Oh how the mighty have fallen.
In 2011 Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy after defeating LeBron, Wade, and Bosh on their home floor in Miami in 6 games. Just days before his 33rd birthday Dirk finished up an improbable post season and Finals run that left him with additional hardware as the Finals MVP. He averaged 26 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 2 assists per game while hitting 97.8% of his free throw attempts. The 2011 Mavs finished third in the Western Conference, swept the two time defending NBA Champion L.A. Lakers, and denied the Miami’s big three their first title. But it is no longer 2011, and Dirk is no longer 33.
That third place finish in the West is the best in recent years, finishing 7th, 10th, 8th, 7th, and 6th in the seasons since their title. And this year has taken a turn for the worse with a 6-18 record, currently last place in the West, and a Dirk who appears to be at the end of his rope. The 38 year old has missed 19 of the teams 24 games this year due to a variety of injuries including most recently a strained right Achilles that has him “out indefinitely.” The 18 year vet has said repeatedly that he wants to play for 20 seasons but in response to his health and frustrations with this season so far he has recently said that this year could be it.
Unfortunately for Mavs fans the end of the Dirk era may be the best thing for the organization. Dirk is currently getting paid $25 million this season, money that could go a lot further than an ailing vet with health problems. Now don’t get me wrong, Dirk has earned every penny of that contract with his years of loyalty and exceptional play. His recent health issues may be new to the big man but father time is, and always will be, undefeated.
However the Mavs problems go far beyond Dirk. In the years since the 2011 championship Dallas has struck out on landing a star free agent year in and year out, most recently with the DeAndre Jordan fiasco that made the entire franchise look incompetent. Their solution? Giving Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews $22 and $17 million dollars a year respectively because you have to spend your payroll somewhere. The result? Their PERs (Player Efficiency Ratings) are 16.9 and 13.6, compared to the league average of 15. With the kind of investment the Mavericks have in these two young talents they need at least one of them to become a star. The problem is that neither of them are. The current Dallas roster is a team of players who if they were the 3rd or 4th option on your team, your team would be great. When Harrison Barnes was the 3rd/4th option for the Golden State Warriors the last two seasons they won a championship and finished runner up. The last two seasons when Wesley Mathews was paired with LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, and Nicolas Batum, the team finished 5th and 4th in the West.
Maverick’s owner Mark Cuban has stated this year that given the option of a shot at a lottery pick or playoff experience for his team he would choose the latter option. The best long term options for the Mavs however is draft picks and planning for the future. Package Andrew Bogut and Deron Williams expiring contracts for picks and stockpile assets for a big move down the road.
There are rarely storybook endings in sports. Very rarely does the sports hero get to ride off into the sunset on top. Dirk Nowitzki does not deserve this ending, especially not this way. I wish him the best of luck in a speedy recovery and healthy second half of the season. But no matter what happens to Dirk the rest of this season, the Mavericks need to be looking beyond him to the future. The future is not Harrison Barnes, or Wesley Matthews, and it isn’t going to come this off-season in a weak free agency class. For Dallas fans everyone I just hope the future comes soon. At least soon enough to give Dirk peace of mind as he ends his incredible career with a franchise he has given everything to.