As the Dallas Mavericks kick off the 2015-16 NBA season many questions surround this new-look team – including how a rebuilt backcourt, point guard and rim protector issues and defensive woes will play out. But all eyes are sure to be on Dirk Nowitzki who enters his 18th season in the league and as the face of this franchise.
In short, many want to know will this be his last hurrah?
At 37 years of age, the All-Star power forward doesn’t move like he used to – and he knows it. His 3-year, $30 million contract signed in July 2014 has two more years on it. Will he transition from a starter to sixth-man before it expires? He can’t be the Mavericks only option to make it to the post-season anymore. He finished last season in not-so-Dirk-like fashion, prompting some to wonder is he on the decline and is this the beginning of the end.
He averaged only 29.6 minutes per game, his lowest since his rookie season of 1998-99, but still turned in a respectable 17 points per game. His Mavs went 50-32 last year before losing to the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs, 4 games to 1. Then there was the Rajon Rondo debacle, the mass exodus of key teammates in free agency and Deandre Jordan-gate, which led to such blasphemous discussions like should the Mavs consider tanking and should Dirk be traded.
The latter was actually a viable option according to Stephen A. Smith of ESPN’s First Take and co-debater Skip Bayless, who agreed with him.
“I think the Dallas Mavericks should trade Dirk Nowitzki because he’s a champion, he’s a Hall-of-Famer and he’s a great player even though he’s not what he used to be,” Smith said in July shortly after DeAndre Jordan jettisoned back to the Clippers.
“Dirk is still 7 feet, one of the greatest shooters in the game and a first-ballot Hall of Famer. You put him in the right situation, he could make mega noise and still be big time for you in moments.
“I think the Dallas Mavericks should trade him for both of their sakes and get a lot in return for his services and rebuild that way,” Smith said. “I agree,” Bayless replied.
Well, he wasn’t traded and much to MFFL’s delight, he’ll retire a Maverick. The biggest question now is how much of a role Dirk will play in helping the franchise turn back in the right direction. No one can deny post-Dirk plans are already in full effect.
Heir-to-the-Maverick-throne Chandler Parsons and newly acquired back-up heir Wesley Matthews are both nursing injuries and the contributions of Finally-Came-to-Dallas Deron Williams and Javale McGee remain to be seen. They all must get healthy to help Dirk lead this team all year and to guarantee post-season play. A rested Dirk is a better Dirk but until they are all healthy, look for #41 to play early and often.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the veteran who looks this season to replace Shaquille O’Neal at #6 on the NBA All-Time Scoring List. (He needs 478 points to pass Shaq.)
He is the stability of the team. The rock. The leader. The team and the franchise continue to rely heavily on him to propel them into the post-season year-after-year. He’s been all too happy to oblige them and has been successful.
But those days are coming to a close. Dirk knows he can’t play forever and will one day pass the torch and the keys to the Mavericks kingdom.
Whether that time is sooner rather than later remains to be seen.