Grades: Mavericks reward Dirk Nowitzki for years of sacrifice
The pressure to make Dirk Nowitzki financially whole—or at least closer to financially whole—came from a failure to deliver. Nowitzki cut the Mavs a tremendous deal on two straight contracts for the sake of facilitating title contention. The contract Nowitzki played on last season, worth what amounted to mid-level money, made the prospect even simpler. Dallas could never quite produce the kind of winning roster that sacrifice deserved after letting its roster dissolved in 2011; free agent whiff after free agent whiff left the Mavericks without the kind of core players that Nowitzki's deal was structured to allow.
Dallas gave chase in the free agency of Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and DeAndre Jordan, missing on all counts. The pipe dream of this summer was to pitch two free agents (Mike Conley and Hassan Whiteside) simultaneously, selling them on the prospect of playing together and with Dirk. Neither bought it; both Conley and Whiteside returned to their respective teams on new deals richer than Dallas could offer. Rejection has become familiar, as has the Mavericks' impressive pattern of cobbling together a competitive consolation roster.
This time around is slightly different—if only because Dallas has made a clear effort to do right by Nowitzki financially. According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, Nowitzki and the Mavs are ironing out the details on a two-year deal that will pay $40 million to the greatest player in franchise history. A player option will allow Nowitzki to again survey the landscape next summer and gauge the value of entering free agency. Nowitzki isn't going anywhere. But he's essentially free to decide, in this summer and next, what he wants in a contract from the Mavs.
Depending on your perspective, this sum feels like either an acknowledgment or an apology. There is little question that Nowitzki has earned this. In 18 years with the franchise, Dirk has dedicated himself completely to winning, improving, and serving as an ambassador for his adopted home. The relationship he shares with both the Mavericks organization and the city of Dallas are profound. There is no form of recognition that Nowitzki hasn't already garnered and so the franchise will convey its respect by its restitution. The money Nowitzki makes could have gone to adding some marginally better bench player than Dallas would have been able to afford otherwise. Instead, it will be reallocated to the very player responsible for so much of what the Mavericks do.
Nowitzki isn't the player he was, but his skills and basketball temperament age well. There are no Kobe Bryant-esque concerns of Nowitzki ending his career taking every shot he can. Still he plays in a way that serves the offense, even if he can't quite carry the whole damn thing to elite efficiency like he used to. Dallas knows this and doesn't care. Give the man his money because, in truth, he's probably owed far more.