DALLAS – With Kobe Bryant‘s extension finalized, Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki is the next aging superstar headed for a pay cut in his next, and possibly final, deal.
Nowitzki, 35, is in the last year of his contract that pays him $22.7 million, second-highest in the league this season behind Bryant’s $30.5 million. Unlike Bryant, who agreed Monday to a two-year, $48.5 million extension, Nowitzki plans to let his contract expire before negotiating a new deal with Dallas owner Mark Cuban this summer. Also unlike the Los Angeles Lakers future Hall of Famer, Nowitzki appears accepting of a steeper pay cut than Bryant, one more in line with the three-year, $36-million deals Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan agreed to two summers ago.
“Obviously, it’s good for Kobe,” said Nowitzki, who passed Garnett Monday for 14th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. “That’s a lot of money for a 35-year-old, but if one guy earned it, it’s definitely Kobe.”
In the summer of 2010, Nowitzki left $16 million on the table when he signed a four-year, $80 million deal to stay in Dallas. That season he led the Mavs to the franchise’s lone championship and was named the Finals MVP after defeating the Miami Heat. Now, Nowitzki is just looking to get back into the playoffs with a roster that includes only Shawn Marion from the title team.
How the Mavs fare this season and then during next summer’s free agency period, where they’ve failed to land Deron Williams and then Dwight Howard the last two summers, could ultimately dictate Nowitzki’s price tag for the coming two to three seasons.
“I have no idea at this point,” Nowitzki said. “My contract is coming off, ‘Trix [Marion] is coming off, Vince [Carter] is coming off and so there’s a lot of money under the cap to make this team better. Like I said, this is Game 13 or 14 of the season, I’m more worried about [this] season than July.”
Bryant will earn $23.5 million in 2014-15 and $25 million (the collective bargaining agreement’s built-in, 7.5 percent pay raise). His salary next season will reflect about a 21 percent pay cut from this season, but the cost remains high enough that it will prevent the Lakers from having the available cap space to sign two max-level free agents. They will have room to sign one, but then little space to do much after that.
In 2012, both Garnett, then with the Boston Celtics, and Duncan with the Spurs, essentially accepted pay cuts of 50 percent from the previous season. Garnett went from a salary of $21.2 million in 2011-12 to $11.6 million in 2012-13. He will make $12.4 million this season and is due $12 million in the final year of his contract. Duncan went from $21.2 million in 2011-12 to $9.6 million last season, $10.4 million this season and $12.5 million in 2014-15.
Nowitzki, who will eclipse $200 million in career earnings this season, his 16th, has stated for some time now that he plans to work with Cuban on a deal that is fair but also helps the franchise maximize its cap space to attract and sign top-level free agents.
“I don’t really want to look forward too much,” Nowitzki said. “I’m not going to extend, obviously. I want to play the season out and then we can talk about the summer. I want to have a good season. I want to have an injury-free season and then [his coach/agent] Holger’s going to take his leather coat and meet with [Cuban] in the bunker suite and we’ll go from there.”
Holger is Holger Geschwindner, Nowitzki’s longtime personal coach from Germany and de facto agent. The reason for not following Garnett, Duncan and now Bryant with an extension, could be two-fold: Cuban prefers to allow contracts to expire, and Nowitzki can gauge how the roster shapes up during the summer before agreeing to years and a dollar figure.
“For me, I want to go back to the playoffs with this team,” Nowitzki said. “We have a real shot at it and that’s really what I’m focused on. I’m not really worried about extensions at this point.”