HANGTIME SOUTHWEST — Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki started his first game of the season on Saturday night, but it’s how poorly his team finished a 99-96 overtime home loss to the last-place New Orleans Hornets that had him frustrated and questioning the direction of the franchise that struck out last summer in its bid to pair him with All-Star point guard Deron Williams.
With nine new players around him, and most on one-year contracts, Nowitzki is the centerpiece of a team adrift. Dallas is tied with Sacramento at 13-21 for 12th in the West, 5 1/2 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot.
“We knew that coming in, that eight or nine new guys on one-year deals is not really an ideal situation, but what else is there to do?” Nowitzki said to ESPNDallas.com following Saturday’s loss. “So either you break the whole thing up and trade me, or you get a bunch of one-year deals and try to be a player next summer. That’s the decision we made, so now we’ve got to fight through it.”
Nowitzki, who has a no-trade clause in his contract that expires after the 2013-14 season, has consistently said he wants to finish his now 15-year career in Dallas. Yet twice during his seven-game return from arthroscopic knee surgery in October, in which Dallas is just 1-6, he has brought up the possibility of a trade down the road as he analyzes the team’s prospects for success in coming seasons.
“It’s going to be tough now. I always liked to think you don’t want to build your franchise on hope,” Nowitzki said. “We hoped for Deron last year. We hoped for Dwight [Howard]. Why would he leave the Lakers? To me, it makes no sense. He’s in a great situation. Why would CP3 leave? [The Los Angeles Clippers are] the best team in the league probably right now. They’re probably the deepest team. So are you going to hope that we get something?
“Maybe [owner Mark] Cuban has something up his sleeve. Maybe you have to take a chance on a bad contract to get him in here and make something happen. I mean, I don’t know. That’s something we’ll have to see this summer. We’re going to play out this season. I’m going to get better and better, hopefully from game to game, so I can actually close out some of these games. And then we’ll see what happens.”
The New Orleans loss served as another dagger that has put the franchise’s record streak of 12 consecutive playoff appearances on the brink. A reporter asking Nowitzki a question started it by saying that the season is still young. Nowitzki interrupted and said, “Is it?”
Clearly he senses it slipping away — and maybe more than just this season. After last season’s first-round sweep out of the playoffs, the first of Nowitzki’s career (by the Oklahoma City Thunder), Nowitzki said the team had taken a clear step back after Cuban chose to not re-sign key pieces of the 2011 title team in order to maximize future cap space.
Still, Nowitzki has consistently backed Cuban’s plan publicly, and the notion that Cuban and Nowitzki would ultimately agree to part ways remains an unlikely scenario.
“The only reason I would leave — or would have left — is if we wouldn’t have won the championship, and I would have been like a Karl Malone and Gary Payton to join Kobe [Bryant] and Shaq [O’Neal] in L.A. like they did at the end,” Nowitzki told ESPNDallas.com. “But now I’ve got a ring and obviously want to finish my career here. But I also want to be competitive.”
Dallas has lived on the extreme with and without Nowitzki this season. They are 0-7 in overtime games but have also been blown out by 19 or more points nine times, three times with Nowitzki playing.
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said Saturday’s loss — in which the Mavs blew an 11-point third-quarter lead and were ahead 94-91 with two minutes to play in overtime — felt like hitting rock bottom. But with Nowitzki admittedly still not fully back into game shape, Dallas could be in store for more tough times.
The Mavs begin a three-game road trip at Utah on Monday night, followed by a back-to-back against the Clippers on Wednesday and the Sacramento Kings on Thursday.
“I just think it’s going to take some time. Unfortunately, we don’t really have it since we’re already so far behind the eight spot,” Nowitzki said. “But sometimes you have to be together in stressful situations to see how people react to certain things. Unfortunately, we’ve got to adjust on the fly here in big games and hopefully pull some out.”