Mac Engel

Dirk Nowitzki now an anchor around Dallas Mavericks

Lost in Mark Cuban’s assessment of Russell Westbrook’s game was his own assessment as the team’s general manager — which is what he is.

In Cuban’s now famous verbal slotting of Westbrook as but an All-Star, he praised Dirk Nowitzki as a superstar capable of winning 50 games a season by himself.

“We put Moe, Larry and Curly next to him and we won 50 games,” Cuban told reporters before the Dallas Mavericks’ season-ending Game 5 playoff loss to the Thunder on Monday.

Who is this we?

Cuban put Moe, Larry and Curly next to one of the best players in the history of basketball and Dirk cranked out results, despite the fact his supporting cast included guys such as Adrian Griffin, Erick Dampier and Raef LaFrentz.

An argument can be made Larry was actually a better player than LaFrentz, and Curly cared more than Damp.

Now Dirk will soon be 38, his prime clearly behind him and he has no plans to retire.

The only way the Mavs are going to break this current cycle of one-and-done is to move on from the greatest player in the history of the franchise. There is no possible way Cuban has this one in him.

Dirk has become the best/worst thing for the Mavs: the deservedly-enabled superstar, who has done it all and is now content contending for the playoffs. As long as they are not rebuilding, he’s cool with it.

“Playoffs, to me, will never get old. It’s the most fun time of the year. It’s fun. It will always be fun. I will always cherish playoff moments,” Dirk said Tuesday when I asked him if he was still happy playing basketball.

For Dirk, that’s enough, and so it must be for Cuban and the Mavs. Dirk is in control.

We should just accept that, as long as Dirk is here, playoff contention is as good as it’s going to get and it will delay this team from the impossible task of finding his replacement.

It will prevent the team from falling into Sacramento Kings-like obscurity. It also delays the type of rebuilding effort that could potentially include a younger talent as a franchise carrier.

Dirk sounds not too dissimilar from what tennis great Roger Federer once 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’s Dirk.

That’s wonderful in an individual sport such as tennis but quite another in a team atmosphere like basketball. Especially when it comes from the player in charge.

In sports, you should never pay, or reward, “back” but this is a case where being sentimental makes more sense than analytics. It’s Dirk. No one in this town has ever merited a double standard the way this guy has.

He has one year remaining on his contract and he has repeatedly said he has every intention to fulfill that deal, just as long as he’s not surrounded by “four rookies” on the floor.

He does not want to rebuild, and he’s not leaving the Mavs. It’s not like Dirk is an embarrassment to the game, but no legit NBA threat can rely on a 38-year-old player and expect to contend.

But this next season should be his last and we need to plan accordingly, from the team to the media and the fans of every other team in the NBA.

The last thing Dirk wants is some Kobe-style farewell tour, but next year we should all just accept it will be the finale of a career that will have lasted nearly two decades.

The Mavs had their window with their superstar, and thank God they at least won one NBA title. There are a lot of Hall of Fame-caliber players who never got one — Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Reggie Miller, Patrick Ewing to name a few.

At least the Mavs hosted one parade with Dirk, even if they should have had multiple.

But that is not going to happen anytime soon, even if Mavs “recruiting coordinator” Chandler Parsons is able to convince NBA team wrecking ball Dwight Howard to sign as a free agent this summer.

Cuban has lusted after D12 for years, but if his past big-time free agent pursuits are any indication, this relationship won’t happen.

The Mavs do need a center and, as evidenced by their five-game series against the Thunder, some athleticism. They have the best coach in the NBA and some nice players who try hard.

Right now, the Mavs are a nice little team that contends for the playoffs, which is OK by Dirk.

And Dirk gets what he wants, so that’s what the team will be next season, too.

We can blame Cuban for not putting players around Dirk in his prime, but on this one no one can blame Cuban for allowing Dirk to return to meet lowered expectations.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

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