Friday, April 30, 2010; 10:05 PM
DALLAS -- Dirk Nowitzki has always said wearing anything but a Mavericks jersey would be strange, and that winning a title anywhere but Dallas wouldn't be the same.
Now, he's not so sure.
Still reeling from a first-round playoff ousting ¿ his third in the four years since Dallas reached the NBA finals ¿ Nowitzki said Friday he needs some down time before deciding whether to return to the Mavericks next season or to opt out of his contract and become a free agent.
"I have to keep my options open at this point, see what's going on; got to get over this disappointment for a while," he said. "I'll probably drown my sorrows for a bit, then start thinking about stuff like that in a week or two. As of now, I just want to keep my options open and see what happens." Nowitzki is due $21.5 million in 2010-11. If he leaves, it wouldn't be for more money, but for a better chance of winning a championship.
Dallas has won at least 50 games for 10 straight season, yet still hasn't won a title. Only three other franchises have pulled off the 50-for-10 feat and each won at least three titles during that span, adding to the frustration for Dallas players, management and fans.
Nowitzki said he believes owner Mark Cuban and president Donnie Nelson would continue to surround him with the pieces needed to compete. In fact, he spent the last few weeks repeatedly saying this version was "the deepest team I've been on in my career" and that it was "built for the playoffs." But how would he react if good buddy Steve Nash suggested they team up again in Phoenix? Or if LeBron James, or Dwyane Wade, asks him to come along wherever they go?
"As of right now, it's all speculation," said Nowitzki, whom the Mavs hope to use as their own recruiter this summer in the NBA's free agency bonanza. "I've always said I want to finish my career here in Dallas and it wouldn't feel the same putting on a different uniform. So, that really always was my plan. So we'll just have to wait and see." Nowitzki turns 32 in June and will be going into his 13th season. He averaged 25 points per game this season, upping his career average to 22.9.
"At this point, I'm still in my prime," he said. "I feel like I've still got a couple of good years left." Nowitzki is as entwined with this franchise as Troy Aikman was during the Dallas Cowboys' glory days ¿ if not more.
"He's the cornerstone," said Jason Terry, a teammate the last six years. "I got to believe he's coming back, no doubt in my mind. I'm not going to speak for him, I'm not his agent. I'd say 98 percent, if I had to put a percent on it." Asked if he could imagine the Mavericks without Nowitzki, coach Rick Carlisle said, "I can't, no. Don't want to." Dallas drafted Nowitzki as an unproven 19-year-old from Germany, then persuaded him to come to the NBA when he wanted to spend a year playing in Europe.
He's gone from the novelty of a 7-footer who could shoot 3-pointers to an all-around player; his defense isn't a liability any more, either. He's set every meaningful club record (points, rebounds, games) and became its first NBA MVP.
Then there's the personal side. Some people in and around the organization are as close as family. This time last year, Cuban and others were instrumental in getting Nowitzki away from a fiancee who lied about her identity and criminal past.
"Now is not the time to be talking about emotional-type things," Nelson said. "Get through this emotional time and at the right time we'll sit down and talk about it. But I can tell you that from Mark to management to all the way down, we will do whatever needs to happen to make sure he's in a Maverick uniform." It's perhaps insightful into Nowitzki's thought process that when he walked off the court following the Game 6 loss to San Antonio on Thursday night, he didn't consider that his final game for Dallas.
"No, not at all. Not at all. Not at all," he said. "I was just more and more disappointed. Nothing like that went through my mind."