Dirk Nowitzki has been the only constant for the Mavericks, and really for all Dallas sports, over nearly two decades of free agents coming and going. You never know who will be passing him the ball or defending the rim, but his fadeaway is always there. However, despite his almost 20 years wearing #41 for Dallas, if there were ever a summer when it was anything less than 100 percent certain he would not return to the Mavericks, this is that summer.
He won't leave, of course. Right?
Dirk has publicly said more than once that he will be in Dallas so long as he is still having fun, and so long as the Mavs remain competitive and don't go into a full rebuild starting "four rookies." And after grabbing the No. 6 seed last season, he's still looking to compete.
The full rebuild hasn't happened, though it's been considered. Mark Cuban famously said after agreeing to terms with DeAndre Jordan last summer that the team would have considered tanking if they had missed out on Jordan. But they did miss out, and Tyson Chandler had already gone elsewhere, and instead they got Wesley Matthews and Deron Williams and they competed anyway.
Dallas has fielded a competitive enough roster to make the playoffs 15 out of 16 years -- but has managed only five playoff wins since the 2011 championship run. Regardless of what fans think, thus far that's been competitive enough for Dirk to stick around, despite opportunities to compete for a championship on markedly better teams.
But here we are again, the same scenario as every offseason in recent years. The Mavs have waved off Parsons, who would re-sign in a heartbeat if they gave him a max, to try for Mike Conley and Hassan Whiteside. Parsons will almost certainly sign elsewhere at this point, and Deron Williams along with him. If Conley and Whiteside both take their time in making a decision, fallback options could be committed to other teams as well, leaving Dallas out to dry for when their two top targets go elsewhere.
Is a roster boasting Justin Anderson, Wesley Matthews and some other less flashy pieces "competitive"? Will Dirk think so?
There are fans who support Dirk even more than the Mavericks who would rather see him chase one more ring with the Warriors or somewhere else. Personally, I'd much prefer for Dirk to retire a career Maverick. I remember watching Cowboys legend Emmitt Smith waste his career away playing a couple more seasons with the Arizona Cardinals and it being so weird. This would be like that. It would take a small piece of my sports heart and make it conflicted and besmirch a beautiful story about a marriage between an athlete and a city.
But in the end, it won't matter what anyone else thinks. As we've said so often, Dirk IS Dallas. His wife and two young children are here, his American roots are here, he has a ring, he has more money than he will ever need. He doesn't want to play elsewhere.
"He's now been in Dallas and been a Mav for as long as he lived in his country of origin," Marc Stein said this week on Zach Lowe's podcast. "That means a lot to him, and he's not gonna give that up."
Stein continued by saying "there’s no chance" he leaves. "I try to explain this to people who don't live in Dallas: he's so bigger than basketball in this town ... he's bigger than any cowboy." Jason Gallagher's excellent piece about what Dirk means to Dallas fans echoed that sentiment.
There's no chance. Right?