The Mavericks are out of the playoffs and three games under .500 for the first time all season, looking more and more like they may miss the playoffs for just the fourth time in Dirk Nowitzki's 18-year career. It's natural to look ahead and start wondering just how long the 37-year-old forward who revolutionized his position can keep it going.
On Marc Stein's ESPN radio show, Dirk said he planned to play out his current contract -- which runs through next season with a player option -- and would be open to signing for one more year for the 2017-18 season.
"My goal was when I signed this three-year deal to fulfill that contract so if I play that year through by next year I'll be 39," Nowitzki said. "To be honest, 20 years (in the NBA) would sound really, really great. Next year would obviously be my 19th year, so maybe after this next year, I could sign on one more. But I'll just have to wait and see."
Nowitzki, who is the NBA's sixth-leading all-time scorer and would need about 2,000 points to pass Wilt Chamberlain, said the most important factor in the decision is whether the game is still fun.
"Stats is never something really I play for," Nowitzki said. "If it's no fun anymore to get up in the morning and go to practice, then I better call it a day. I started playing because it's a fun sport to me and I'm going to quite while it's fun. I'm not going to play another year saying I have to get into the top five (in scoring). That's not how my mind works."
The Mavericks front office should feel pressure. Even though the team may finish under .500, there is enough talent in place to imagine building a competitive roster this summer when you consider a huge cap increase. You'd have to imagine that Dallas retooling as a playoff team, one way or the other, would have a direct impact on whether Nowitzki is still having fun and keeps it going an extra year.
The other will be Dirk's effectiveness. This year, particularly since the All-Star break, Dirk has been playing at an incredibly level, even though he said he had no idea what to expect entering this season.
"I think last year I started off really, really well, I played some great basketball in November then I kinda fell into this hole, it was kind of the longest stretch or hole I've been in," Nowitzki said. "I didn't shoot well, I didn't feel well, then at the end of the year I picked it back, playoffs was decent. But overall I didn't feel like I had a good year, I wasn't happy with it.
"So this summer I had to work hard because I played again for the German National Team, that actually might have helped me. I got in great shape, I came in shape, the guys actually had to pull me back in training camp, I didn't really practice the first two weeks of training camp. And I just relaxed and shot a little bit and ran, and once November ran around I was playing great, I was playing some of the best ball that I have in years. Then I fell in a hole again. It's been hard as I've got older to get some consistency in there, but the last two weeks have been great and hopefully it's enough to squeeze in the playoffs. I still feel good, I think the motivation is still there, I still love to compete at a high level against the big guys and I still love to win, that's what I play for, the competition and to win, even though we're two games under .500 for the first time all season."
The longer we can enjoy watching Nowitzki play basketball, the better. There are very superstars quite like him.
"At this point in this season, I feel good," Nowitzki said. "Next year, we'll see how it goes, then I can make that decision with my family, with Holger, with all my guys who have been with me so long, I can make that decision if I play one more year. Like I said, as long as I get up in the morning and it's still fun, as long as don't have to take a bunch of meds to play, I'll probably play one more."