Dirk Nowitzki: Mavericks on right path

Updated: December 8, 2011, 9:22 PM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

DALLAS -- NBA Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki returned to the American Airlines Center on Thursday, and after fielding a few questions about his celebratory offseason, he was hit with the reality that the Dallas Mavericks appear set to defend their title without several key free agents, including center Tyson Chandler.

"I guess I didn't take less enough," Nowitzki said with a chuckle, referring to the free-agent deal he signed he signed last offseason for $80 million -- $16 million below the maximum he could have received. "I still got a decent deal out of it so maybe it wasn't enough cutback."

Entering his 14th season and hardened to the business side of basketball from past losses of Steve Nash and Michael Finley, Nowitzki seemed resigned to moving forward without Chandler, backup point guard J.J. Barea, small forward Caron Butler and possibly DeShawn Stevenson.

Mavs owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson are sticking to a plan of offering their free agents one-year deals with the goal of clearing cap space for the summer of 2012.

"We'll just have to wait and see what decision they make," Nowitzki said. "I really don't know what the right one is. Do we sign Tyson for whatever, four years and then don't know what's next for the next couple years, or do you not sign him and keep some cap space for the first time I remember being Mav? I don't even remember having cap space once.

"So, that's a tough decision to make and I'm sure Mark and Donnie are thinking about it and meeting about it the last couple of days and trying to figure something out. The one thing about Cuban is he always tries some stuff, we all know that. He finds ways to get around rules of the CBA and we'll have to wait and see what happens."

The Mavs have not had cap space in any of Cuban's 11 seasons, making it impossible to bid for big-name free agents through means other than difficult sign-and-trade deals.

Next summer's potential free-agent class includes Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, all young superstars who could help keep the franchise among the contenders as Nowitzki, 33, heads into the final three seasons of his contract.

Nowitzki said the array of moves the front office made a year ago that worked so well -- from trading for Chandler to acquiring Brian Cadinal and then Peja Stojakovic and Corey Brewer in-season -- gives him confidence they'll make the 2011-12 roster work.

"We know that Donnie has the knowledge and Cubes together and they're going to make the right decisions for this team," Nowitzki said.

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.

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