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Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Mark Cuban: Dirk Nowitzki still has it

By Tim MacMahon

DALLAS -- Mavericks owner Mark Cuban doesn't see why Dirk Nowitzki can't be an elite player for "at least" three more seasons.

Since his 11-year streak of All-Star appearances was snapped, Nowitzki has averaged 18.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, shooting 49.5 percent from the floor and 50 percent from 3-point range.

"What we're seeing now with Dirk is what we can expect to see next year and the year after, if he stays healthy," Cuban said. "And the year after that."

Three more years of All-Star caliber play from a power forward who turns 35 this summer?

"At least," Cuban said.

Nowitzki wasn't so quick to predict the same.

"I'm not sure about all that," said Nowitzki, a 15-year veteran who is averaging the fewest points overall (16.4) since his rookie year after missing the first 27 games of the season following arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. "We'll just have to wait and see. Hopefully I can finish this season strong and have a good summer like I basically did last year with a lot of lifting and running and hopefully not have a setback with a surgery. We'll see how consistent I can be again next season."

It's only been a couple of months since Nowitzki was wondering whether he wanted to keep playing after his contract expires next summer. He recently declared that he'd stick around through at least the 2015-16 season, but Nowitzki openly discussed making a transition from go-to guy to a role player in the years to come.

But Cuban can't see Nowitzki as a role player, not even if the Mavs succeed in their year-old mission to acquire a legitimate star to pair with him, if not remove the burden of the franchise from his shoulders.

"Is Kevin Garnett a role player? Is Tim Duncan a role player?" Cuban asked rhetorically. "Do you think Tim Duncan is going to be a role player next year? You think Kevin Garnett is going to be a role player next year? And those guys are based more on athleticism than Dirk is, you know?"

Cuban's point: If Nowitzki's peers as legendary power forwards of this generation can be All-Stars at 36, why can't Nowitzki?

Duncan and Garnett both returned to the All-Star Game this season, a season after their decade-plus-long streak of appearances was snapped at least in part due to knee problems that tend to pop up in a heavy-minutes NBA career.

Garnett's production has dipped in recent years, but he's still a force for a perennial playoff team. Duncan's numbers are down, too, but that's primarily because his playing time has decreased. On a per-minute basis, there's not much difference between Duncan's production now and in his prime, and the Spurs are still contenders.

Advances in sports medicine, nutrition and strength and conditioning increase the players' odds of enjoying success as NBA old-timers.

"Just because of the technology, guys can stay healthy longer," Cuban said. "The science of dieting and health is just completely different than when we let Steve Nash walk nine years ago. I think it's just a different animal."