Goal: Get star, right pieces around Dirk Nowitzki
For years now talk has revolved around bringing in a second superstar to pair with Dirk Nowitzki. That hasn't changed, obviously, with the Dallas Mavericks having carved out salary cap space to make a run at Deron Williams, a perennial All-Star point guard and the lone superstar headed for free agency on July 1.
What has changed is the language the Mavs are using to describe Nowitzki -- the No. 2 superstar -- as he creeps into his mid-30s.
The No. 2 superstar? Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said it earlier this week.
"That's our goal," the coach said, stressing the need to lift the scoring burden from Dirk's shoulders entering his 15th NBA season.
There's certainly nothing wrong with that. It's not to say that Nowitzki doesn't have at least two more seasons -- the length of his contract that will take him through age 36 -- of All-Star-caliber fallaways and one-legged leaners left in his 7-foot frame. But it is getting unreasonable to expect Dirk, who turns 34 next month, to be the same player, or play the same minutes as he did at age 28 or even at 32 when he had the postseason of his life and led the Mavs to the franchise's lone title.
Did that dip start this season with Nowitzki posting near career-lows across the board? It was such a funky season that it's tough to say if Father Time indeed has his irreversible chops into Nowitzki, but regardless, inevitable decline will come as he ages. That's just how it works.
Which reinforces the obvious that Nowitzki can't get this thing back to an elite situation by himself. It was practically a miracle how the Mavs came together in 2011 and roared through Portland, L.A., OKC and Miami to win it all. Just look at the four teams left in the the Western Conference playoffs. One-superstar outfits don't exist. San Antonio still has three strong superstars surrounded by a deep supporting cast that is helping to keep Tim Duncan spry and sharp.
The Lakers have perennial MVP candidate Kobe Bryant with two All-Star sidekicks, in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. The Thunder obviously have the youngest and perhaps most fearsome Big Three going that includes three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant and the Sixth Man of the Year James Harden. Even the Clippers boast Chris Paul with rising star Blake Griffin.
Nowitzki needs help, and this summer represents the best chance to lure elite-level help because, for the first time in the Mark Cuban era, Dallas wades into free agency with hearty cap space bait.
"We want to have the best players in the game, that’s always going to be our goal here," Carlisle said. "And there’s three ways you get them: you draft them, you trade for them or you get them in free agency, and we’re going to explore all three of those vehicles to continue to improve the team and get the right guys around Dirk Nowitzki. Our championship happened because we had the perfect mix of guys, not only on the floor, but around him. We’re always working on that."
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Play Podcast ESPN's Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the latest news on the Mavericks' meeting with Dwight Howard.