Dirk announces plan to return for 21st season

2017-18 Exit Interview: Dirk Nowitzki

Mavs F Dirk Nowitzki dishes on the season, his summer plans and more.

DALLAS – With a keen eye on getting the Dallas Mavericks back on a championship path, Dirk Nowitzki announced Tuesday that he’ll return next season to play a 21st season with the Mavs.

Nowitzki underwent left ankle surgery last Thursday with the sole purpose of being ready to play again with no problems by the time training camp starts next fall.

“That’s why I went ahead and got the surgery to kind of get the whole process started, get the rehab process started early, and I plan on coming back,” Nowitzki said during a packed press conference at American Airlines Center. “I didn’t really miss a lot of games this year (and) I felt fine most of the time.

“I always said all year that I want to fulfill that two-year contract if possible. I saw nothing this year that was going to stop it, so as of now I’ll see how the rehab goes in the next few weeks and how the ankle responds, but obviously I’m going to work towards another season.”

Nowitzki’s announcement came prior to Tuesday’s Phoenix Suns-Mavs game, and it put coach Rick Carlisle at ease to know that he’ll again be drawing up plays for the greatest player in Mavs history.

“I couldn’t imagine being here and Dirk not being here, so I feel very relieved that its looking like he’ll be back,” Carlisle said. “It’s great news.

“The timing of everything makes perfect sense to him and to all of us. He’s been able to play with the ankle, but it’s just bothered him for the last several years is what my understanding of it is.”

Nowitzki, who signed a two-year contract with the Mavs last summer, didn’t even rule out the distinct possibility of playing another season past next season.

“I’m hoping the ankle will be tons better than this year and then I’m hoping that I can play some decent basketball next year and then kind of go from there,” Nowitzki said. “I always kind of leave the end open.

“It’s hard for me, at this point, to commit farther than one year, or one year is it. I just kind of want to see how it goes. I’m hoping that this ankle will give me a lot of relief next year and then we’ll go from there.”

Nowitzki is currently wearing a walking boot and also walked into the press conference with the help of crutches. He said he’ll be in the boot from three-to-four weeks.

Then, the recovery period and rehab will start in earnest.

“Like I said, that’s also a reason I went ahead and got a head start on it,” Nowitzki said. “At my age, of course the recovery takes a little longer, and I had bone spurs taken out of this ankle early in my career.

“I think maybe after my third or fourth year in the league, so it’s been a long, long time and the recovery, I’m guessing, was a little shorter. Now I’ve just got to be smart, take my time.”

Time is indeed of essence for Nowitzki, who holds nearly all of the Mavs’ major franchise records. He even said he’ll come off the bench next seaosn if that helps the Mavs become more efficient.

“I’m hoping to get out of the boot in a few weeks and then start slowly rehabbing every day, getting some more motion back,” he said. “And the rest will be all summer working out and getting back to where I want to be strength-wise and agility-wise, and afterwards obviously basketball-wise. So it’s going to be a long process, it’s going to be a summer with some frustrations here and there, as I’m sure some things just don’t progress like you want at 40. But I’m willing to fight through it and give it another shot.”

In 77 games for the Mavs this season, Nowitzki averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds in 24.7 minutes, and shot 45.6 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from 3-point range. Not bad for a guy who turns 40 on June 19.

“I played with (Larry) Bird in Boston and I coached Reggie Miller and Ben Wallace and a lot of guys that had a reputation for being mentally tough,” Carlisle said. “Dirk’s right up there with any of them.

“He played hurt an awful lot in his career, probably has played injured at times. Some athletes just have a different sort of threshold for those kinds of things. Any time there’s an opportunity to relief some of that, that’s great.”

That relief, thanks to the surgery, has Nowitzki thinking like he was still the 19-year old kid the Mavs acquired in a draft-day trade in June of 1998. However, as reality sunk in, Nowitzki knew he couldn’t continue doing the same thing on the same weak ankle and expecting different results.

Thus, surgery was imminent.

“At times I was limited in a lot of my movements, especially,” Nowitzki said. “I was never a great lateral movement guy in my entire career in my 20s, but at times this year it was just non-existent.

“It was frustrating at times, but I kept fighting through it and I wanted to fight through it, and now at the end I had actually some knee problems there the last few weeks, I had some problems with the ankle. So that’s when we decided to go ahead and do the surgery earlier.”