After his most dominant performance of a frustrating season, Dirk Nowitzki declared he has no doubt he’ll play for the Dallas Mavericks at least through the 2015-16 season.
“When my [current] contract’s up, I’m 36 and I’ll definitely sign a couple more years,” Nowitzki said after recording season highs of 30 points and 13 rebounds in Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. “It’s still fun, but I don’t know if I’ll play until 40. But when I’m 36, definitely sign one more deal, maybe two or three years.”
That reiterates the comments Nowitzki, whose contract expires after next season, made in November. However, Nowitzki acknowledged Sunday that he had doubts about continuing his career while struggling this season following arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, a significant factor in the Mavs being in serious jeopardy of missing the playoffs for the first time in 12 seasons.
“Honestly, I had some doubts here when I came back,” Nowitzki said. “It took so long. Is it ever going to come back? It was a tough stretch for me coming back from the surgery, but the way I feel now, I still think I can play a couple of years.”
The 34-year-old Nowitzki missed the season’s first 27 games and had his 11-year All-Star streak snapped. He has admittedly been “brutal” by his standards for most of the season, averaging 16.0 points and 6.2 rebounds while shooting 43.5 percent from the floor, statistics that are all lows since his rookie season in 1998-99. But he’s looked like his old self lately, averaging 21.6 points and 8.8 rebounds while shooting 54.2 percent from the floor in the last five games.
“Obviously, if you’re tall and you can shoot like Sam Perkins and those guys, they can play until the end of their 30s if you’re out there and you’re spreading the floor,” Nowitzki said. “Obviously, in five, six years, if I make it that long, I’m not going to like take every shot in the fourth quarter, but I’m going to be out there spacing the floor and be smart if I make it that long.
“But I always say it’s got to be fun. If it gets to the point that the fun is gone and I’ve got to go to work, I’d rather just retire. I’ve got this year and next year under contract, so I’ll be 36 and for sure play a couple of more years.”
Owner Mark Cuban has made it clear that there will be room for Nowitzki on the Mavs’ roster until the 2011 NBA Finals MVP decides to retire.
“I want him to come back for forever,” Cuban said in November. “I’ll keep on signing him until he’s 73 if he wants to keep on playing.”
Nowitzki, who has repeatedly stated his intention is to retire as a Maverick, is due to make $22.7 million in the final season of his four-year, $80 million deal that expires next summer. He could have made another $16 million throughout the course of the contract, but Nowitzki signed for less to make the Mavs’ pursuit of a championship less financially painful for Cuban.
The Mavs won the franchise’s only title in the first season of Nowitzki’s current contract after Cuban acquired center Tyson Chandler in a salary-dump deal from the Charlotte Bobcats.
After studying the new collective bargaining agreement, Cuban opted to let Chandler and other key members of the title team leave following the lockout the next offseason, opting to cut payroll and maintain financial flexibility. The Mavs’ failure to upgrade their roster last summer, settling for several newcomers with one-year deals or expiring contracts after failing to sign Deron Williams, has been another source of frustration for Nowitzki.
“Once you’ve won it all and had that feeling, that excitement in the city and the franchise, you don’t want to play basically for the eighth seed two straight years,” Nowitzki said. “So it’s been tough. We made some business decisions obviously we all know about, so we’ll see what we get out of this. We have cap space for the first time in a long time. We’ll see if we can make something happen this summer.”
Nowitzki laughed when asked if he expected to continue making superstar money on his next deal.
“Well, I think it’s a little too early to look, honestly,” Nowitzki said. “Basically the last couple of times, there was not much negotiating going on. It was, ‘Give me money and I’ll stay,’ right? I gave him a little discount last time.
“The CBA’s changed. We’ll talk about that when it gets to that point. I’ve still got this year and the full next year. We’ll see what happens and where this franchise is. It all depends on a big summer. This is a big summer.”