- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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The numbers were the only thing in doubt when it came to Dirk Nowitzki's negotiations, and even those were pretty predictable.
It’s fitting that Dirk’s three-year, $30 million deal will look a lot like Tim Duncan's. Those future Hall of Famers are two of a kind, a pair of historically elite power forwards for whom loyalty, competitiveness and unselfishness are all intertwined.
It’s commendable to be committed to spending your entire career with one franchise, a rarity in a sports world in which the first week of free agency seems to generate more interest than the NBA Finals. But these two faces of their franchises have sacrificed fortunes to significantly increase their odds of completing their careers on championship contenders.
Kobe Bryant showed a certain sense of loyalty with his commitment to play his entire career with the Los Angeles Lakers. He’ll also make more next season than the Mavs and San Antonio Spurs will pay Nowitzki and Duncan combined.
Duncan’s sacrifice, a shared one with longtime teammates Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, paid off when the Spurs claimed their fifth NBA crown in June. Nowitzki’s sacrifice just gives the Mavs a chance to rebuild a legitimate contender, a process that requires at least a couple of big steps after he left about $17 million of cap space for Mark Cuban to spend this summer.
Of course, this isn’t the first time Nowitzki has taken much less than market value to stay with the Mavs. He could have easily gotten a max contract the last time he was technically a free agent, but he left $16 million on the table to sign a four-year, $80 million deal.
That sacrifice didn’t even free up cap space. It just eased a bit of the financial burden on Cuban, who had been paying massive luxury-tax bills. In exchange, Cuban vowed to never let money get in the way of the Mavs’ pursuit of a championship, following through by trading for Tyson Chandler in a salary-dump deal with Charlotte.
Less than a year later, Nowitzki and Cuban chugged champagne out of a $90,000 bottle that went on Cuban’s bill, a small price to pay for celebrating the franchise’s first championship in a Miami nightclub.
That taste of a title ensured that Nowitzki would be a Maverick for life.
If Dirk didn’t own a championship ring, if he hadn’t filled out that final line of his NBA legend résumé, he would have faced a difficult decision this summer. He probably would have agonized over whether to choose loyalty to a franchise and a fan base or the chance to leave his adopted hometown to chase a championship, a la Karl Malone.
But the championship banner hanging from the American Airlines Center rafters made Nowitzki’s decision a no-brainer.
The negotiations with Nowitzki, who has never employed an agent, were easy. Now, there’s a lot of hard work to be done for the Mavs’ front office to reward Dirk’s loyalty like the Spurs have done for Duncan.