Dirk, Carlisle and the Mavericks show they can hang with the Harlem Globetrotters
Under normal circumstances, the news that Dirk Nowitzki is done for the year would be devastating. But Thursday's announcement was met with a shrug because his season ended last October on opening night, in a home loss to the horrendous Atlanta Hawks.
Dirk had surgery on his left ankle and will miss the final three games of the season for the Dallas Mavericks.
While he has repeatedly said he will return for a 21st NBA season in the fall, he is also justifiably not happy about how this is all ending for his Hall of Fame career.
From the injuries to the losses, he had to know this was coming. He needs to think long and hard about season No. 21, because it's not going to look much different than season No. 20.
All he wants to do is play meaningful games and contend for the playoffs. For the foreseeable future, the only thing meaningful his team is contending for is the first pick in the NBA draft.
The problem, of course, is that we all want whatever Dirk wants, but the franchise can't truly move forward as long as he is on the team.
As long as Dirk is a Mav, the Mavs are all about Dirk.
According to a few people within the organization, Dirk is sick of the losing. The Mavs are 24-55, easily the most defeats in a season he has ever experienced in his career, and despite his inspirational loyalty, the losing has been harder than he anticipated.
He's over and done with the travel that comes with the NBA. And Dirk is not crazy about how the Mavs have made it all about Dirk.
From the moment Dallas traded picks with Milwaukee to acquire Dirk in what feels like the 1932 NBA Draft, he never wanted it to be about him. That was a problem for a long time until he finally realized he was good enough to, and could, carry the Mavs to the title.
As much as Mark Cuban took Dirk for granted and routinely surrounded him with a cast of teammates who were never good enough, at this point, our favorite German import had to know what was coming when he re-signed with Team Lottery Pick.
Dirk, it's not going to be any better next year. And while you will forever be missed, no one will blame you if you decide this is it.
Other than rookie Dennis Smith Jr., there is nothing else the Mavs can sell. A Nerlens Noel Bag O' Weed Giveaway Night, if that was his transgression, might actually pack the American Airlines Center, because the basketball is not — no matter what the sellout streak says.
The acquisition of center Noel has gone just about as well as the prior additions of Lamar Odom and Rajon Rondo.
In case you missed it because you don't care to follow the Mavs at the moment, the team's hoped-for savior in the middle was recently suspended by the NBA for violating its drug policy.
The Mavs suspended Noel earlier this season for the same infraction in an effort to send a message, according to sources.
Noel, who famously turned down a four-year, $70 million offer by the team last summer, doesn't care. He must have been Rocky Mountain high to pass on such a desperate offer for a guy who has yet to prove he cares enough to be as good as his talent allows.
Maybe weed is addictive. I don't know. What I do know is he's a dope.
So did his former college coach, Kentucky's John Calipari, who after the Mavs acquired Noel said to me, cryptically, "He's got a great opportunity. It's up to him."
That's coach speak for "this guy doesn't get it yet."
Now the Mavs and Dirk know it too.
Because the Mavs stink, there are two good reasons for Dirk to return for season No. 21:
1. He just loves to play basketball. Tennis champ Roger Federer once said, "When you do something best in life, you really don't want to give that up."
And Federer said, "Sometimes you’re just happy playing. Some people, some media, unfortunately, don’t understand that it’s OK just to play tennis and enjoy it. They always think you have to win everything, it always needs to be a success story, and if it’s not, obviously, what is the point? Maybe you have to go back and think, Why have I started playing tennis? Because I just like it. It’s actually sort of a dream hobby that became somewhat of a job. Some people just don’t get that, ever.”
That feels a lot like Dirk.
2. Dirk doesn't know how to go home.
Ending a career, especially one like Dirk's, is not easy. He has played basketball as long as he can remember being alive. Preparing to end that can be akin to preparing for death.
Playing one more year just delays it all.
Dirk's ankle should heal fine, and he demonstrated at the young age of 39 that he can still play. He averaged 12 points per game with 5.7 rebounds on 46 percent shooting in 77 games this season. He also shot 41 percent on 3-pointers.
This from a guy who will turn 40 in June.
Dirk's final NBA moment should not be on an operating table to repair an ankle, but on the floor draining another 3-pointer for an adoring crowd and a league that loves him. Or maybe that wrong-legged fadeaway.
To have that moment, however, means Dirk has to sign up for it all again.
Don't blame him if he doesn't.