By Ben Golliver
The 2012-13 season has been frustrating and disappointing for the Mavericks, but owner Mark Cuban says things aren't bad enough for a total demolition.
One week after Dirk Nowitzki aired some frustration with the Mavericks' outlook, the Associated Press reported that Cuban told his franchise forward, who is under contract through the 2013-14 season, that there isn't a scenario in which he will be traded.
"I told Dirk we're not going to trade him. He was happy. I think,'' Cuban said, laughing. "I wanted to make it clear to him. I said, `We're in this through thick and thin,' and so there's no way I would trade him no matter what.''
"When Dirk has something on this mind, he's never shy,'' Cuban said. "If he's going to tell you what he said in the media, you don't think he's going to dump on me? I mean, I've got texts from every single year and emails from every single year. Dirk wants to get it out of his system and then at the end of the email or text it's like, `Don't you worry. I'm a warrior and I'm going to lead these guys and we're going to get it rolling.'''
Nowitzki wondered aloud last week whether Dallas was positioned to land marquee free agents next summer.
"It's going to be tough now," Nowitzki said after the Mavs' home overtime loss to the Western Conference cellar-dwelling New Orleans Hornets. "I always liked to think you don't want to build your franchise on hope.
"We hoped for Deron [Williams] 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 [Chris Paul] leave? [The 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 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."
The Mavericks, who played the first few months of the season without Nowitzki after he underwent knee surgery, are 15-23 and sitting in 12th place in the Western Conference. Basketball-Reference's playoff predictor gives them less than a one percent chance to make the playoffs, which would snap a 12-year streak of consecutive playoff appearances during the Nowitzki era.
After so many years of success, peaking with the 2011 title, it's almost impossible to imagine the Mavericks moving Nowitzki, who is averaging 13.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game this season, unless it came at his request. After so many years in Dallas and given his status as a franchise icon, it's equally difficult to imagine Nowitzki ever requesting a trade.
But the difficulty in moving Nowitzki doesn't begin and end with the history between player and team and the strong loyalty factor on both sides. Nowitzki, 34, is one of the highest-paid players in the NBA with a salary of $20.9 million this year and $22.7 million next year. While that salary figure isn't untradeable, particularly if he gets back to form down the stretch this season, it's unwieldy. Nowitzki is a player whose offensive game far exceeds his defensive game and, even given his age, he's far better used as the centerpiece of an attack rather than as a complementary player.
Moving Nowitzki in the short term carries many of the same complications as the Lakers' attempting to move Pau Gasol. Finding an ideal trade partner to receive him in trade would require a franchise with deep pockets, a tolerance for his injury risks, a roster that was both ready to win now and able to build its offense around him, and enough assets (expiring contracts and young talent or a legit star player) to make it worth the Mavericks' while. Perhaps such a suitor could be found next summer, with a full free agency period to reshape their roster around Nowitzki and more evidence that he was back to 100 percent, but finding a buyer that fits all the necessary criteria in advance of the trade deadline seems next to impossible. When Cuban says Nowitzi isn't going to be traded, then, he's doing right by the star player. He's also simply being realistic about the current trade market conditions.