Six months after the 2011 NBA Championship, eight of Dirk Nowitzki's 14 title-winning teammates remained. By the following summer of 2012, just three were back. When the Mavericks let Shawn Marion walk away after the 2013-14 season, Dirk was alone. In the span of 30 months or so, a championship team was reduced to just the one man who had been in the middle of it all.
The Mavericks' philosophy from that point on had been critiqued and discussed and argued over and yelled about. It might have broken up a marriage or two, if one side thought it was justified and the other didn't. Despite a couple of close calls, Dallas' plan hasn't worked -- that much can officially be said after DeAndre Jordan's last second spin move.
But Dallas has been very good at shuffling players in and out year after year after year. Like, they're absurdly talented at that, even while talking about wanting continuity. Dirk has played with 53 teammates since 2011. When the upcoming season begins in October, that number will likely grow to 60.
Instead of debating whether the Mavericks' strategy has been right or wrong, let's just rank every teammate of Dirk Nowitzki since the championship, one through 53. Note that the numbers in parenthesis are the games they played with the Mavericks, not specifically Dirk, and that these rankings have been decided totally by me based on the player's body of work. It is obviously flawless.
1. Monta Ellis (162 games)
There are a few players on this list who single-handedly won or lost a game for the Mavericks, but no one succeeded in doing both -- multiple times. Monta Ellis has that honor and is easily the most complicated player to grace this list of 53. Never would Dallas have imagined calmly accepting the departure of a player who broke Dirk's 13-year streak of leading Dallas in scoring, yet there Ellis went to Indiana without any effort to keep him here.
At his best, Ellis was a blur of kinetic energy constantly honing in on the basket. But whenever the ambition faded -- for injuries or stubbornness or love of the 18-foot jay -- Ellis was outclassed and his weaknesses stood out like a bright red strobe.
Still, in this four-year struggle of post-championship Dirk, Ellis was the only one who turned him into that sought-after second option. A marriage of necessity begat two of the wackiest NBA seasons Dallas has ever seen. For that, Ellis earns the nod of best teammate on this list.
2. Vince Carter (223)
It's incredible -- and somewhat sad, for Dirk's sake -- that Carter, who turned 35 in his first season with the Mavericks, who was mostly seen as washed up, is the second-best player Dirk has played with since the title run. His longevity is a part of it, completing a three-year deal signed in the frantic post-lockout December. His consistency helped him, too -- an odd thing to say for one of the streakiest players in NBA history, but completely understandable if you watched him anchor the second unit night after night. And, of course, there was this shot.
Carter's career is fraught with missteps and disappointments, but that shot gave him a lasting memory in Dallas. It's a well-deserved honor.
3. Chandler Parsons (66)
It can be argued -- rather convincingly -- that Tyson Chandler had the bigger on-court impact last season. But Parsons gave Dirk something that Tyson couldn't through no fault of his own: hope. Bearing the weight of a franchise can crush a player and Dirk had the responsibility of that weight for more than a decade.
Oh, of course Parsons isn't Dirk and won't attain his level of superstardom, but you can be a face of the franchise without being a 13-time All Star. In the wake of DeAndre Jordan, Parsons took on the media mantle for a vacationing Nowitzki and said everything the Dallas fanbase wanted to hear. While Ellis sent a team trainer to his locker after games to retrieve something he left instead of risking getting cornered by reporters, Parsons was always addressing the media. His play on the court flourished as the season developed. In another season, he should sit atop this list.
4. Tyson Chandler (75)
I think Bob Sturm said it best in an interview he did with me for a story earlier this summer:
" ... if there's any guy you wonder what would this franchise have been like if you could have had him for basically the length of his professional career, and how would that looked next to Dirk if he had been involved early. ... it makes you wonder what we missed."
After 2011, Chandler could have been a Maverick for life. It's no fault of his own that the Mavericks chose not to make that happen.
5. Shawn Marion (206)
This is an ugly confession: I remember Googling Marion to make sure he played for Dallas in that 2013-14 season a few months back. That was a forgettable year for Marion, one where his esteemed defense took a tumble and his offensive game struggled even when directly facing the basket.
But as the championship team dissolved around Dirk, Marion is the one who stuck around. Maybe he would also have gone out the door if his contract was up that summer, but that's not how it played out and as a result, Marion was the last guy sticking with Dirk after 2011.
