Entering the off-season last May, one of the options the Dallas Mavericks were pondering involved having Dirk Nowitzki come off the bench for the 2015-16 season.
The Mavericks were hoping to land a top-tier free-agent power forward, such as LaMarcus Aldridge, which would have enabled them to lessen the heavy workload on Nowitzki, who would turn 37 in June. It seemed to be the perfect scenario as Nowitzki moves closer toward retirement.
Aldridge, however, signed a free-agent contract with the San Antonio Spurs, leaving Nowitzki as the starting power forward.
As it stands, this wasn’t a bad Plan B — that errant chase for DeAndre Jordan notwithstanding.
Not only has Nowitzki resumed the go-to-player tag Monta Ellis held the past two seasons before the latter bolted for Indiana via free agency, but he’s also the team’s leading scorer this season with 17.5 points per game.
The Mavericks are 11-8 after an overtime victory at Portland on Tuesday in which Nowitzki scored 28 points. The brass doesn’t like to discuss the age of their superstar.
“We don’t talk about the ‘A’ word,” said Donnie Nelson, the Mavericks’ president of basketball operations. “We just talk about the ‘E’ word — the experience.
“Dirk’s got a lot of experience and it’s really and truly a credit to him. The longer your career goes the more you have got to mentally and physically be in the best possible condition and shape, and he worked really hard in the preseason.”
Nowitzki is on track to become the oldest NBA player other than Karl Malone to lead his team in scoring. During the 2002-03 season at the age of 39, Malone led the Utah Jazz in scoring with 20.6 points per game, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
Deron Williams is second in scoring behind Nowitzki with 14.8 points per game, and Wesley Matthews is third at 11.5 points per outing.
Nowitzki is averaging 30.1 minutes per game, which is higher than the 29.6 minutes he averaged last season.
“We’ve got to try to notch it down a little bit,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s tricky because if you play him too few minutes he’ll never get into the flow of the game, and he’s very much a rhythm-and-flow player.
“I have no concerns that we won’t be able to continue the transition and try to lighten the load a little bit in terms of the minutes.”
Nowitzki signed a three-year, $25 million contract in the summer of 2014. The 18-year veteran is moving closer to retirement.
“I’ll cross that bridge when I get there,” Nowitzki said. “I’ve got this year, I got next year under contract, so I’m not going to sit at home and ponder about retirement.”
Guard Raymond Felton figures Nowitzki can play until he’s 50 with his work ethic.
“I have a lot of respect for this guy, on the court, off the court, period,” Felton said. “Here’s a guy who’s the seventh-leading scorer of all time, but he still works as if he’s a rookie.
“So when you work that hard and have that many years in and are still doing the things he’s doing, it’s impressive.”
Nowitzki is often one of the first players at practice and one of the last to leave.
“To see how hard he works, to see him do stuff like that doesn’t surprise me,” Felton said. “I know it surprises a lot of other people because they say he’s old, he’s slow.
“But, hey, he still gets it done.”
And not only is Nowitzki getting it done with his scoring, but he’s also averaging 7.1 rebounds a game. In addition, Nowitzki is ninth in the NBA in free-throw shooting (90.6 percent), 13th in 3-point shooting (44.6 percent) and 25th in field-goal shooting (50.4 percent).
“What hasn’t Dirk done for 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.”
The 20-year-old kid who came to the United States from Germany as the No. 9 overall pick in the 1998 NBA Draft is a 13-time All-Star. The thrill is not gone for Nowitzki.
“I’m going to play hard, I want to compete still,” Nowitzki said. “My body feels good waking up in the morning and going to practice.
“That’s all I’m really worried about is just having fun. The guys have been great, and we have great chemistry.”
Part of that chemistry is because of Nowitzki’s unaffected manner.
“He doesn’t act like he’s better than us or any of us is beneath him,” Felton said. “He treats all of us the same — he’s just one of the guys.
“To have a guy of his status and he still be the way he is, that’s why I’ll always have respect for him even when the game of basketball is over for him.”
On Sunday, Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant announced that he’ll retire at the end of this season. Bryant, like Nowitzki, is 37 years old.
“To me he’s probably the greatest player that I faced, and I’ve faced some great players with Tim Duncan and Shaq [O’Neal] and all these guys,” Nowitzki said. “But [Bryant] was something else.
“His scoring-wise and his shot-making ability was incredible. I was always a big fan, but it’s disappointing that we’re all getting old.”
Not old to the point where Nowitzki doesn’t think the Mavericks can add another championship banner — before he retires — to the one he led them to in 2011.
“Obviously, the ultimate goal is you want to win,” he said. “That’s where the most fun is, if you compete every night and you have a chance to win.’’
Nowitzki has that “it factor” that has transformed him into a special player.
“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,” Carlisle said. “He continues to work unbelievably hard to keep himself as one of the great players in the game.
“His greatness is not in question. Going forward, he’s such an important asset to this franchise that it’s hard to describe his value.’’
Scoring: 17.5 points
Rebounds: 7.1 rebounds
Field goals: 50.4 percent
3-point field goals: 44.6 percent
Free throws: 90.6 percent
Rockets at Mavericks
7:30 p.m. Friday, FSSW
Rockets at Mavericks
7:30 p.m. Friday, FSSW