And now a man who needs no introduction:
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There may be no other player and team in NBA history as inextricably tied to each other than the Mavericks and Dirk Nowitzki. He has been the face of the franchise and has carried the team on his broad shoulders.
The last couple of years have been quite a roller-coaster ride for Dirk and Maverick fans. Seeing this genuinely nice guy who had achieved everything else but winning a championship finally get that ring—well, it doesn’t get any better than that. Unfortunately the joy didn’t last long.
For all practical purposes, Dirk didn’t get a chance to defend his title and the next season was marred by injury and disappointment that continued right into the offseason. After dismantling the championship team on the hope of signing high profile free agents, enduring the emotional meltdown of Lamar Odom and then whiffing on Dwight Howard and Deron Williams anyway, things started looking up with solid free agent signings and trades. The front office assembled a new well-rounded roster hoping to take the load off Dirk with a balance of good players rather than another superstar.
I’ve written a great deal about the Mavericks’ offseason priorities and how well they succeeded in fulfilling them, as well as a complete rundown of the offseason’s departures and arrivals. Having multiple scoring options draws attention away from Dirk, giving him more opportunities and vice versa. Now, early in the preseason, Dirk’s knee is acting up again and the immediate future is uncertain.
After dealing with the knee and conditioning issues last year, Dirk demonstrated that his play has not demonstrably changed from his younger days. How long he would be able to continue at that level is uncertain; not all players can defy Father Time the way Steve Nash has but there was certainly no expectation of a significant decline.
The knee problem can complicate things in any number of ways: if Dirk cannot take time off and get the same level of recovery as last year, surgery may be required and that clearly takes him out for much of the season and puts a serious damper on the year. If he continues to manage without surgery, what are the long-term effects of continuing to play if the knee needs to be treated? Can he make it through until the summer or is arthroscopic an option? These questions are likely to be answered as we move forward and needless to say, all eyes will be on this story.
The situation is clearly developing but assuming Dirk is able to play at his usual level, the opportunities for this team are unique. Considering the Mavs upgraded nearly every position even over the championship team in some way, this year could provide some unprecedented opportunities for Dirk.
Losing the key players from the championship team hurt immensely but as mentioned previously, the team had specific priorities that needed to be addressed and they were largely successful in doing so. Even without D12 and DWill the Mavs potentially struck gold in free agency.
Darren Collison is no Jason Kidd but brings an entirely different skillset to the game, an upgrade in many ways considering Kidd’s decline. O. J. Mayo has the potential to be a star. Perhaps most importantly, Dirk has never played with a scoring center and if they stay healthy, Chris Kaman and Elton Brand, Mayo and the other strong shooters on the team can offer multiple second options that will make it much harder for teams to double Dirk.
The Mavericks have upgraded their rebounding capability, which will also create more second shots. A younger and more athletic team with a number of good defenders should also provide more opportunities to score on the fast break and Rick Carlisle has already stated he intends to press more. Even without Dirk this roster has the potential to be an above-average team and the most important factor is going to be finding the chemistry and staying healthy.
Somehow for much of the world, it seems Dirk still hasn’t done enough. He is a perennial All-Star, MVP, NBA Champion and sure-fire Hall of Famer but something is still missing. Dirk’s work ethic has kept him playing at a very high level well into his mid-thirties and if he’s healthy there is no question that he can help this team contend for another title. How this year goes down is still a developing story.