Don't get stuck on mediocrity treadmill
Dirk Nowitzki's best buddy said it best.
"There's really no true loyalty in sports," Steve Nash told ESPN.com's Marc Stein this week. "You have to do what's best for you."
In case Nowitzki didn't learn that lesson when the Mavs didn't make much of an effort to keep Nash in Dallas eight years ago, it's been hammered home in the past eight months. Loyalty didn't keep the Mavs from letting Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson and Caron Butler go after the lockout. Loyalty didn't inspire the Mavs to make an effort to keep Jason Terry. And loyalty didn't keep Jason Kidd from deciding he'd rather jump ship and go to the Knicks.
Why should loyalty keep Nowitzki from asking that the Mavs move him to a contender for the twilight of his prime?
It would take a Dirk demand for the thought of trading him to ever get even mild consideration from the Mavs' front office. As the proud owner of a championship ring, Nowitzki might be content to play out his career on a noncontender, but such a deal could be in the best interests of both parties.
Nowitzki didn't give Mark Cuban a $16 million discount on this contract to grow old while playing for a financially flexible mediocre team. The Mavs will "keep their powder dry," to borrow Donnie Nelson's buzz phrase, while hoping they can acquire the necessary superstar by next summer to give realistic hope of another championship parade in downtown Dallas.
The realistic best-case scenario for this season -- the Mavs duct-tape together a supporting cast just good enough for Nowitzki to carry to the playoffs -- is also the worst-case scenario. Cuban has said in the past that the worst thing that can happen to an NBA team is to be stuck on the "mediocrity treadmill," not good enough to be a contender, not bad enough to get high lottery picks and really rebuild.
Welcome to the mediocrity treadmill, Mavs.
The hope is they can hop off by landing a legit superstar to pair with Nowitzki, but the truth is their best shot was Deron Williams, who decided that Brooklyn's future was brighter. You really think Chris Paul will leave a playoff team next summer to play with a year-older Dirk?
The Mavs won't get equal value for Nowitzki. Not even close. But maybe they can begin the rebuilding process with a couple of talented young players and a package of picks. If that's the case and Nowitzki would rather chase another ring, it's worth considering.
Don't want to turn into Timberwolves
Is it time to trade Dirk Nowitzki? No. At least not yet.
With the Dallas Mavericks striking out in free agency and now entering an unthinkable rebuilding zone just 13 months after winning the franchise's first championship, that question continues to circulate.
After all, that's what teams seem to do these days. Once the winning stops, trade the superstar and set course on a supposedly bright new future. Well, Mavs owner Mark Cuban will give you two examples why he won't deal Dirk, his 34-year-old superstar, anytime soon.
The first is the Minnesota Timberwolves. After years of being good, but not great, with Kevin Garnett, they said adios in 2007. Cuban is quick to ask how that's worked out. Then Cuban will show you the Boston Celtics. Awful with Paul Pierce, they held on to him, held on to him and held on to him, and finally landed the aforementioned Garnett and Ray Allen.
The Big Three went on to win one title and nearly another.
Now, it is also fair to point out that the Mavs don't have coveted assets like Boston did. The Celtics traded Al Jefferson to the Timberwolves for Garnett and sent Jeff Green, the No. 5 pick in 2007, plus a baby-faced Delonte West to the old Seattle SuperSonics to pry Allen.
Forget it; it's not happening. The Mavs' plan now shifts to the summer of 2013 when potentially -- and I do mean potentially -- Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum hit the free-agent market. If Deron Williams, who hails from the Dallas area, turned down Dirk and the Mavs this summer, what would one of those max-contract free agents tell Dallas with no Dirk in the picture?
So while the Mavs choose to keep their powder dry, as general manager Donnie Nelson likes to say, and pursue a star next summer, that pursuit depends on selling Nowitzki as a partner.
If that fails, well, it might become time to think about trading Nowitzki in the final year of his deal for the good of the franchise.
For evidence it can be beneficial, take the Cleveland Cavaliers. Albeit a different situation, the Cavs acquired multiple picks for LeBron James, drafted rookie of the year Kyrie Irving among others, and are young, exciting and on their way back.