DALLAS (AP)—Dirk Nowitzki is the backbone of the Dallas Mavericks, the first MVP in franchise history and the career leader in pretty much every scoring category.
All that’s missing is a championship, and he’s not interested in going anywhere else to get one.
“After I played here for 11 years—played hurt, played sick, whatever they needed me to do, basically playing my heart (out) for the last 11 years—I don’t think it would feel the same way somewhere else,” Nowitzki said. “It’s always been my dream here to finish my career and win a championship. I think my window has not closed yet and I’ll still see what we can do.”
Nowitzki inadvertently raised the question of how long he was willing to stick with the organization while describing his disappointment over falling short again this season.
After the Mavs were eliminated by Denver on Wednesday night, then again during a wrapup interview Thursday, Nowitzki mentioned several times that this was his 11th season and that he’ll be turning 31 in a few weeks. He talked about the window of opportunity starting to close, calling every title-less season a waste. He also said he understands that 36-year-old Jason Kidd(notes) might sign with another team he considers closer to winning a championship.
So, does all that mean Nowitzki thinks the Mavs are far from winning a title? That time is running out for him? Or maybe that he’s running out of patience?
No, no, no.
“I always said I’d love to finish my career here and bring this franchise a championship,” he said. “I still feel like I have a good three, four years left of solid basketball. I don’t want to feel overanxious and put my pressure on myself. I’m going to be ready to play and I’m going to work hard again this summer and do more of the same again next year.”
Nowitzki noted that he could opt out of his contract in 2010 “if I wanted to,” but he didn’t say it in a threatening way.
In fact, he tempered the thought by adding, “I never really thought about it this way.”
Nowitzki is coming off perhaps his best year other than his MVP season of 2006-07.
He averaged 25.9 points and 8.4 rebounds and was first-team All-NBA—or, as coach Rick Carlisle put it, he was voted “the best power forward on the planet.”
His numbers were down in the first round of the playoffs because San Antonio based its defense around slowing him. Then, facing single coverage from the Nuggets, he averaged 34.4 points, scoring 44 in Dallas’ lone victory. He did it while dealing with his girlfriend getting arrested at his home, bringing unwanted attention on his very private non-basketball life.
“It takes a strong individual to go through what he did and then carry us on his back through this whole playoffs,” teammate Jason Terry(notes) said.
Part of Nowitzki’s devotion to Dallas stems from his confidence in owner Mark Cuban and front-office boss Donnie Nelson.
“It’s pretty obvious (Cuban) wants to win—getting in fights with people in the stands, being fired up about every loss,” Nowitzki said, laughing. “I think he wants to win as much as I do. He made all the right statements that we’re trying to improve the team this summer.”
If it was up to Nowitzki, the Mavericks’ offseason plan would start with keeping Kidd.
“His leadership on and off the floor has been great,” Nowitzki said. “He’s showed that even though he’s a little older that he’s a warrior. He played 40-some minutes the last couple of months when we needed to win games.”
Next, Nowitzki would make sure to “keep some of the core guys and just add pieces.” He’d like better defenders, more 3-point shooters and some young, fast, leapers so Kidd “can actually throw some lobs on the break.”
“It really showed in the second round that we need some athleticism,” he said. “Denver was just stronger and faster, it felt like, at every position.”
As for Nowitzki’s offseason, he’s expecting the German national team to ask him to play in the European championships. He’s not sure he wants to after reaching the pinnacle of playing in the Olympics last summer.
“That was one of the greatest times of my life,” he said. “It’s hard for me to imagine … starting all over again. I’ll just have to wait and see. The good thing is that it’s not until September. By that time, knowing me, I’ll probably be in the gym for a couple months anyway.”