If they had their way, the Dallas Mavericks probably wish they had 15 players who view money the way Dirk Nowitzki does.
Nowitzki’s $14.73 million salary cut — from the $22.7 million he earned last season to $7.97 million — is one of the largest one-year reductions in NBA history.
The largest happened when Shaquille O’Neal went from earning $20 million with Cleveland in 2009-10 to $1.35 million with Boston the next season.
What’s more, the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers reportedly were willing to give Nowitzki more than $20 million a season for four more years.
Nowitzki, however, had no desire to talk to them.
When Nowitzki hit the free-agent market July 1, he already knew he wasn’t going to desert the Mavs after spending his 16-year career with them. And he knew he was going to have to take a massive pay cut to help the Mavericks have the salary-cap space to chase quality free agents.
“As great a player as he is, he’s a great person and he’s got the ultimate commitment to winning,” said Donnie Nelson, the Mavs’ president of basketball operations. “It’s not just putting his money where his mouth is.
“You walk in [American Airlines Center] a week ago and he’s dripping sweat doing two-hour morning sessions when most of the other guys around the league are on vacation and hanging out. And he’s got his mind locked in on October training camp of next season.”
According to spotrac.com, Nowitzki has earned $200.34 million during his career, trailing only Kevin Garnett ($298.89 million), Kobe Bryant ($244.36 million) and Tim Duncan ($220.02 million) among active players.
Nowitzki knows that if the players at the top of the payroll don’t take significant pay cuts, most owners are unwilling to go to the luxury tax level and fill out their roster with high-dollar players.
“He’s just such a unique bird,” Nelson said. “In a lot of respects, where the common stance in today’s modern day game is guys are their own CEOs, and they’ve got a gazillion interests out there and endorsements, and they’re like their own companies, Dirk is a true old-school throwback in that his craft is the most important thing to him.
“He doesn’t get distracted with a bunch of other ancillary, peripheral-type things. He’s all about winning a championship.”
Just to prove he’s all-in with the Mavs, two weeks ago Nowitzki agreed to a Tim Duncan-like three-year, $30 million free-agent contract with the Mavs. But when the Mavs discovered they needed more cash to sign restricted free-agent Chandler Parsons from the Houston Rockets, they went back to Nowitzki and he agreed to sign a three-year contract worth $25 million.
In turn, the Mavs used a large chunk of that money to secure Parsons for $46 million over three years.
“He’s got a huge heart and he’s obviously one of the most talented basketball players on the planet, to boot,” Nelson said. “He’s locked in on the things that are most important to him and doesn’t really feel the need to go out there and chase a bunch of money.”
When he became a free agent in the summer of 2010, Nowitzki also took a pay cut. Back then he signed a four-year deal worth $80 million when he could have easily gotten $16 million more had he requested the max contract.
Nowitzki told reporters at the time: “I’m very fortunate that I’ve made a lot of money in this league, even though I’ve never really played for money. I love the sport. I love this organization.
“Obviously, I want to win. I won the MVP and individually there’s nothing really left but winning a championship. If that means I have to play for less money, it’s all possible.”
The Mavs went on to win the NBA title that season. The NBA’s No. 10 all-time leading scorer is hoping for a repeat performance this year.
“It’s a delightful thing for the Mavericks and the city of Dallas and Dirk,” Nelson said of Nowitzki’s return. “I couldn’t be prouder and happier to have him continuing in a Mavericks uniform.
“He has been the heartbeat of this team ever since he donned a uniform, so it’s plus for all of us.”
After serving as the second-highest-paid player in the league last year behind Bryant, Nowitzki will now be the the fourth highest on his own team, trailing Tyson Chandler ($14.8 million), Parsons ($14.7 million) and Monta Ellis ($8.4 million).
In expressing his willingness to assist owner Mark Cuban financially, after this past season Nowitzki said: “We’ll find a good way where I feel respected for what I did and where we still have enough money left for us to get great players in here. Cubes has been great to me, has been loyal to me for a long, long time.
“I’m sure we’re going to find a great solution for everybody.”
That solution has been found.
“He sets the tone for the chemistry on our basketball team, and it’s been that way for 15 or 16 years since he’s been here,” Nelson said. “He’s a true lead-by-example guy, not a lot of talk, but a whole lot of walk.
“It’s going to be a really sad day when he decides to hang up his sneakers.”