6. Brandan Wright (198)
The only player on this list to suit up with Dirk in all four seasons since the championship, and the guy with the third-most games. Wright built his career on a singular skill, around the basket scoring, and it took him until Dallas for the NBA to truly appreciate it.
7. Devin Harris (116)
The forgotten man of this summer. And last summer. And the one before that. He and Dirk have history together but his play since returning to Dallas has been consistently solid. In a half-decade worth of summers that have mostly seen players leave after a single contract, it was good to see him sign on for another three years last July, even at a lower price than Harris probably deserved.
8. Jason Terry (63)
I promised to leave out any pre-2011 memories from this consideration; with JET, it's just not possible. You will never be able to look at that man and see anything but his brash swagger after hitting a huge three-pointer or him embracing Dirk after Game 6 against the Heat. He wasn't exactly a killer that final lockout season, but he played all but three games and kept some of the memories. I question anyone who says they look at him differently because he hit some shots against the Mavericks in a Rockets uniform.
9. Jose Calderon (81)
Calderon could seriously start a therapeutic practice when he retires where he just lets patients watch him shoot three-pointers with that effortless stroke. Unfortunately, he's already got a post-retirement gig lined up as a pig farmer, so we can throw that out the window.
10. Jae Crowder (181)
One hundred and eighty one games. For a second-round pick who plays above average defense and little else. Who averaged less than 16 minutes a game in his entire stretch in Dallas. This isn't a knock on Jae -- who I don't think has the upside national media placed on him but clearly is a solid rotation piece -- but a statement to how little Dirk's had to work with since the championship.
11. Darren Collison (81)
If there's any evidence of Rick Carlisle running off point guards, it's Collison, who is a legitimately good player (career averages: 12 points, five assists, 47 percent shooting, 37 percent three-point shooting) but just didn't "fit" in Dallas. Perhaps his penchant for debilitating late-game turnovers could have been solved with a stronger ball handler next to him (not O.J. Mayo) or perhaps his passing limitations weren't ever going to fly in Carlisle's offense. Watching that 2012-13 season, it's clear something didn't line up there. Calderon was traded and Rajon Rondo was clearly to blame for his shortcomings, but in slightly different circumstances, you could probably still imagine Collison staying on after that season. Still, he's earned his place on this list.
12. Delonte West (44)
West's effort in that 2012 first round series against the Thunder was his lasting Mavericks memory for me. This play in particular.
13. Al-Farouq Aminu (74)
I've never seen a man who hated scoring as much as him -- on both ends of the court. Shortcomings aside, seeing Aminu play center next to Dirk for a few minutes here or there is quite a sight.
14. O.J. Mayo (82)
Someone will say this is much too high, but perhaps you're forgetting just how good Mayo was to begin that season. Albeit, much of his season was played prior to Dirk's return and perhaps that was the breaking point that sent his season spiraling into a downwards trend, but Mayo was a nice dude who just wasn't quite the players all of Dallas hoped after watching his first 20 games.
#NeverForget his duel with James Harden.
15. Samuel Dalembert (80)
Was ol' Sammy D the second-best center Dirk ever played with? The parade of Desagana Diop, Pops-Mensuh Bonsu and Erick Dampier seem sadder and sadder with every passing day.
16. Elton Brand (72)
Don't you miss Brand sometimes? Seven points and six rebounds off the bench for that bizarre 2013 team.
17. DeJuan Blair (78)
"If Blair wasn't suspended for Game 5, the Mavericks would have beat the Spurs in 2014 in the first round," you'll swear in 2027 to the others at a rundown dive bar, your Shiner Bock sloshing as you gesture demonstratively, as ESPN replays Tim Duncan's retirement press conference in the background after the Spurs' 10th championship.
18. Jason Kidd (48)
Kidd's a true hipster, as the tired meme goes: he pulled a DeAndre Jordan before DeAndre Jordan even made the DeAndre Jordan popular. Of course, the Mavericks were probably better off when Kidd broke his verbal commitment to Dallas and ran off to the Knicks, but he does get knocks down the list a little bit for that.
While he played two more seasons, Kidd's "real" final hurrah was that championship season. That's a hell of a way to go out.
19. Bernard James (92)
The Dirk teammate who has played the eighth-most games since the 2011 championship. You're damn sure he's earned a salute for that.
