The Dallas Mavericks open training camp for the 2010-11 season Tuesday at SMU. This is the fourth in a five-part series examining key questions regarding the club's roster and its chances of contending in the Western Conference.
Seriously. Dirk Nowitzki can win the NBA's MVP award. This season.
He probably should have finished higher than seventh last season after averaging 25.0 points and 7.7 rebounds, and leading the Dallas Mavericks to 55 wins and the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference (remember, the MVP is a regular-season award, playoffs are inconsequential).
Even so, Nowitzki is a longshot to win a second MVP. For a myriad of reasons, he just doesn't elicit the same sympathy as LeBron James did playing the role of overburdened superstar with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
But make no mistake. Nowitzki is the heart and soul of the Mavs. If he has a shockingly down year, the Mavs could struggle to make the playoffs. If he has a great year, the possibilities are wide open. Nowitzki skipped international ball last year and he said the extra rest helped his body tremendously early on and throughout the season. He spent another low-key summer mostly in Germany, laying low after re-upping with the Mavs for four more years and a cool $80 million.
He is committed to this franchise and he knows that, ultimately, his legacy is on the line. He wants to win badly, for himself, for the franchise and for the city. The front office's attempts to acquire a sidekick superstar failed over the summer, so Nowitzki again knows he will be relied upon to deliver the heavy lifting, both in putting points on the board and cleaning up the boards, although the center tandem of Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler should help in the latter category.
At 32, the 7-foot forward, entering his 13th season, remains in the prime of his career.
On paper, Nowitzki is surrouned by a talented group. Jason Kidd is obviously a year older and while he is probably entering the final two years of his career, he remains one of the game's best facilitators. Caron Butler, now acclimated to the team and to coach Rick Carlisle, should provide increased point production and tenacity at both ends. And, of course, hopes are high that exciting guard Roddy Beaubois will grab some of the scoring load and use his slithery driving ability to help keep defenses honest and alleviate nightly double-teamming of Nowitzki, allowing for more, and fewer contested, looks.
If anything might work against Nowitzki, it is the Mavs' plan to curtail his minutes to keep him fresher for the postseason. He averaged 37.5 minutes a game last season, up from the 36.2 he played in his MVP season of 2006-07. How much Carlisle can really reduce Nowitzki's playing time -- for instance, can he get to a Tim Duncan-like 32 minutes? -- remains to be seen (Nowitzki has averaged more than 37 minutes in both seasons under Carlisle).
Other obvious MVP candidates inlcude Dwyane Wade and sidekick LeBron James, although they might cancel each other out. Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Brandon Roy, Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony (although unhappiness is not a good start toward an MVP season) make the first ballot.
Will Dirk win the MVP? Probably not. Can he? Why not?