For the past decade or so, Dirk Nowitzki has been the anchor around which the Dallas Mavericks could count on to deliver 50 win seasons, year after year after year. Coaches, teammates, offensive philosophies, it didn’t matter what Donnie and Cubes put around him, as each year he could be relied on to provide his unique brand of efficient offense.
But following his "down" year last season (although let’s not forget that he still managed to finish 18th in the league in PER and 15th in offensive win shares), and rumours of more knee trouble this training camp, it appears that Father Time is circling around the American Airlines Center, looking to claim his next victim. It was with this in mind that Dallas embarked on their ultimately fruitless chase for Deron Williams – that second All Star who could essentially allow Dirk to become the team’s second best player.
Of course, Deron decided to take his talents to Brooklyn, but the Mavs front office rebounded nicely (as they always do) by adding talented young guards Darren Collison and OJ Mayo, and veteran bigs Chris Kaman and Elton Brand (a criminally underrated defensive player) while giving up virtually nothing in return. Collision looks set to add a dimension that the Mavs were sorely lacking last season with his speed and playmaking ability, and while OJ Mayo has struggled to find his niche so far in preseason, he still has the talent and ability to be a useful offensive player this season. Kaman will make a few boneheaded defensive decisions per game, but will more than offset those with his offensive contributions. And while his offensive rebounding leaves something to be desired, on the defensive end he is surely an upgrade over the 18% of defensive rebounds that Brendan Haywood collected last season.
The veterans are back, too. Delonte will provide defense, playmaking ability and Twitter fodder for us fans and bloggers. Shawn Marion will continue to anchor the defense and shut down anyone from Chris Paul to Kevin Durant, all while sharing with us his impressive sock collection on Instagram. Vince Carter is still a useful offensive player (at times). And the rookies, especially the Kenneth Faried lookalike Jae Crowder, could potentially bring energy and a rare defensive aptitude for such young players off the bench in a pinch.
It’s all there. Despite the disappointment of losing out on the “Big Fish” in free agency, the braintrust has yet again used their resourcefulness to not only field another competitive roster around our beloved German gunner, but perhaps marginally improve it from last year’s squad. The lack of an automatic outside shooter in the vein of Jason Terry could potentially be a cause for concern from a spacing perspective, but the downgrade from Terry to Collison or Mayo could ultimately be a negligible one, in the grand scheme of things.
No, thanks to that troublesome knee, for the first time since perhaps Nash’s departure, the question around Dallas is whether Dirk has it in him to carry the franchise one more year. If he can return to his God-like offensive output of 2011, the Mavs once more have the depth and talent to make some noise in the West. If not, and his knee works to bring him closer to mortality, they may be hard pressed to even make the playoffs.
Throughout his career Dirk has worked to shed many labels: “soft”, “choker”, “not a leader” (and my favourite: the boldly xenophobic “too European”). For the Mavs to be of any relevance this season, he needs to shed one more: