DALLAS — He was the oldest player in the league to lead his respective team in scoring during the 2015-16 season. Now, 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki could be set to enter free agency this summer after revealing that he plans to opt out of the final year of his current contract.
Turning 38 years old on June 19, Nowitzki vows to return for a 19th season. However, while possessing a player option for the final campaign of a reported three-year deal worth $25 million, it’s not assured that No. 41 will be in the lineup for the Dallas Mavericks next season. And with Nowitzki expected to opt out of his current deal in hopes of re-signing with the team on a longer contract, Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson says the front office is ready to roll out the red carpet in order to lure the NBA’s No. 6 all-time scorer back.
“Certainly, all roads go through the Big German right now, and we’ll sit down at the right time and see what it takes to get him back in a Mavs uniform,” Nelson explained during his exit interview last month while addressing Nowitzki’s possible pending free agency. “Whatever that is, he deserves it. There is not a player that I’ve been around that has his kind of winning software, and you just can’t say enough about him. He’s our Roger (Staubach), our Troy (Aikman), Mike Modano and our Nolan Ryan. That’s who he is, and so he deserves the courtesy of the first sit-down. And [Mavs owner Mark Cuban] is as loyal as it gets. Mark’s just one of those guys. So, as things settle down, that will be our first conversation.”
Last season, Nowitzki played in 77 games for the Mavericks, averaging 17.3 points and 5.9 rebounds in 29.6 minutes an outing. He also connected on 45.9 percent from the field and 38 percent from three-point range while making his 13th All-Star appearance. He followed that up by increasing his scoring average this season, posting a team-high 18.3 points and pulling down 6.5 rebounds an outing in 75 appearances while connecting on 44.8 percent shooting and 36.8 percent from three. That said, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle knows the importance of doing everything to re-sign Nowitzki should he in fact opt out, hoping to recruit the ageless superstar at the stroke of midnight when free agency opens on July 1.
“You know, I don’t think we can just assume that Dirk’s going to be back,” Carlisle confessed. “I think we’ve got to respect his career here and what it’s been about, and we just can’t go in with the assumption that we can take this guy for granted. I don’t. He’s too great, he’s too great a person, he’s been great for too long, and I’m ready to recruit him.”
Passing Shaquille O’Neal (28,596) to move into sixth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting during a 119-118 road win in Brooklyn on Dec. 23, Nowitzki showed that he still has plenty left in the tank. He also lifted the Mavericks into the playoffs for the 15th time in the last 16 seasons before averaging 20.4 points in five games against Oklahoma City as the Mavs fell in the first round.
Nowitzki is now just 509 points away from becoming the sixth player in league history to amass 30,000 for his career, which is a feat he could reach next season. He also sits just 1,928 points behind Wilt Chamberlain for the fifth position on the league’s all-time scoring list. And with plans to meet with Nowitzki and his mentor, Holger Geschwindner, Nelson says the Mavericks will do whatever it takes to make sure that the 7-footer continues to accomplish those milestones in Dallas.
“I think, if you look what he’s done throughout the course of his career, he’s always been about winning,” Nelson explained. “I mean, a lot of guys say it, but to whip out the checkbook and give us more flexibility, those guys are very, very few and far between. He and Holger have got to sit down, have some space and look at where his career is right now. He has given this city everything.”