Dallas owner Mark Cuban (left), center Andrew Bogut (center) and injured forward Dirk Nowitzki (right) look on during the Mavericks’ loss to the Spurs. Nowitzki has missed all but five games this season.
Cuban’s goal when he made the controversial decision to strip down that title team, valuing the potential offered by cap space over the PR play of keeping an aging roster intact, was to give Nowitzki a chance to contend for championships until the end of his career. The Mavs fell well short, despite Nowitzki’s taking a steep hometown discount, which Cuban made up for with the Kobe-esque contract this summer.
Very few legends are afforded the luxury of ending their careers on contending teams. Duncan was fortunate to be on that very short list, never playing for a team that didn’t have legitimate title hopes. The Spurs exited the playoffs earlier than expected, when they lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the West semifinals last season, but Duncan’s final squad won 67 games. The Mavs might not win that many in two years of Nowitzki’s contract, even if he sticks around next season.
There will be no farewell tour for Nowitzki — he will make sure of that — but he appears likely to have an exit more along the lines of Bryant, who went out with a 17-win Lakers team. The Mavs are limping along at a 14-win pace, which in a twisted way is a testament to Nowitzki.
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There is plenty of proof of that. Start with the Mavs’ 15 playoff appearances, 12 50-win seasons, two Finals trips and one title during a stretch in which Nowitzki had more than twice as many All-Star selections as all his teammates put together. Nowitzki, the sixth-leading scorer in NBA history, ranks seventh in win shares, one spot behind Duncan.
Or just ask anyone with a wise basketball brain, such as Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who gushes about Nowitzki as a “beautiful player to watch” and a “class act” with “infectious” competitiveness.
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Nothing that happens in the next year or two, or however long Nowitzki keeps playing, will diminish his legacy. Just as Duncan’s legacy didn’t take a hit when he struggled throughout the final playoff series of his career, including being rejected by Serge Ibaka on a dunk attempt that was his final shot.
“What they’ve done is iconic, unique,” Popovich said. “They deserve whatever accolades they get from whatever source. If each of them played seven more years and couldn’t do anything, they still deserve it.”