Dirk Nowitzki looks at playing overseas
After two months of traveling, playing tennis, soaking in every pitch of the Texas Rangers' playoff run and generally recharging, Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki has a basketball in his hands again.
The reigning NBA Finals MVP recently returned to Germany to resume his customary workout routine with longtime shot doctor Holger Geschwindner and told ESPN.com on Saturday that he's going to find a team in Europe "soon" with the NBA lockout well into its fifth month without a settlement.
"It's going to take me a few weeks to get in basketball shape," Nowitzki said, "but then I'm ready. I can't stand not playing."
Although he continues to express optimism that the NBA season will be saved, Nowitzki has acknowledged that he has taken note of the blueprint established by Cleveland Cavaliers forward Omri Casspi, who announced earlier this week that he had signed a contract with Maccabi Tel Aviv in his native Israel that serves as a virtual letter of intent to join Maccabi in January if the lockout is still going, thus securing a spot for Casspi with a top European team early in a market starting to flood with established players.
Nowitzki has only just begun to field calls from interested clubs, but he said he's aware of the Spanish media reports that have listed him as a target of perennial powerhouse Real Madrid and admitted that the idea of playing top-level basketball with a team in Spain -- such as Real or their rivals Barcelona -- intrigues him.
"It's a great club with a great tradition," Nowitzki said of Real Madrid. "I don't know if that's true, but (if the media reports are accurate) that's something you'd have to look at hard.
"I still can't believe that we're not going to have a season (in the NBA). I can't see us not playing. But if the lockout still stays strong, I've got a decision to make."
The 33-year-old also revealed that he has reconsidered his previous stance about playing in his native Germany. For much of the summer, Nowitzki maintained that he preferred not to play in the German Bundesliga because he didn't want to pick any one club over the rest. Yet he has since concluded that returning to the Bundesliga, for the first time since playing for his hometown DJK Wurzburg X-Rays during the 1998-99 lockout, might be the best way to promote the sport at home.
Three German teams have emerged as the strongest contenders to sign Nowitzki should the lockout drag on: Reigning champions Bamberg, big-spending newcomers Bayern Munich and ALBA Berlin.
Bamberg is the only team of the three to be playing in the Euroleague this season with Real Madrid and the other top clubs on the continent. World soccer power Bayern Munich is relatively new to the basketball scene in Germany, but Nowitzki's national team coach, Dirk Bauermann, is also Bayern's coach and Nowitzki is close with some of Bayern's soccer stars, such as Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Another potential lure for staying home: Kevin Durant's ongoing negotiations with German club BBC Bayreuth raise the previously unfathomable possibility of Durant and Nowitzki -- last seen dueling in the Western Conference finals -- rekindling their rivalry on Nowitzki's turf.
"In this situation," Nowitzki said, "you've got to look at every option."
Nowitzki, though, is holding out hope that returning to his normal preseason routine for the next month will actually serve as perfect timing to coincide with the long-delayed opening of NBA training camps. Throughout the offseason, Nowitzki consistently expressed the belief that he "can't see a long lockout" given the enormous interest and momentum generated by the 2011-12 season.
Asked about the fact that there's no date in sight for the Mavericks' opening night ceremony to collect their rings and raise their championship banner, Nowitzki said: "It's really unfortunate and disappointing. But there's nothing we can do about it. One day, whenever it is, I know that banner is going in the rafters and I will never forget that day."
Earlier this week, Geschwinder told Agence France Presse that Nowitzki "has not touched the ball since the European Championships" in mid-September and that Nowitzki was "ruling nothing out" about potential European destinations "even if he has no concrete ideas."
"I had such a short break (after the Mavs won the championship in June) before the Euros started," Nowitzki said. "I needed those two months to get away. But now I'm really looking forward to getting back out there. I've said it a bunch of times: There's no way I can go a whole year without playing."
Nowitzki, Durant and Miami's Dwyane Wade are hardly alone in turning their gaze abroad. Reports in Turkey this week say that Besiktas -- the Istanbul-based club that signed New Jersey Nets star Deron Williams -- has been negotiating with Minnesota's Kevin Love and Chicago's Luol Deng.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.
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