Catching up with the GOAT
Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki provides an update on his recovery following ankle surgery, assesses Dennis Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes' development, and looks ahead to the NBA Draft Lottery on May 15.
DALLAS – In an exclusive interview Thursday afternoon with Mavs.com, Dallas Mavericks superstar forward Dirk Nowitzki touched on a variety of topics from his surgically-repaired left ankle to retirement to why next year may not be his last season in the NBA.
But first, Nowitzki felt encouraged because he’s now able to walk around without the benefit of using his walking boot. Nowitzki was fitted for a longer version of the walking boot shortly after he underwent surgical debridement of his left ankle on April 5, and he later resorted to wearing a shorter version of the apparatus.
However, Nowitzki was smiling, being his usual playful self and walking around the Mavs’ practice facilities on Thursday without any noticeable limp whatsoever.
“They wanted me to get out of the boot as soon as I felt comfortable,” Nowitzki said, referring to the Mavs’ medical staff. “I’m just trying to get the motion back (in the left ankle), trying to get some movement in there, get some of the swelling out. I’ve been progressing right on schedule.
“I’ve been doing more and more every week, I’m getting the hydro work starting next week and maybe moving a little bit in there in the pool. I’ve been slowly stepping it up in the weight room lifting some legs, lifting some upper body. I’m starting to do a little cardio (and) I started to walk on the treadmill a little bit.”
Thursday was the five-week mark since Nowitzki’s surgery that cost him the final four games of the 2017-18 season. That milestone resonated with the native of Germany, who said: “I’m just waiting on the scab to fully heal and then we can step (the rehab process) up even more.
“So yeah, the surgery needed to be done. Hopefully this heals up fine and makes me feel better for going into next season and we’ll just see how it goes.”
There is no timetable for Nowitzki’s return, although he fully expects to be healthy and in training camp when it starts in September. However, Nowitzki sounded like an impatient kid on Christmas morning who knows he has to exercise some patience.
“It could take really all summer,” Nowitzki said, when asked about the length of his rehab. “I’m obviously not pushing it now. There’s no reason to push it now. We have plenty of time until training camp, which is early in September. We just don’t want to make it worst at this point, so I’m taking it nice and slow.
“Hopefully I can still progress from week to week, hopefully by eight weeks I’ll be out here running a little bit and then stepping up to cardio, and then somewhere in July or August it’s full go. I’ve got to be able to — in August — really step it up and do all the running and cutting and jumping to be ready in September. That’s really the plan after eight weeks to step it up even more, and then in August really get after it to be ready for September.”
Nowitzki explained that he wasn’t in any significant amount of pain while playing this season. Yet he knows his mobility was limited.
“(The injured ankle) was blocking me from doing certain movements, especially the side-to-side stuff,” Nowitzki said. “Front-to-back, it was OK. Pushing off, that was just a problem there really all season.
“I will never run like I’m 20 again, but I’m hoping that the side-to-side stuff will get easier.”
Nowitzki experienced a similar medical issue last season and also managed to play through the discomfort while participating in just 54 games.
“It came back last summer and it was stuck,” he said. “We worked mostly every day on it. Every day somebody tried to pull it out, tried to keep it loose, but it has just gotten to a point where surgery was really the only option.
“But I didn’t want to really do it, obviously, mid-season or before the season, so I kind of fought through it and I’m happy I was playing. I played (77) games and I felt OK doing it, but like I said hopefully that’ll help me for next year at least on some of the slide-to-slide stuff and some of the pick-and-roll coverage stuff, some of the defensive assignments, so I’m looking forward to that. But it’s not going to make me any quicker, unfortunately.”
The NBA’s No. 6 all-time leading scorer with 31,187 points, Nowitzki is preparing for his unprecedented 21st season – all with the Mavs. But he refuses to say whether this will be his last season, preferring instead to respectfully keep his options wide open.
“I said a couple of years ago that was it for (playing on the German) National Team and then we got the Euros in Berlin and I had to drag my 37 year old butt up and down in the European Championships, which I thought was never going to happen,” Nowitzki said. “I basically came back and played in those Euros, so you never say never.”
Nowitzki totally realizes that if the 2018-’19 season is indeed his final season, he knows his legion of fans in other NBA cities would like to salute him and give him a proper good-bye once he plays in their city for the final time. But at this stage, he simply just can’t commit to saying whether next year will be his final season.
“I think I guess at this age you kind of take it one year at a time,” Nowitzki said. “It sounds cliché, but that’s how it is — see how I come through (next year).
“I came through pretty good this year. I could have probably almost played 82 (games) if I wanted to.”
Nowitzki averaged 12 points per game this season and was second on the team in rebounds (5.7). Among his teammates who qualified statistically, Nowitzki also led the Mavs in field goal shooting (45.6 percent) and 3-point shooting (40.9 percent).
Not bad for someone who will turn 40 on June 19.
So why is Nowitzki — at his advanced age — still putting his body through the torture chamber that is the NBA? It obviously isn’t about the money, because he has plenty of that stored away.
“I still enjoy it, I still enjoy competing, I enjoy going out there helping the team compete,” Nowitzki said. “If I wouldn’t have fun doing it anymore and competing, then it’s time to go.
“But I still enjoy coming in during the summer doing all the work and staying ready and getting ready for the season, and during the season keeping my body right. I still enjoy the grind, like I said, but it’s definitely coming to an end soon, that’s for sure.”