Time for the Dallas Mavericks, again, to grow their own superstar. Time for them to bite the bullet and give someone like Jae Crowder, Ricky Ledo, Bernard James or Gal Mekel more playing time.
For those of you with long memories, you know the Dirk Nowitzki you saw in 1999, is nowhere near the polished Dirk Nowitzki of today. Nowhere near the Dirk Nowitzki who has participated in 11 NBA All-Star games, and who led the Mavs to the 2011 NBA title.
I was sitting on press row in Seattle on Feb. 5, 1999, for Nowitzki’s first, lockout-delayed NBA game, waiting in anticipation to see what all the fuss was about. Needless to say, there were a lot of disappointments etched on the faces of the Mavs, who had acquired Nowitzki — drafted No. 9 overall by Milwaukee —in a draft day trade with the Bucks.
Nowitzki started and finished the game against the SuperSonics with just two points, no rebounds and four assists, and was 0 of 5 from the field during a 92-86 overtime loss. From there, Nowitzki kept starting, and the Mavs kept losing until one day coach Don Nelson asked Nowitzki if he didn’t mind if he took him out of the starting lineup.
To Nowitzki’s credit, he kept coming early to practice and kept staying late. He even was at the gym sometimes late on Friday and Saturday nights — with his good buddy and teammate Steve Nash — working vigorously on the intricate parts of his game.
And to the Mavs’ credit, they allowed Nowitzki to keep playing through his mistakes until he finally got things right. Until he finally grew into a superstar.
After averaging 20.4 minutes as a rookie, Nowitzki averaged 35.8, 38.1, 38 and 39 minutes in the ensuing four seasons.
Without Nelson believing in him and giving him more playing time, who knows how far Nowitzki’s game would have advanced? Who knows if he would have become the Mavs’ all-time leading scorer?
From Deron Williams to Dwight Howard to other top-dollar players we may not be aware of, the Mavs are probably tired of not being able to sign the top free agents.
It’s time for the Mavs to grow their own superstar, as they did with Nowitzki.
No one said this is going to be easy. It wasn’t easy for Nowitzki.
It wasn’t easy for Nash, either, who also grew into superstar status after the seeds were planted by the Mavs. In his third season — and first with the Mavs — Nash averaged 31.7 minutes per game.
And Nash was underachieving so much in his first season in a Dallas uniform that he frequently was booed during home games.
But the playing time kept piling up for Nash until he wound up making the All-Star team twice with the Mavs, and six more times after the Mavs watched him leave via free agency in the summer of 2004 and play for the Phoenix Suns.
Nash was the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2005 and ’06, and Nowitzki was the league’s MVP in 2007.
That’s what seed-planting will do.
Thus, the Mavs should take hold of their current situation and stop hedging their bets every summer on players who really don’t want to play for them, for whatever reasons.
The Mavs need to plant another seed and grow their own superstar, grow another Nowitzki, another Nash.
If Crowder has the potential to be that guy, then give him the playing time and live with his mistakes. The same applies for Ledo, James and Mekel.
This annual summer trip of getting the fans’ hopes up and then being bamboozled at the free agency altar has gotten old. It’s time for the Mavs to stop being the bridesmaid and be the bride for a change.
Grow your own superstar. Plant your own seeds.