An ode to Dirk Nowitzki's career and discussion of the historical significance of playing a 21st season with the Dallas Mavericks organization.
There are only two players left in the NBA from the 1998 draft, and it is impossible to know whether the 2017-2018 season will be their last. Even if it is, Vince Carter and Dirk Nowitzki have enjoyed remarkable success and longevity in the league. They even got to play together for three seasons. I have long enjoyed Carter as a basketball fan, going back to that iconic dunk contest performance that I still consider the greatest of all time. Like all Mavericks fans, I will always love him for hitting that buzzer beater from the corner against the Spurs in Game 3 in 2014, but this article is not going to spend any more time talking about Vinsanity. We are here to honor Dirk, the future Hall-of-Famer whose statue will be put in front of the arena whenever he decides to retire (play forever Dirk!).
Longevity with one franchise
Only one player has spent as many seasons on the same team as Dirk Nowitzki, and that is Kobe Bryant, who also played 20 seasons for the same franchise. Should Dirk choose to play another year, which appears likely but more on that in a minute, he will become the new record-holder for most seasons played with a single franchise and also move into a tie with Kevin Garnett for longest NBA career. Of all of Dirk's accomplishments, his loyalty and longevity may well be his most impressive.
The last time the Mavericks had a lottery pick, they chose a tall German kid rocking a boy band haircut with a ton of potential to improve as both a basketball player and a dresser with the ninth pick in the draft.
This year the Mavericks also had the ninth pick, and it appears they may have struck gold again with rookie point guard sensation Dennis Smith Junior. Mavericks fans have to keep their expectations reasonable for the rookie learning the league at the most talent-loaded and challenging position in an 82-game season. Losing next season may be the easiest way to keep Dirk around. Sure it wastes another year of missing the playoffs for Dirk in the twilight of his career. It would allow Dallas to add another lottery pick and potentially a max-contract level free-agent (I know, that's never really gone well, but still) next summer in a loaded free-agent crop, though. Selfishly, I'll take all the Dirk I can get as the reality of his retirement looms. He has been a constant in my life for so long that I am honestly not sure how I am going to feel when he is gone, so I hope to delay the inevitable for as long as possible.
Should Dirk play another season, he has a very reasonable chance of passing Wilt Chamberlain, and Michael Jordan on the total points scored list. Currently, 6th on the all-time scoring list, Dirk (30,260) is 1,159 points behind Chamberlain (31,419) and 2,224 behind Jordan (32,292). Last year, Dirk averaged 14.2 PPG, his lowest since his rookie season, and he only played in 54 games. Dirk is 39 years old, and it is unreasonable to expect perfect health or for him to average 20 PPG at this stage of his career. I think you could reasonably assume Dirk could average 15 PPG and play around 65 games each of the next two seasons, which would give him 1,950 more points, extremely close to Jordan. It's probably unlikely he catches the greatest ever, but it is not impossible. And knowing LeBron will pass Dirk at some point, it would be the only way to cement his status (for as long as it lasts) as a top-5 all-time scorer. It would be a cool thing to be able to say about the greatest Maverick of all time is a top five scorer.
The greatness of Dirk
Dirk has been a remarkable player and an even better ambassador for the city of Dallas and the Dallas Mavericks organization. He has been a model citizen and has remained loyal to both the city that adopted him and the country he came from, playing for Germany's national team throughout most of his decorated NBA career. Nowitzki is an MVP, an NBA Finals MVP, an NBA champion and a lock for the Hall of Fame. He is the best stretch four ever to play the game, and even in his 20th season, still, causes floor spacing issues that wreak havoc on defensive schemes from coast to coast. Dirk is gracious with reporters and the media, giving authentic interviews and revealing his quirky personality. His sense of humor and locker room pranks are legendary, as are the dozens of videos he has done for the Mavericks that are often so ridiculous it is a wonder he ever did them. We have yet to discuss the many discounts he has given the Mavericks over the years in contracts to allow the front office more flexibility, the most recent being his astoundingly charitable decision to opt out of $25 million to sign a 2-year contract for a total of $10 million.
I hope the Mavericks can build a contender that honor Dirk as he approaches the end of his unbelievable career, but I don't see enough talent on this team to realistically make the playoffs in a brutal Western Conference. Golden State, San Antonio, Houston, Oklahoma City, the LA Clippers, Utah, Denver, Minnesota, New Orleans, Memphis and Portland all look like better teams on paper. Although I think Dallas will be competitive and win more than the 33 games they did last year, it really seems like a lot to ask of this team to make the playoffs. I know that is their goal, and as long as Carlisle and Dirk are in that locker room, this team is going to play every game with the expectation to win. But I think Dirk realizes this team's best opportunity to make progress moving forward with their post-Dirk rebuild is to add another lottery pick and prepare for one last playoff run in 2018-2019. As has always been the case, we can expect Dirk to sacrifice for whatever is best for the franchise. That's just the kind of dude he is.