LAS VEGAS — To put into perspective the magnitude of Dirk Nowitzki‘s pay cut, consider this: He’ll make in the next three seasons what Kobe Bryant is charging the Lakers for just next season.
It’s a big reason why the Dallas Mavericks could be back in the conversation as a top-four contender in the Western Conference while the talent-depleted Los Angeles Lakers are more likely to miss the playoffs for a second consecutive season. That hasn’t happened since 1976.
Bryant signed a two-year, $48.5 million extension last year. Nowitzki signed an exceedingly below-market-value deal of three years and $25 million earlier this week. The total is even less than than the three years and $30 million he was initially believed to be signing.
When the Mavs convene for training camp in October, the league’s all-time 10th-leading scorer and the franchise’s leading scorer in every season since 2000, will be Dallas’ fourth-highest paid player.
“It’s just the kind of human being he is. He’s all about winning; he’s all about championships,” Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said Wednesday as he watched Dallas’ Summer League team take on Charlotte. “He’s one of the most selfless superstars that have ever played in the NBA, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to bring another parade to Dallas.
“He understood that we needed flexibility in order to get the team better. He’s part of the tapestry of the city of Dallas. He’s really a made man in a lot respects if you think about all the superstars that have come through in all the sports, in terms of basketball it doesn’t get any better than Dirk. He just made a decision to end his career there. Hopefully we can tag another contract on to that.”
By agreeing to go from making $22.7 million last season to $7.97 million this season, Nowitzki provided the Mavs front office with the financial ammunition to deliver a three-year, $46-million offer sheet to Rockets restricted free agent small forward Chandler Parsons.
“The one consistent from Day 1 is Dirk,” Nelson said. “We’re not in position this summer to be as active as we are without him taking a fairly major pay cut and being a team player.”
Houston eventually did not match the contract and the Mavs acquired much-needed youth and talent in the 25-year-old Chandler. He joins a front line that includes Nowitzki and also 7-foot-1 center Tyson Chandler, whom the Mavs acquired in a trade before the start of free agency.
Chandler, on the final year of a four-year, $60 million deal he signed with the Knicks following Dallas’ 2011 championship, will be the Mavs’ highest-paid player at $14.8 million. Parsons is right behind him at $14.7 million. Shooting guard Monta Ellis will make $8.36 million.
To bring this back to the Lakers, power forward Jordan Hill will make $1 million more than Nowitzki next season.
In each of the last three summers, Dallas has tried to lure a max free agent to pair with Nowitzki in his final seasons and then to take the mantle once the big German finally calls it a career. That plan hasn’t worked out and since winning the title in 2011, owner Mark Cuban has continually flipped the roster. They were bounced in the first round of their title defense, missed the playoffs in 2012-13 and then won 49 games last season and took the Spurs to seven games in the first round.
The organization talked of continuity, but when the chance arose to reclaim Chandler from the Knicks, they sent starters Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert to New York. Dallas lost Vince Carter to Memphis and appears on the verge of losing veteran small forward Shawn Marion, the last player left along with Nowitzki from the title team. Point guard Raymond Felton came to Dallas in the Chandler trade and will tag team with Devin Harris.
Dallas also signed veteran Richard Jefferson and depth center Greg Smith, and it still has a $2.73 million exception and a minimum salary slot to fill. The Mavs didn’t get the big fish again, but with the help of their longtime superstar taking not only a haircut, but a buzzcut, they’ve remade the roster yet again, and this time might have pulled themselves back into contention.
“It’s always been that way,” Nelson said. “Dirk is part of the Mavs family, and he and Mark have had a special, unique, honest and forthcoming relationship since Mark has owned the team. He’s probably the biggest reasons we’ve had 15 years of great chemistry in the locker room. We haven’t been without our speed bumps, but for the most part we’ve had a really good team atmosphere and it starts from the top with Dirk in the locker room, Mark from a franchise perspective and you have the best coach in the game in Rick Carlisle.”