Dirk Nowitzki eyes 20th season with Mavs after coming on strong to close ’16-17

2016-17 Exit Interview: Dirk Nowitzki

Mavs F Dirk Nowitzki addresses the media for exit interviews.

DALLAS — Battling his way through an injury-plagued 2016-17 campaign to finish the 82-game schedule on a high note, 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki says he will return to the Dallas Mavericks for a 20th season.

Bothered by a right Achilles strain that hampered him all season, Nowitzki played in just 54 games during the ’16-17 campaign for his lowest number of outings since his rookie year. However, he also averaged 14.2 points and 6.5 rebounds in 26.4 minutes per game, connecting on 43.7 percent from the field and 37.8 percent from three-point range. And after concluding his injury-riddled year with 21 points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes during the Mavericks’ second-to-last game on April 11, Nowitzki says he’s ready to come back even stronger next season.

“Well, unfortunately, the season is over now. I felt the best I’ve felt all year now the past few weeks, so it’s unfortunate (the Achilles injury) happened in game one,” Nowitzki explained. “My Achilles just wasn’t right for a long, long time, and I basically had to fight my way back from scratch. The work I did that summer was basically out the window, and I had to fight my way back the whole season, so that was tough at times. I was frustrated and disappointed at times, because it wasn’t going quick enough for me. But the last couple of weeks I felt good. I felt good moving basically until the end. I played almost every game there and played back-to-backs some even, so I’m looking forward to doing the same program this summer. Maybe with a few tweaks here and there, and I’ll sit together with the trainers and be ready for camp. Everything is moved up a little bit next year, so I’ll be ready again and hopefully stay injury-free to play as many games as I can.”

Suffering the Achilles injury during the first game of the season after scoring 22 points and grabbing eight rebounds in a 130-121 overtime road loss at Indiana on Oct. 26, Nowitzki was then sidelined from Nov. 6-21. He was also forced to sit out again after returning for two games, missing time from Nov. 27 to Dec. 21. But after seeing Nowitzki close the season strong during his last game, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle is confident that the 7-footer has plenty left in the tank going into the summer.

“This is truly one of the magnificent players in the history of our league, and he had 21 (in his last game),” Carlisle explained while praising the future Hall of Famer. “He’s been a rock this year, and it’s really been tough for him to sit out 25 games at the beginning and watching us get our (tails) kicked the way we did. And so, you know, he’s just stayed positive. He’s encouraged everybody, and then when he gets healthy it always takes a while to get his rhythm and stuff like that. But he is unrelenting as a positive leader of this franchise and city.”

Nowitzki showed that he can still impact games through more than his scoring this season, posting 10 double-figure rebounding efforts to equal the same total he recorded in 75 games during the ’15-16 schedule. The 7-footer has now recorded at least 10 double-digit rebounding games in each of the past two seasons after he went the previous three years without producing more than six.

Last summer, Nowitzki signed a reported two-year contract worth $50 million to return to the Mavericks in free agency, locking him up through next season. The future Hall of Famer now says he will play for the length of that contract, leaving open the possibility of returning beyond next season.

“I’ll have to see how the body responds next year,” Nowitzki explained. “If I feel like this, like I did at the end, I think I can play another one after that, but I’ll just leave all that open. When I signed on for two more years last summer, the plan was to sign and play for two more years.

“I think my body is going to tell me when it’s time. I’m not really going to see the year before that it’s time to go, so I’m going to play next year as hard as I can and see how the body responds after that. And we can all make a decision after that.”

Becoming just the sixth player in NBA history to reach the 30,000-point plateau this season against the Los Angeles Lakers on March 17, Nowitzki has now scored 30,260 points in his illustrious career. In the process, Nowitzki joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387), Karl Malone (36,928), Kobe Bryant (33,643), Michael Jordan (32,292) and Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) in the NBA’s most exclusive club. He also became just the third player in league history to score 30,000 points with one franchise, joining Malone and Bryant on that list. But while entering next season 1,159 points away from tying Chamberlain for fifth on the league’s all-time scoring list, Nowitzki says he won’t play through next season just to continue moving up the ranks.

Nowitzki is already the NBA’s top foreign-born scorer of all-time, in addition to being the league’s active leading scorer and the longest tenured player with one team. Bryant (Lakers), former Utah Jazz point guard John Stockton and ex-San Antonio Spurs big man Tim Duncan are the only other players in league history that have spent their entire careers with one franchise and played 19-plus seasons. That said, Nowitzki will have a chance to join Bryant as the sole members of the NBA’s 20-year, only one-team club by returning next season. But with Chamberlain within reach, Nowitzki says he will make the decision to play beyond next year following the ’17-18 season.

“That’s well within reach, but I’m not sure it’s in reach in one year,” Nowitzki admitted as he eyes another milestone. “Obviously, the scoring decreases over the years in average, and that would be a pretty good year, I’m guessing. But, you know, I always said basketball is supposed to be fun, and I’m not going to keep going just to break another record. I don’t think that’s the way I look at basketball. And if my body tells me next year it’s time to go, I’m not going to play another year just to move up the scoring list. That’s just not how I look at it. It was always meant to be fun. And if my body is fighting through things and it’s just not working my way, then I would rather go and do other things in life. It would be sweet. Don’t get me wrong. … But it’s still amazing, obviously, to be up there in the 30K club with all these amazing names. That was, for me, my emotional highlight for the season. To get that game and that week and everything leading up to it, that was really special for me, for sure.”