For the first time since 2000, the Mavs won't be one of the 16 teams in the NBA Playoffs. At that time, Dirk was 20. This time around, he’s older and wiser and beginning to focus on something else – that is, getting Dallas back to the playoffs and volunteering to help Cuban as a free-agent recruiter. Frankly, as Game 82 is upon us, I’m wondering why folks are just now seeing this as an issue.
A few days ago, Dirk Nowitzki indicated a willingness to accompany management on any recruiting trips the Dallas Mavericks make when free agency opens on July 1.
“This is a big summer for us,” he said. “We have to get better. We have to get some guys in that can get us back to the top level. We want to be a top-four seed in the West. That was always our goal, to play for the top. So this is a big summer. If (Cuban) needs me to recruit and do all that stuff, I’m more than happy to.”
Yes, Dirk. Cuban needs you to “do all that stuff.’’
Oh, and by the way: Yes, Mark. The Mavs need you to “do all that stuff,’’ too.
Tonight is Game 82. It's a 7 p.m. start at the AAC against the lowly Hornets (morphing into Pelicans). It's also Fan Appreciation Night, and as the Mavs deal with things like lottery position and O.J.'s mood , they'll also try to please the home crowd as best they can.
That will include a pregame address to the crowd delivered by Dirk Nowitzki. But this won't be the most important speech he'll deliver in the coming weeks.
A year ago, the Mavs were so confident that Deron Williams understood their pitch that Cuban skipped the meeting with the free-agent guard (to film “Shark Tank’’). Cuban is frequently roasted for the decision. Oh, Dallas poured resources into the recruiting.
(We reported exclusively on many of the Mavs' plans here.) GM Donnie Nelson was there laying out the same financial thoughts Cuban could’ve relayed, and coach Rick Carlisle was there to talk Xs-and-Os, and ex-Mavs standout Michael Finley – who Deron grew up watching as a Mavs fan going to school in The Colony – was there, too.
But guess who else wasn’t there besides the owner of the franchise?
That would be the face of the franchise.
Dirk, Cuban noted, “hasn’t been shy to make calls in the past. … He’s happy to text and make calls.’’
And this is true. Nowitzki told me last summer that he’d been texting Deron, that they had a friendly relationship, that Deron “knew’’ what he needed to know about Nowitzki’s desire to “bring him home.’’
But Cuban wasn’t present. And Dirk wasn’t present, choosing, as the owner noted, to travel out of the country.
That’s not because Nowitzki isn’t invested in the future of this franchise. It’s because the Mavs – including Cuban and Dirk – miscalculated, thinking Deron Williams didn’t need a “dog-and-pony show.’’
They were wrong.
Brooklyn presented exactly that to Williams, and retained him.
This summer must be different. “Assuming’’ Dirk’s level of commitment (or Cuban’s) is not sufficient. Thinking back, it occurs to me that Dirk has never truly been a centerpiece part of Dallas’ recruiting process; heck, he even begged the Mavs to call off their own “dog-and-pony’’ presentation after he signed his last deal.
But The UberMan underrates his importance here, underrates his backstory, underrates his cache. His commitment to being “a Maverick for life’’ is a very real thing, a living-and-breathing thing, and maybe stars who wonder what it’s like to be Dirk, to play with Dirk, to be a Mav, cannot get the full picture via a Nowitzki text message.
Dirk Nowitzki is the best thing to ever happen to the Dallas Mavericks and ranks somewhere just below Tom Landry as the best thing to ever happen to sports in North Texas. Maybe that message isn’t smoothly conveyed by typing “LOL’’ and “OMG’’ with his oversized thumbs.
We are almost upon the fastest entry to the offseason Dallas has experienced since Cuban’s owned the franchise for a full season. The good news is that means a dozen straight playoff berths – and that takes commitment. That shouldn’t be questioned inside the Mavs bubble.
But what about outside it? How to enlighten the unenlighted?
“The Germans are usually more negative; I got that from my mom so I’m probably more concerned,'' said Dirk of the team's chances of free-agency success. "I’m also excited. We’ve got a lot of roster room with eight or nine free agents … Free agency is always a period that’s exciting when you’ve got cap space … I’ve said it all year long, we can’t judge yet if it was a mistake or not (to dismantle the 2011 title team). It’s going to depend on this offseason. If we end up empty-handed again, then maybe it was the wrong decision to let everyone go. If we make a good move here with this cap space, maybe it wasn’t all bad.”
For “Plan Powder’’ to work -- for the decisions to be justified -- all the big guns must be fired.
Hell, for any plan designed to get Dallas back where Dirk wants it to be – “a top-four seed in the West’’ – all the big guns must be fired.
There will be a draft pick that should fall at the end of the lottery as Dallas is presently slotted at 13. (I don't think Dirk was joking when he said, "Maybe I'll be in the War Room for the first time in my career.'') There will be evaluations made on Dallas’ own free agents. There will be the usual creative trade talk. And there will be needs: A starting point guard? A full-time center? The elusive superstar?
The Mavs are in possession of two cannons. One is their available funds (the result of keeping that powder dry) and two is their arsenal of compelling personalities, starting with Cuban and Nowitzki.
Is Dirk a persuasive salesman?
“He got somebody much hotter than him to marry him,” Cuban joked.
Funny. But I bet when Dirk proposed to Jessica, he didn’t do it via text message.