- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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Dirk Nowitzki doesn't want to play for another NBA franchise, but he also doesn't want to finish his career just fighting for the Western Conference's final playoff spot.
That's his fear for the franchise's future if the Dallas Mavericks strike out again in the free-agency market this summer.
"Ultimately, my goal was always to finish my career in Dallas," Nowitzki told ESPN in an interview taped before Wednesday's Mavs-Clippers game. "The only way if I was going to leave was if we hadn't won a championship and I would have been chasing my last two years or whatever like (Gary) Payton and (Karl) Malone did when they went (to the Lakers) with Kobe and Shaq. Something like that, maybe I could have seen myself doing at the end.
"But since I got that ring now, I think I'm going to finish my career in Dallas, but I obviously do want to be competitive my last couple of years and I do want to play not for the 8 seed. Saying all that, I've got this year left and next year (on my contract), so hopefully we can still make a push here this season and get something going this summer and be competitive again."
Nowitzki reiterated his comments made over the weekend to ESPNDallas.com regarding his concerns in the likely scenario that the Mavs aren't able to land Dwight Howard or Chris Paul in free agency, stating again that Mark Cuban's CBA-influenced decision to let Tyson Chandler and other key championship contributors leave could be judged as a mistake or not after this summer. Smiling, Nowitzki added that he "took some heat" from Cuban about the comments.
The championship ring filled in the final line on Nowitzki's résumé to join the list of all-time NBA legends.
It did not, however, quench his thirst to compete for titles.
"You want that again," Nowitzki said. "You want to experience it again. You don't want to fight for the eight spot. I think that's pretty clear that once you win, you want to keep winning and you want to keep being competitive at least.
"You never know. You never plan a championship, but at least you want to be able to compete. To play for the playoffs or just to make the eight spot, that's not the way we carry ourselves in Dallas."
After their 99-93 loss to the Clippers, the Mavericks are 13-23, seven games out of the eighth spot in the West standings and ahead of only the Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Hornets. The Mavs fell to 10 games below .500 for the first time since March 30, 2000, the last season the franchise failed to make the playoffs.
As far as Nowitzki's future with the Mavs goes, the question isn't whether he'll force his way to another franchise. It is: How long will he continue to play if the Mavs aren't competitive?
Nowitzki said in October that he'd like to play at least through the 2015-16 season, two years after his current contract expires. He could certainly reconsider if the Mavs aren't good enough to do anything more than scrap for a playoff spot.
7dEthan Sherwood Strauss