DALLAS — Dirk Nowitzki is holding a charity tennis tournament this weekend in Dallas, an event which will feature Dallas Mavericks teammates J.J. Barea and Harrison Barnes plus Ben Stiller.
So on Thursday morning, the former NBA regular-season and Finals MVP addressed the media for the first time since signing his two-year, $50 million contract in late July, a deal which ensures that he will remain a Mav for the rest of what has already been a Hall of Fame career.
And after taking what have been dubbed “hometown discounts” earlier in his career when his contract was up so that owner Mark Cuban and GM Donnie Nelson could put a better supporting cast around the Big German, Nowitzki is content with his latest deal.
“He [Cuban] actually gave me another raise,” Nowitzki said. “He’s been incredibly loyal to me and I’ve shown obviously that I’ve wanted to be here the last couple of years, and I think he wanted to reward me in a way. Yeah, it makes me obviously feel great and feel wanted. I’m happy that I can finish my career here in Dallas, where I always wanted to be, and hopefully finish strong the last couple of years.”
However, Nowitzki, the 2007 NBA MVP and the 2011 NBA Finals MVP as the Mavs capped an improbable run to championship glory by eliminating the favored Miami Heat, was quick to say that his signing a two-year deal earlier in the summer is no indication that he will play these two seasons on his new deal and then retire, or that he’ll play both of those seasons in their entirety no matter what.
Instead, he said it will all depend on how his body feels. Dirk is 38 and knows that as players approach the big 40 in any sport that all those years of wear-and-tear can finally exact a huge toll, so instead of saying he will hang up his sneakers in a few years, he’s taking more of a wait-and-see attitude about the twilight of his tenure in the Association.
“I always said I wanted to kind of take it year-by-year. Signing a two-year deal doesn’t mean I necessarily have to play those two years. I think we’ll see how next year goes, how the body responds and then we’ll make that decision again next year,” Nowitzki said. “But obviously, I would love to play the next two years and then just see how it goes.”
Last season, Nowitzki played 75 games for Dallas and averaged 18.3 points and 6.5 rebounds in just over 31 minutes per night. During the season he took over sixth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list and also became the sixth player in league history to score 29,000 or more points.
No longer Dallas’ primary offensive option, a role that last season fell to the now-departed Chandler Parsons when he was healthy or often to fellow veteran Deron Williams, who also had his own issues with staying healthy a year ago, Nowitzki has evolved nicely into a facilitator for longtime Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle.
Dirk is there to make a great pass, corral an occasional rebound or knock down an open three, but mostly he’s there to help his teammates thrive, a role he seems to have embraced wholeheartedly.
“Hopefully for the next two years [I’m] still doing some of the same things I was going to be able to do last year, just be able to help the guys spread the floor, maybe some timely baskets here and there and maybe get a rebound every now and again,” he said.
Even though the Dallas offseason didn’t start the way fans had hoped it would, with free-agent targets Mike Conley and Hassan Whiteside, both of whom were said to have been considering coming to Big D, both choosing to remain with their current teams, Nowitzki is happy with how things turned out for the Mavs this summer, especially with the signing of Harrison Barnes to a high-dollar deal and Dallas acquiring veteran big man and Barnes’ former teammate Andrew Bogut in a trade with the Golden State Warriors.
“Sometimes you get a little fortunate. And I think with KD going to the Warriors, I think it played in our favor obviously a little bit,” Nowitzki said. “They had to get rid of Barnes and they couldn’t keep Bogut at that amount of money, so we were able to get those two guys. They’re champions, they’re great players, they’re a part of a championship team, so they know how to play, they know how to win. We got high hopes for Harrison for the future.”
Nowitzki’s praise for the Mavs’ offseason additions didn’t stop there. He also praised the addition of Dallas-area native Quincy Acy along with seeing his longtime employer get younger and more athletic, two things he feels have been needed for some time.
“I’ve always said over the last couple years we need to get a little younger, we need to get quicker, we need to get some athletes. We got some tough guys on the rim with Quincy Acy. I think we should have a really solid, solid group,” Nowitzki said.
Of course, he does acknowledge that the Mavs’ fortunes could again rise and fall depending on the health of key veterans like Williams and Wesley Matthews, who had an up-and-down season, his first after Achilles surgery.
“I hope D-Will can stay healthy. I think when he was healthy last year, he was a key player for us, at times even our best player, so hopefully he can stay healthy for the season,” Nowitzki said. “I heard Wes was a beast in the gym basically since we lost. I heard he’s in unbelievable shape and ready to go. It should be another fun, hopefully exciting and competitive year. We’ll see how far we can go.”
Speaking of Barnes, he and Nowitzki have been texting a lot over the summer. Barnes and Barea will both play in the tennis tournament for Nowitzki’s foundation this weekend at SMU, prompting the longtime Mav to offer a quick critique of their respective tennis games.
“He [Barnes] has got every right to be nervous, he’s got a decent forehand and the rest of his game is a piece of work. But he’s quick and he’s athletic, and hopefully he can bring that to the table on Sunday,” Nowitzki said.
Nowitzki feels a bit better about Barea’s tennis skills.
“He grew up playing tennis, his mom was a tennis coach in Puerto Rico, so he’s actually really, really good,” Nowitzki said of Barea. “He can hit. He just got in town a couple days ago, think he was honeymooning after his wedding, and he’s excited to be a part [of this event] as well.”
Nowitzki has yet to be on the basketball court with Barnes, but judging from everything he’s heard from those in the organization is that HB has been nothing short of a total “gym rat” this summer at the Dallas practice court in the basement of American Airlines Center.
And as the most veteran member of the roster, Dirk looks forward to playing alongside Barnes this season and hopefully next while passing along some of that sage advice he has stored up from his nearly two decades of playing in the Association.
“I told him from the beginning I’m here to support him, I’m here to help him, whatever questions he has on and off the floor. I’m here to make him a better player, make him feel welcome and hopefully have a great year,” Nowitzki said.
Nowitzki is also looking forward to seeing what Bogut, a player he has immense respect for after facing him countless times over the years, brings to the Mavs.
“I think Bogut will be a great player for us. He’s a smart player. He can defend, obviously defend the rim. He’s a great passer, probably one of the best passing big men there are in this league, so it should be fun playing with him,” Nowitzki said.