As if there was ever any question – the smile and that contract gave the secret away long ago – you now have a suitable answer: Dirk Nowitzki will return for another season in 2017-18.
He hasn’t yet decided on if that campaign, his 20th, will be his final NBA year. Nowitzki has committed to playing through age 39 on the final season of the two-year, $50 million deal he signed with Dallas in 2016. The Mavericks remain the only franchise an active Dirk has ever known, as the future Hall of Famer was dealt to the city by Milwaukee on NBA draft night in 1998.
Speaking to reporters just after the clearing-locker session that tends to await a 33-49, postseason-less season, Dirk confirmed his intentions:
Dirk says there's a good chance he'd come back for a 21st season if he feels this good at the end of the next one. pic.twitter.com/zAM6x3ny7P— Tim Cato (@tim_cato) April 13, 2017
. @swish41: "I'm definitely playing next season." Leaves open possibility for 2 more. pic.twitter.com/A0o2oeoArg— Brad Townsend (@townbrad) April 13, 2017
Nowitzki, the 2008 NBA MVP and 13-time NBA All-Star, won a title with Dallas in 2011. Nowitzki took the Finals MVP that season, and in 2015-16 he passed Shaquille O’Neal to become the NBA’s sixth all-time leading scorer. Partway through this season, Nowitzki topped 30,000 points, and finished his campaign with 30,260 ticks to his credit. He is 38 points behind Magic Johnson for 14th place on the NBA’s list of all-time playoff scorers.
Dirk, who averaged 14.2 points and 6.5 rebounds in 26.4 minutes per game with Dallas (the lowest marks since his teenaged rookie season) during just the fourth postseason-less turn of his career. He would be in line to pass Wilt Chamberlain (currently the NBAs fifth all-time leading scorer) midway through 2018-19 given slightly better health, and approximation of his current, stellar-for-a-guy-drafted-right-after-“Titanic”-came-out, averages.
(LeBron James, even with a dip in points production, is on pace to pass Dirk, Wilt and Michael Jordan by the end of 2017-18 and move into the No. 3 slot in the league’s list of all-time scorers.)
The Mavs center (mostly, this year) and forward has a $25 million “team option” for this summer, which the Mavericks will no doubt pick up lest they want to be shot into space by a hoard of angry Dallas-area scientists after they settle the team’s salary cap situation, once again spending the summer spending on supporters for Dirk.
Infamously, the Mavericks have had next-to little success in finding suitable star teammates for Nowitzki via free agency and trade in the years since that 2011 title, with even the team’s hoped-for boffo signings (Dwight Howard, Deron Williams) having flamed out in the cities they chose over Dallas. The Mavs do boast an enviable cast of role players alongside Dirk, but in spite of new addition Harrison Barnes’ 19.2 points per game, no Mav boasts All-Star potential and the team’s first-round draft pick in 2017 only figures the lower rungs of the lottery: Dallas’ best odds give them a No. 9 pick in this June’s draft.
Though Nowitzki gave in to reference retirement chatter on occasion in 2016-17, he mostly kept to the promise of wanting to play beyond 2016-17 (and beyond “beyond 2016-17,” even) in each discussion. The Mavericks never challenged for anything better than a late drive at a hopeless playoff spot in the West this year, but throughout the campaign the team (mostly) kept its wits about themselves.
That charge was no doubt spurred on by Dirk Nowitzki, who isn’t quite ready to walk away from a career that would have suited most mortals long ago.