DALLAS – Instead of vying to earn his 14th All-Star berth next season, Dirk Nowitzki may be vying for a shot to win his first Sixth Man Award trophy.
The man synonymous with All-Star berths and the owner of most of the Dallas Mavericks’ individual records may be downgraded into a super-sub role next season.
Before anyone feels like they’ve been blindsided, Nowitzki hasn’t exactly thought about coming off the bench, even though he turns 37 on June 19. But he wasn’t exactly against that novel idea when it was brought to his attention during his final meeting of the 2014-’15 season with the media on Wednesday.
"Yeah, I mean, whatever it takes,’’ Nowitzki said. "I’ve always said that.
"Yeah, I mean, the problem is there would some stiffness coming off the bench. I’m usually not the most mobile, agile player, but there are bikes and stuff in the back that you can ride and get loose.
Paul Pierce and Vince Carter are among a list of players who started coming off the bench late during their star-studded careers. Such a move by Nowitzki, who took about a $50 million discount and signed a three-year, $25 million contract last summer when he became a free agent, would help keep his minutes low since he would be starting the game on the bench.
That discount Nowitzki gave the Mavs during last summer’s free agent negotiations helped Dallas save enough money to pursue other quality free agents. So coming off the bench, especially if it means soon-to-be Portland power forward LaMarcus Aldridge will leave the Trail Blazers and return home to his Seagoville roots to play for the Mavs, would be a mega bonus for Dallas.
"With a guy of Dirk’s character and level of loyalty and level of love for this franchise and this city, he’s demonstrated pretty thoroughly that he’s willing to make any sacrifice possible,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said. "He’s made great financial sacrifices to get the team better around him, so it doesn’t surprise me that he said that.
"Is it possible? It’s possible. Is it likely? I’m not sure about that. But the fact that you’ve got a guy who is basically an iconic player in this league willing to even talk about something like that is character just above and beyond the norm.’’
Nowitzki will be in his 18th season with the Mavs next year. Of course, he wants to win another title before he retires.
And if coming off the bench is the perfect tonic to make that happen, Nowitzki apparently is all in.
"My last two years I want to enjoy,’’ he said. "I want to be on a good team, I want to be on a winning team.
"Playoffs. Hopefully deep runs. So, yeah, anything I’ve got to do to help is obviously no question.’’
That sweets music to the ears of Donnie Nelson, the team’s president of basketball operations.
"You know, what hasn't Dirk done to this team?,’’ Nelson asked. "You talk about one of the most selfless superstars that have every right to make more money.
"You can go right down the list, but he truly has the best interest of this city and this team at heart. That doesn't surprise me, but that's the first time I've heard that."
Carlisle was also hearing the idea of Nowitzki being a sixth man next season for the first time.
"But the fact that you’ve got a guy who is basically an iconic player in this league willing to even talk about something like that is character just above and beyond the norm,’’ Carlisle said. "It’s just another reason why we’re all privileged to have a chance to work with this guy.
"I’ve had a chance to work with him extremely closely for the last seven years and hope that this goes on for several more years. He continues to work unbelievably hard to keep himself as one of the great players in the game.’’
Nelson was obviously coy about the notion of bringing a legend of Nowitzki’s ilk off the bench next season. But he added such an earth-shaking decision would include discussions with owner Mark Cuban and Carlisle.
"If we feel it’s in our best interest, whether it's acquiring a player, and Dirk is selfless enough to swallow that pill, then we'll make that decision from a coaching perspective with Rick and Mark,’’ Nelson said. "Again, I'm almost speechless about what Dirk has done for this franchise and continue to do.
"It just doesn't cease to amaze me."