The mere thought of not having Dirk Nowitzki on the frontline next to him makes second-year center Salah Mejri shudder.
In the little more than a year that Mejri has been with the Dallas Mavericks, he’s played alongside Nowitzki. At times, the duo has battled for the same rebound.
But those battles could be coming to an abrupt end if recent reports come to fruition.
Nowitzki recently told the German magazine, Sport Bild, of his painful body: “If things don’t go so well and it hurts everywhere, it could be that 2017 will be the end.”
Nowitzki has played in just five of the Mavs’ 25 games this season due to a sprained right Achilles.
“I hope he stays with us one more season,” Mejri said. “It’s so easy playing with him on the court.
“He makes everything looks easy. He makes everybody eat from him, because when you have a Hall of Famer on the team, everybody’s trying to guard him and that opens a lot of space for everybody else.”
Nowitzki’s injury has robbed him of his mobility. Still, owner Mark Cuban dismissed reports of Nowitzki retiring as premature.
With Nowitzki on a nearby exercise machine less than 10 feet away, Cuban said: “Until he says ‘hasta la vista’ to me, I’ve got him playing another five years.”
Nowitzki, 38, signed a two-year, $50 million contact with the Mavericks this past July with the intent of playing out the contract. But the Achilles injury has forced the 19-year veteran to reconsider his situation, and maybe his plans.
“Actually, my plan is to complete the 20 years [with the Mavericks] and play for Dallas until 2018,” Nowitzki told the German magazine. “But just because I have signed a two-year contract doesn’t automatically mean that I will play for two years.”
Nowitzki has missed the past 10 games and hasn’t played since Nov. 25, going 27 minutes in a 128-90 loss at Cleveland. In that game, Nowitzki had 15 points, six rebounds and was 7 of 18 from the field.
But since then, the Mavericks haven’t given a specific timetable on when they expect Nowitzki to engage in a full practice.
“Signs are positives, and [head athletic trainer] Casey Smith and Dr. [Daniel] Worrel have spent a lot of time analyzing this, working through it,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s had some diagnostic testing done the last couple of weeks that shows there has been an improvement since the early stages, which is great news, and so we’re moving toward some ultimate good news at some point, but I don’t know when that is.
“I’m really reluctantly to talk enthusiastically about how close we’re getting because I think that puts undo pressure on a guy that has been playing hurt his entire career and deserves a chance to work through this the right way. Look, we’ll get as many positives out of this in his absence ultimately, and we need him back of course, but I don’t have a timetable.”
Nowitzki is sixth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with 29,552 points. The five players ahead of him are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387), Karl Malone (36,928), Kobe Bryant (33,643), Michael Jordan (32,292) and Wilt Chamberlain (31,419).
During a Tuesday visit to Lakewest Rehabilitation & Skilled Care in West Dallas, Nowitzki was asked when he plans on practicing again.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ll just do more day-by-day and then we’ll see how it is at the end of the week.”
“My understanding is that he’s doing better, but it’s going slowly,” Carlisle said. “It’s been moving gradually, but the needle is inching. It’s not taking quantum leaps.”
Whatever “leap” Nowitzki is making, Mejri just hopes he doesn’t retire before his contract expires.
“I can tell the difference between playing with him last year and playing without him this year, so I hope he stays longer,” Mejri said. “I mean, if his body can’t play any more, then we think it’s better for him to retire.
“But I think, one more year. I’d love for this guy to stay here.”
Mavericks at Jazz
9:30 p.m. Friday, FSSW