Dirk Nowitzki has just about done it all. The seven-footer is an 11-time All-Star, 12-time All-NBA Team member, an MVP and an NBA Champion. But the former MVP is still hungry, with perhaps an even bigger appetite for his second championship.
After a tough start to his NBA career, the German quickly turned the Dallas Mavericks from one of the worst teams in the league into perennial championship contenders. Nowitzki led the Mavericks to 12 straight playoff appearances, including an illustrious championship win over the Miami Heat in 2011.
But before they could even celebrate, the tide soon turned in Dallas. In an attempt to lure the NBA’s hottest free agent that summer, the Mavericks didn’t resign most of their core players in order to create salary cap room. This plan backfired, as the franchise didn’t hit any home runs in free agency and was forced to sign underachieving players to one year contracts. After back-to-back disappointing years, Dallas is determined to surround Nowitzki with great players and rebuild its championship roster.
“At this point in my career, its all about competing and winning,” Nowitzki told Tim MacMahon of ESPN. Nowitzki has said he’s willing to take a “significant pay cut” in order to help the team sign a hot free agent. The Mavericks have their eye on Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, but also have taken interest in Jarrett Jack and DeMarcus Cousins.
In the same interview with ESPN, Nowitzki explained his admiration for the team's owner, Mark Cuban. “Cuban took care of me for a long, long time. I always tried to pay him back by hard playing and being here for this franchise, so I don’t think we’re going to fight over money." This passion for the game has helped Nowitzki remain the centerpiece for Dallas since he was drafted in 1998.
Nowitzki has the championship pedigree that every player wants to play alongside, and his leadership and experience make the Mavericks even more appealing. Even at 35-years-old, Nowitzki believes he still has some left in the tank.
“I’m 36 next summer, so this is going to be my last year of making money like a franchise player," Nowitzki told ESPN Dallas. "That gives us even more cap space next year."
Nowitzki explained that as Dallas tries to lure big time free agents, they need to weigh in on the big picture, even if it includes the future without him.
With the Western Conference growing stronger every year, the window is quickly closing for the Mavericks and Nowitzki. But one can’t forget that Nowitzki is still one of the most feared players in the game, and could possibly be just a piece away from getting back to the top of the conference. Cuban has many different options this summer, but the main goal is to find a player to complement Nowitzki’s talents. After the recent failures in free agency, Cuban recognizes the need to come away with a star … now.
This free agency period holds many stars that can contribute to the Mavericks' roster. Needing help at almost every position, Dallas has a few roads it can follow. It is no secret that Dallas wants to acquire one of the top two free agents in Paul or Howard. But would either of them want to take a pay cut and leave Los Angeles to play in Dallas with an aging superstar? The odds are slim to none.
So Cuban must think of other players that could help. At the point guard position, Jack could help and could be brought in for a small price. Andrew Bynum, a much-needed big man, could come to Dallas but he also brings injury concerns. Josh Smith, the versatile swingman from Atlanta, has a great ceiling but his inconsistency has always been a problem.
Dallas has had trouble in the paint over the past few years, and it's impossible to deny the Mavericks' need for a strong rebounding effort from a big man. Howard, Bynum and Cousins can all fill the void left from losing Tyson Chandler. A big man is what they need in Dallas. Overall, this summer will decide for years to come what will happen in the Big D.
After having such a disappointing season in 2012, Nowitzki feels even more passion for winning. Just two years removed from winning the NBA Championship, Dallas did not make the playoffs. Nowitzki expressed his hunger for success in an interview with ESPN Dallas. “Money isn’t something I play for. I want to compete. I want to win.”
-- Follow Patrick Bates on Twitter @pbates13.