DALLAS — Thursday’s NBA Draft hadn’t started yet, and Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki was already being pummeled with questions about Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard.On Monday, Howard will become one of the most coveted unrestricted free agents in NBA history. And the Mavs want to make him their new franchise player and turn their current franchise player, Nowitzki, into their No. 2 option.It’s a philosophy Nowitzki, who turned 35 last week, has easily bought into. That’s why he’s already had a conversation with Howard about a union in Dallas.“I reached out to him and told him we’d love to have him,” Nowitzki said. “It’s not like we call each other every day.“I didn’t write him a letter. We just had a little phone contact. That’s about it.”With Howard patrolling the middle for the Mavs, Nowitzki knows he would have an excellent shot at winning another NBA championship before he retires.“To me, when he’s healthy he’s the most dominant big man in the league,” Nowitzki said of Howard. “He’s shown that at the end of the season when he was right what he can still do.“He can dominate on both ends of the floor if he feels healthy, he can still use his athleticism. He’s a beast on both ends of the floor.”Since the Mavs made the decision in the summer of 2011 not to offer Tyson Chandler a long-term contract, they’ve been searching for another beast in the middle to protect the rim, rebound and play some lock-down defense. Howard — he’ll likely choose between the Mavs, Lakers and Houston Rockets as his free agency destination — certainly will be the big man in town if he decides to sign with Dallas.“He’s the kind of guy you can just get the ball to in the post, and I’ll just spread the floor,” Nowitzki said. “On the defensive end, he’s a guy that can protect the rim and a guy that’s obviously a luxury.“We’d love to have him, but so would all of the other teams with cap room. I’ll just wait and see what happens.”The Lakers can offer Howard a five-year, $118 million contract — more than any other team. The most the Mavs and any other team can offer Howard is a four-year, $88 million contract.To reach the magic $88 million mark, the Mavericks would likely have to part ways with the popular Shawn Marion, who was alongside Nowitzki when Dallas captured the ’11 championship.“We’ll cross that bridge once we get there,” Nowitzki said. “If Dwight really says he’d love to be here and love to come and this is where he wants to play, then that’s something we have to address then.“Now I don’t know if we have to address that.”Nowitzki doesn’t want a repeat of last summer when the Mavs went all-out for point guard Deron Williams during free agency, lost him to the Brooklyn Nets and wound up signing a series of players to one-year contracts.“Honestly, I think we can’t put all our eggs in one basket,” Nowitzki said. “I just think we need to have multiple things going if Dwight or whoever says no.“We’ve got to have some other options. If the top free agents decide not to come here, then we’re going to find a way to get better with some of the second-tier guys.”Dirk’s game a hitDirk Nowitzki will host a Heroes Celebrity Baseball Game at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco.Jason Terry, J.J. Barea, Vince Carter, Devin Harris, Drew Pearson, Michael Finley, Terrell Owens and Mavs owner Mark Cuban are among the celebrities who will play in the game.
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @dwainprice