Commentary

Dirk Nowitzki needs to take backseat

Mavericks need new leading man so aging star can embrace supporting role

Updated: May 8, 2012, 11:50 AM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

DALLAS -- Pick whichever side you want on the Dirk Nowitzki vs. Father Time debate, but Charles Barkley makes one point that is pretty tough to argue against.

It's not realistic to continue counting on Nowitzki, who turns 34 next month, to be "The Man" on an otherwise starless championship contender.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireDirk Nowitzki needs to become a co-star, preferably playing Robin instead of the Batman role, to have a legitimate chance to win another championship.

Really, it's miraculous that the Dallas Mavericks reached the NBA mountaintop last summer with Nowitzki as the only All-Star on the roster. A lone-star team has broken through about once a decade in recent NBA history, and it's foolish to think lightning will strike twice in Dallas as Nowitzki nears his rocking chair years.

For Nowitzki to have a legitimate chance to win another championship, he needs to become a co-star, preferably playing Robin instead of the Batman role.

That's not a knock on one of the best power forwards of all time. It's just reality.

"Hey, I mean, if that's the case, I'd love to hand over the keys," Nowitzki said. "We'll have to wait and see what happens, but I still think I can play some great basketball and can still contribute to a good team."

There's no question Nowitzki can contribute to a good team. He has the kind of game -- heavily reliant on shooting touch, needing just a decent dose of mobility -- that ages well. But the big German can't be expected to carry a great team in the twilight of his prime.

Why do you think Nowitzki has pleaded like a panhandler for another premier playmaker since the Mavs' season ended with a sweep? He got a good look at the Oklahoma City Thunder's trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden and knows an aging one-man army can't compete with that kind of arsenal.

I think you saw during the course of the playoffs that he was fighting tooth and nail and he needs help. He needs help, and we plan to give it to him.

-- Mavs GM Donnie Nelson
on Dirk Nowitzki

Feel free to disregard this season's stats, Nowitzki's worst since his first full season in the NBA. Mavs owner Mark Cuban, the man who owes Dirk almost $44 million over the next two seasons, calls it "dirty data" due to the crazy grind of the lockout-compressed schedule.

Nowitzki recognizes a need for change after he averaged 21.6 points on 45.7 percent shooting during the irregular season and failed to lead the defending champions to a single playoff win.

That change will start with what he can control: his preparation, which he admits wasn't up to par this season, when his extended celebration ended surprisingly when the sides suddenly agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement. He paid with swollen knees and a shriveled game early in the season, the first time in his career he felt physically unable to compete at an elite level.

Nowitzki, whose numbers the past few months were more Dirk-like, virtually guaranteed that he won't need another personal midseason training camp.

"I'm probably going to lift more this summer and try to keep my legs strong so we don't all have to go through what I went through at the beginning of the season, because that was pretty ugly," Nowitzki said. "I've got to adjust some of my program."

The little tweaks Nowitzki makes to his offseason routine won't matter unless the Mavs make a major addition to the roster.

The most obvious answer would be signing Deron Williams. All the Dallas front office has to do is convince the All-Star point guard from nearby The Colony to bolt Brooklyn for less money to play with a star sidekick entering his golden years.

What if that doesn't work?

Bring Steve Nash back to Dallas almost a decade after his departure to run pick-and-(grand)pops with his old pal? (Emphasis on old.)

Use that financial flexibility the Mavs front office coveted enough to let Tyson Chandler & Co. go to pull off a summer blockbuster deal?

Who knows the answer? But, in fairness to the face of the franchise, Cuban and GM Donnie Nelson better figure it out.

That's not breaking news to the Mavs' brain trust. They saw this coming, which is why they made salary-cap space a priority over keeping the title band together after the lockout was lifted.

"I think you saw during the course of the playoffs that he was fighting tooth and nail and he needs help," Nelson said. "He needs help, and we plan to give it to him."

A man fighting Father Time needs all the help he can get.

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