- Jean-Jacques Taylor, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
Dirk Nowitzki carries himself the way a superstar should, which is why none of us can ever question his work ethic.
Or his effort. Or his desire to remain with the Dallas Mavericks -- no matter how far they sink below .500.
And when he speaks, it's the truth.
Most of the time, it's positive. Occasionally, it's not.
The truth, when we hear it, doesn't always sound good. And it sure doesn't always feel good.
But real talk, which is what Dirk tends to deliver, is always good for us. Who can't respect that?
So it was refreshing to hear the frustration in his words as it related to the Mavs' rebuilding plan, a formula built on a foundation of hope. No one who deals in reality wants his or her future based on a pipe dream.
And that's what it is for those of you foolish enough to believe Chris Paul is leaving the Los Angeles Clippers at the end of the season or Dwight Howard is going to be so frustrated he bolts the Los Angeles Lakers when the season ends.
Get over it. That ain't happening.
Dirk knows it. So do you. Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson, too, if they're honest with themselves.
Dirk's frustration with the Mavs' situation is understandable because the Mavs have been a championship contender at the start of every season for a decade.
Being eight games under .500 with plenty of financial flexibility and no real shot at the playoffs would bother any player who cares about winning more than he does about his paycheck.
Then again, hope is the only currency the Mavs have these days.
This is probably a good time to deal with the reality that the Mavs will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1999 (realistically, unless they win at least 29 of their final 44 games), that Darren Collison has no future here as a starter, and that the best players on this rebuilding team are Dirk and Shawn Marion.
Maybe O.J. Mayo will prove he's a quality piece on a championship team in the next few months. We don't know.
If you're looking for a reason to watch the Mavs, only one exists: Dirk.
Go to the games and savor every minute he's on the court because it'll be forever before another player with his unique ability comes through Dallas again.
He's not playing great basketball, right now. He came back too soon, whether he admits it or not, probably because he couldn't stand watching this team get blasted night after night.
But the Dirk we're seeing these days isn't capable of taking over games and leading the Mavs where he wants them to go.
Blame his legs.
The arthroscopic knee surgery he had just before the season has robbed Dirk, for now, of his leg strength.
He doesn't have the mobility or quickness to consistently attack the basket, which is why he's averaging just 3.3 free throws per game, well below his career average of 6.5.
He took a season-high seven free throws in Saturday night's blowout win over Memphis.
The lack of leg strength is also why he's shooting 42.2 percent from the field, poor for a career 47.5 shooter.
Father Time, as we know, eventually knocks out every athlete. While Dirk might be on the ropes, perhaps we can even say he took a standing eight count, we won't know for sure whether he can return to being an elite player until he has a full offseason and training camp to get his knee and his body as close to 100 percent as they're going to get.
Understand, this is not a criticism of Dirk. It's reality.
After all, he's averaging 18.1 points and shooting 43.6 percent from the field in the past six games, and he has hit double figures in seven consecutive games.
Obviously, he's still a good player. A really good player. The standard for Dirk, however, is greatness.
It takes time to get used to the idea that his days of being a great player are nearing an end.
No one wants to consider that, when it comes to the best player to ever don a Mavericks uniform. You want the man who brought an NBA championship to Dallas to stay young forever, just like Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray.
Unfortunately, life doesn't work that way. So we watch. And wait.
It would be easier if Cuban and Nelson hadn't failed Dirk. No way he should still be easily the best player on this team, trying to carry it to .500.
Sadly, that might be more difficult this season than winning a title.
3dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann