Dirk Nowitzki will opt out of the final year of his contract with the Dallas Mavericks and become a free agent this summer, he told 1310 The Ticket's BaD Radio show on Monday afternoon. Nowitzki had a player option worth $8.6 million for next season.
This is confusing news for the Mavericks, but I'd stop short of calling it worrisome. Dirk Nowitzki has said for a while that "the plan" has been to return to Dallas next year, but the implication was that he would do that by opting into his contract. Instead, Nowitzki will be a free agent on July 1, leaving the Mavericks with another puzzle piece they must fit into the equation.
"We had one more year on the contract, but I think this is the right thing to do," Nowitzki told 1310 The Ticket in Dallas on Monday, as transcribed by ESPN's Tim MacMahon. "We're going to sit with Mark and Donnie obviously over the next few weeks and figure out how to improve this franchise again. Ever since after the championship, we've been basically a first-round exit. We've been a seven, eight seed. We've only won a few playoff games, and obviously the goal was to compete at the highest level in my last couple of years, so there is some moving to do, some thinking, some putting our heads together the next few weeks heading into free agency, heading into the draft. So this is just one move that hopefully starts a chain reaction for us to get better again, to compete really at a high level. We'll see how it goes."
My gut reaction to reading that leaves me with three impressions that would explain why this is happening.
1. Dirk wants more money
This would be a totally reasonable request from Nowitzki, who clearly signed under market value on his last deal and whose play has yet to dip below the value of a max contract, despite his actual paychecks coming out lower. Especially with the salary cap rising dramatically this summer, Nowitzki would be fully within his rights to ask for a few more million. He doesn't "owe" the Mavericks a discount nor should fans expect it.
For those reasons, it's totally unreasonable and silly to expect his opt out meaning he'll be talking less. If he does, wow, I'll truly be blown away. But that's very unlikely to be the reason, nor should it be.
2. Dirk wants to put pressure on the Mavs' front office
This seems like an equally valid reason why Nowitzki would opt out. In the five years since the championship, all the Mavericks have done is make the playoffs four times, losing in the first round in each one of them. Once Nowitzki won the championship, he felt like he has satisfied his goal in Dallas and would be able to coast to the finish, even if it was a bumpy ride.
But Nowitzki failed to consider something: he was still going to be really, really good as a 37-year-old. The Mavericks haven't put a good team around Nowitzki and he has carried them anyway. Instead, Nowitzki feels great, has openly talked about playing two more years (putting him at 20 for his career) and suddenly realizes the team needs to be half-decent for him to stick around as long as he wants to. (Dirk has said he won't play for a rebuilding team, not at this point.)
After the Mavericks' season-ending Game 5 loss and at the team's exit interviews, Rick Carlisle and Donnie Nelson made it clear that they weren't assuming Nowitzki would be back. Nowitzki talked about his "plan" but never explicitly said, "I'm going to be back next year." The front office understood the pressure Nowitzki was putting on them, but opting out makes it a little more real. It's Dirk saying, "don't screw this up again."
3. Dirk is considering going elsewhere
As long as the Mavericks don't go into rebuilding mode, I expect Nowitzki to be back, point blank. And I don't expect the Mavericks to go into rebuilding mode. So that's that.
Nowitzki may be putting pressure on the front office, but at the end of the day, I don't think he'd leave. Not after 18 seasons. Not after a championship. This news is weird and strange and hopefully a certain Mavericks reporter can make sense of it in the next few days, but if you're freaking out because you think Nowitzki's about to leave the team, I wouldn't. Nowitzki will be back with the Mavericks next season ... probably.