DALLAS — Dirk Nowitzki got to talking about playing into his late 30s the other day. No one should doubt his ability to do so, or his desire to do it all with the Dallas Mavericks and the high probability that he will.
He’s on record saying as much practically more times than he’s taken the floor over 15 seasons, and with tonight’s game against Milwaukee that makes 1,082 times.
Nowitzki acknowledged that the slow trudge back from October arthroscopic knee surgery put some doubt in his mind as to his longevity. But he’s feeling and playing more like his old self now as 30 points and 13 rebounds showed Sunday against the Lakers. After that game he said he plans to play two or three more seasons once his current deal expires after next season. The ripe, old age of 40 even came up.
“But I always say it’s got to be fun,” Nowitzki said. “If it gets to the point that the fun is gone and I’ve got to go to work, I’d rather just retire. I’ve got this year and next year under contract, so I’ll be 36 and for sure play a couple of more years.”
It is assumed that when Nowitzki, 34, signs his next deal he’ll do so seated next to smiling owner Mark Cuban, who once said he’d sign the German when he’s 73 if he can still shoot. Yet when Nowitzki discusses his future these days, he’s quick to reiterate his staying power in Dallas, but he also continually delves into the current uncertain state of the franchise, a little caveat that leaves the window cracked ever so slightly for a potential change of scenery in his final seasons.
“Once you’ve won it all and had that feeling, that excitement in the city and the franchise, you don’t want to play basically for the eighth seed two straight years,” Nowitzki said. “So it’s been tough. We made some business decisions obviously we all know about, so we’ll see what we get out of this. We have cap space for the first time in a long time. We’ll see if we can make something happen this summer.”
Actually, as Nowitzki knows, the franchise had cap space last summer, too, but swung and missed on Deron Williams. The whiff ushered in a second season of constructing a short-term roster of mostly expiring contracts, a scenario Nowitzki doesn’t view as a winning formula.
So then came this answer, the caveat, when asked if he expects to continue to make Dirk-like, or superstar, coin on his next deal. Nowitzki is owed $20.9 million this season and $22.7 million next season.
“Well, I think it’s a little too early to look, honestly,” Nowitzki said. “Basically the last couple of times, there was not much negotiating going on. It was, ‘Give me money and I’ll stay,’ right? I gave him [Cuban] a little discount last time. The CBA’s changed. We’ll talk about that when it gets to that point. I still have this year and then the full next year. We’ll see what happens and where this franchise is. Like I said, it could all depend; this is a big summer. This is a big summer.”
Since raising the Larry O’Brien Trophy, the Mavs are 61-60, plus a first-round sweep out of the playoffs for the first time in Nowitzki’s career. Now the franchise’s record 12 consecutive playoff appearances is in jeopardy. The pressure is on Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson to come through this summer with a significant free agent to ease Nowitzki’s burden in his twilight years, or to formulate a trade that lands impact players.
Do so and no doubt Nowitzki, who will have earned more than $200 million by the end of his current contract, will cut a cap-friendly deal. But if he’s still the lone star in the summer of 2014, his asking price might just go up, potentially making things a bit uncomfortable for Cuban. Or, if Dallas remains a revolving roster, perhaps a more enticing situation elsewhere presents itself as the CBA promises more salary-shedding and roster shakeups across the league.
“We’ll make it work,” Nowitzki said. “Cube’s obviously said his bank’s open, so we’ll see what happens this summer. It’s going to be a big summer for us. We want to get back to winning ways. We always competed and were part of the playoffs, so we’ll see what happens this summer. It’s going to be a big summer for this franchise.”