Dirk Nowitzki taking a break after Euros
After an exhausting summer stint with the German national team at the European Championships that eliminated his country from 2012 Olympic contention earlier than expected, Nowitzki told ESPN.com that he won't resume basketball workouts until late October at the earliest unless the lockout is lifted sooner.
"I'm going to get away for a little bit and get some well-deserved rest that I didn't get before," Nowitzki said, referring to the whirlwind existence during and immediately after the Mavericks' long playoff run to their first-ever championship.
"That's my plan."
Nowitzki also said that he intends to take no less than a two-year break from playing for his country after Germany's failure to secure the top-six finish required to remain eligible for Olympic qualification. But he left open the possibility of rejoining the squad in the summer of 2015, at the age of 37, to try to help the Germans qualify for the 2016 Olympics.
"I'm not going to retire (from the national team) and I'm not going to say that I will definitely play (for Germany) again," Nowitzki said Sunday night after watching Spain beat France in the EuroBasket final on TV at his Wurzburg home.
"I'm going to take a couple years off, then we'll see."
Nowitzki, though, expressed no regret about playing in the EuroBasket tournament, despite the fact that he clearly lacked the required freshness to co-lead Germany to sixth or better alongside Los Angeles Clippers center Chris Kaman and played below his usual standards.
Following a week's worth of watching high-caliber EuroBasket play from afar, Nowitzki said he has eased up on the self-criticism he unleashed after the loss to host Lithuania one week earlier that eliminated the Germans, noting that Spain and France combined to put nearly a dozen NBA players on the floor in the championship game. It's a total that doesn't even include EuroBasket MVP Juan Carlos Navarro.
"If I'm in decent shape, we would have won another game or two," said Nowitzki, who initially described Germany's early exit as "my fault."
"But I'm not sure we were going to medal."
Reflecting on the three weeks of private tune-up work he did with longtime shooting coach Holger Geschwindner starting in late July before a handful of exhibition games, Nowitzki said he expected to play his way into reasonably decent form by the start of the second round. Yet he ultimately couldn't even manage to earn a spot alongside Navarro on the EuroBasket all-tournament team, which also includes forwards Pau Gasol (Spain) and Andrei Kirilenko (Russia) and guards Tony Parker (France) and Bo McCalebb (Macedonia).
"I thought that, by the second round, I'll be all right," Nowitzki said. "But for some reason it got worse. I never got into the shape that I needed to be in. Maybe my battery was empty."
Germany coach Dirk Bauermann said after the Lithuania defeat that everyone back home understood Nowitzki was putting his country ahead of recharging his batteries and thanked him profusely, saying: "There is no better person in the game of basketball. He was just the most wonderful person to be around and obviously one of the greatest players, maybe the greatest player that Europe has ever produced and probably one of the top three in the world. I give him so much credit for having played here.
"He had a super short break after winning the NBA championship. Obviously he wasn't rested and 99 percent of NBA players wouldn't have played under these circumstances. He dragged himself out here and he gave us everything he had."
Nowitzki has long believed that the lockout would end sooner than most doomsday projections and says he's still clinging to the hope that he can go straight from his forthcoming break to Mavericks training camp. His immediate plans call for reverting to one of his other favorite sports -- tennis -- and maintaining his usual offseason cardio routine for the next month in case the lockout does get lifted in the next few weeks.
And if not?
Nowitzki has said for months that he will find somewhere else to play in 2011-12 if the lockout extends into the winter and jeopardizes the NBA season, because, in Nowitzki's words, he's "too old to sit around for a whole year." Big-spending Bayern Munich and other top German clubs have been trying for months to convince Nowitzki to sign a deal with an out clause to return to the United States as soon as the lockout ends, but the 33-year-old has likewise indicated that he's unlikely to join a German club because he doesn't want to slight any club in the country.
"Let's see where the lockout is in a few weeks and then we'll have something to talk about," Nowitzki said of finding temporary employment abroads.
If Nowitzki elects not to play for Germany again, he'll leave European competition with a career total of 967 points, just 27 short of the all-time record held by Greece's Nikos Galis. But with Kaman's help in the summer of 2008, Nowitzki achieved all he ever wanted with his country when Germany qualified for the Beijing Olympics. Nowitzki had maintained for years that he regarded an Olympic berth as one of his two career dreams alongside winning an NBA championship and was rewarded for the achievement by his selection as Germany's flag-bearer in the 2008 Opening Ceremonies.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.