20. Brendan Haywood (54)
Remember when, for a brief moment, we were calling him the best center in Mavericks history? oh em gee
21. Charlie Villanueva (64)
22. Brian Cardinal (44)
Two guys who are great in the no. 12 spot in the rotation and really perfect Dirk teammates. Cardinal has made yearly appearances at Dirk's Celebrity Baseball Game while Charlie V's just a great dude. Well deserved on this list.
23. Chris Kaman (66)
Kaman and Dirk are better as German National teammates, not real ones.
24. J.J. Barea (77)
Mispronouncing his last name has become a rite of passage for national TV announcers.
25. Dahntay Jones (50)
Solely for this dunk.
26. Amar'e Stoudemire (23)
An Amar'e and Dirk frontcourt pairing might be the only thing that could make #TrueDectiveSeason3 more unwatchable than the current show.
27. Richard Jefferson (74)
He's a replacement level player who makes three-pointers at a good percentage. He also broke Rondo's face. I'm confused at why he got so much hate last season.
28. Ian Mahinmi (61)
The guy in your office with no career ambitions, but who does a good enough job running the company's account that you sometimes forget he exists.
29. Rodrigue Beaubois (98)
... and now we're officially sad.
By the way, 98 games is the sixth-most played by any Dirk teammate since 2011. He definitely got his chances.
30. Raymond Felton (29)
Ranked this high for this game and buckets alone.
Raymond Felton, 27th best player Dirk has played with since 2011!
31. Wayne Ellington (45)
32. Anthony Morrow (17)
33. Kelenna Azubuike (3)
Things Rick Carlisle likes: ping pong, piano, coach's decisions
Things Rick Carlisle dislikes: poor refereeing, explaining coach's decisions
Things Rick Carlisle HATES WITH A BURNING PASSION: wing players who can shoot
34. Jameer Nelson (23)
35. Dominique Jones (62)
Their Mavericks careers, in nine characters: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
36. Dwight Powell (24)
Hopefully the quickest riser on the 2016 list.
37. Eddy Curry (2)
TWO GAMES OF EDDY CURRY IS BETTER THAN 16 OTHER TEAMMATES DIRK HAS PLAYED WITH. LET THAT SINK IN.
Here's why, by the way.
38. Ricky Ledo (16)
Still waiting for his time to come. :(
39. Chris Douglas-Roberts (6)
I honestly couldn't tell you with 100 percent certainty which season CDR played those six games in Dallas. (It was 2012-13, though.)
40. Shane Larkin (48)
He was already too small for the NBA and when his jump shot didn't translate, either, that was that. I wish him the best in Brooklyn!
41. Gal Mekel (31)
Actually worse than Larkin. Better abs, though.
42. Mike James (45)
Kind of harsh in my
Evaluation of the
Jump-shot happy veteran. See:
Although he endlessly annoyed us,
Maybe he wasn't that bad,
Especially considering he actually
Shot 38 percent on 3-pointers that season
He wasn't nearly
Only a fool would keep ir-
Something so dumb in hindsight like
This: "Mike James is the worst."
43. Yi Jianlian (30)
At least they signed him, not that chair. (Also: 30 GAMES!?)
44. Sean Williams (8)
That lockout season was f**king weird, man.
45. Greg Smith (42)
A walking bench celebration.
46. Troy Murphy (14)
so. many. missed. threes.
47. Josh Akognon (3)
48. Justin Dentmon (2)
49. Chris Wright (3)
These were real basketball players, yes, I swear.
50. Jared Cunningham (8)
He played EIGHT games. The Mavericks drafted a player in the first round who played EIGHT regular season games for them.
51. Derek Fisher (9)
What a list. This was a fun lo—wait, Dirk had TWO teammates worse than Derek Fisher? Elect him into the Hall of Fame right now.
52. Rajon Rondo (46)
I don't think Rondo was a bad guy. He quit on the Mavericks in the playoffs (and probably before that), and that's pretty reprehensible, but saying he showed up and just collected a paycheck from day one is some pretty revisionist history. Already a limited player, Rondo just isn't the same player after that ACL surgery. The athleticism he relied on to smooth over the other warts in his game is gone. Good riddance to his time in Dallas and good luck to the Kings, but I won't have any long-lasting discontent towards him.
53. Lamar Odom (50)
The second half of this list is one of the saddest things I've ever seen. Dirk deserves so many hugs.