pro sports these days. With the millions of dollars being dished out, you hardly ever see a player take less money for his team. The fact that Dirk made such an unselfish move (granted, you know, the fact that it's still for $80 million) is a tale that will be told over and over, at least among Mavs fans.

He leaves the Mavericks $16 million to play with. While they're not below the salary cap, that is still $4 million per year. They can use that to get lower tier talent and some MLEs.

Speaking of MLEs, what do the Mavericks do with that now? Well, there are two possible choices.

The first MLE water cooler chatter surrounds Shaquille O'Neal. He's near the end of his career, yes. However, he is still dominant at the hoop coming off the bench, and Shaq can still slam the inside passes for points.

Granted, you don't want to pay him by the pound, but he's worth the mid-level exception if he's willing to take such a salary hit (rumors are that he wants to retire in Dallas anyway).

The second MLE possibility is tricky, and it probably will not happen. With all the overpaid contracts in this free agent class already (Darko, Pekovic, and even Joe Johnson being offered a max contract), it's not too surprising that Brendan Haywood might want more.

The ideal situation is to get Haywood as an MLE, although there is a very small chance of that happening (maybe Dirk's dedication will inspire him). The Mavs want to give him three years at $8-10 million. He's an unrestricted free agent. However, the Mavericks can resign him because they have Larry Bird rights. If he wants more than that though, it is a shame.

With Dirk locked up, it gives the free agents assurance that they will have a Robin. LeBron can play with Dwayne Wade, Joe Johnson, or Chris Bosh. He can play with the players that follow the smell of money.

LeBron could also choose to play with a guy that sacrificed over 15 percent of what he could have gotten so that his team would be better off. Which should it be?

If he comes to Dallas, James joins a team that has won 50 games over each of the last ten years. It is a team that is returning many of its key pieces. Sure, some of those pieces would be shipped out for him, but LeBron/Kidd/Dirk is a trio that could perhaps rival Pippen/Jordan/Rodman.

This trio would blast Bryant/Gasol/Bynum out of the waters, Duncan/Manu/Parker into the sky, and Pierce/Allen/Garnett to Timbuktu.

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