The Dallas Mavericks’ home court has been graced by one of the greatest European players of all time for nearly two decades now. Dirk Nowitzki has been a symbol of offensive consistency, loyalty and competitive drive from the day he was drafted and there is a very mutual love between him and the Mavericks.
There has never been a question about him leaving the Mavs and this offseason, for the second consecutive year, Nowitzki will take a pay cut to help his team be competitive and chase success one last time.
Dirk is doing everything right in chasing this success; there is nothing more a star can do. It might all be in vain, though. Dallas seems to be stuck in the middle of the pack with very little chance for them to leap forward among the stacked Western Conference.
Just what would it take for the franchise to become championship contenders one more time before the sad day comes when the feather-haired German finally hangs up his sneakers?
Evaluation of Dallas’ roster
For the Mavs, Nowitzki remains the heart of the roster and he still has plenty of quality, despite his age. When Dallas build their roster, the 37-year-old is always the core piece and they have tried to build a solid roster around him.
They stole Chandler Parsons from Houston and CP can be a very good small forward if he can stay fit. Parsons can shoot well and has a great all-around game but recent times have not been easy for him.
They gambled on Wesley Matthews in last year’s free agency, luring the versatile shooting guard from Portland. They gave him a max contract despite his recent Achilles tear but things didn’t pan out.
Wes is hardly a max contract player and, like Parsons struggles to stay healthy. Matthews is a solid player to have in the rotation, though - he's just not a star. With Wes and Parsons alongside Nowitzki, however, Dallas have the start to a good roster.
Elsewhere, they are weaker. Deron Williams is not a bad option, but no longer a floor general capable of leading a contender. At center, the Mavericks juggled Zaza Pachulia and Javale McGee and again, neither are capable of anchoring a top roster.
The Mavericks' depth is strong, with David Lee, Devin Harris and J.J. Barea among their bench unit, but the starting five just isn't strong enough. They do have a promising youngster in Justin Anderson waiting to make the jump but their prospect pool is somewhat sparse after that.
Rick Carlisle's team finished sixth in the Eastern Conference this year with a 42-40 record, which isn’t bad. For a roster still led by a stretch four that is on the tail end of a stellar career and a roster that had injury issues, that really is an achievement.
How do they become contenders?
When you look at the cream of the crop in the NBA, you notice that there are two types of teams that compete. There are those powered by multiple superstars, like the Cleveland Cavaliers or Oklahoma City Thunder, and there are those with a really strong and balanced roster and a great team spirit, like the San Antonio Spurs or maybe even the Golden State Warriors.
For Dallas, the only real possibility is the latter because superstars are hard to come by. The Mavs are, even with an all-out push, rank outsiders in the race for Durant in free agency and so they won’t be getting that superstar.
Instead, they need to build a starting five of high-end players and with Nowitzki, Parsons, and Matthews, the Mavs might be three-fifths of the way towards having one.
When asked if this unit could lead them to a championship, Eddie Sefko of Dallas News said: “Not without an infusion of one clear star. These are all really good players. But there's not an anchor among them, even though Dirk's still trying to play that role.
"I suspect the Mavericks are going to have to try to do it with talent at all positions rather than the superstar-driven approach.”
In this league, having a top point guard is an absolute requisite for a team being successful. Whether it’s Kyrie Irving or Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook or Kyle Lowry, every contender has one and the Mavs cannot dream of rings until they do too.
With their defensive rating being the 17th best in the NBA, Dallas could also do with bringing in an anchor at center, someone like DeAndre Jordan (too soon?).
How they address these needs is quite clear. The Southwest division franchise isn't stacked with enough assets to make a splash in the trading market and isn't bad enough to build through the draft, so they will have to look to free agency again.
It is in this market that the Texas-based outfit brought in Parsons and Matthews and this is where they can unleash their best weapons. Franchise owner, Mark Cuban, is an ambitious stalwart with seemingly endless pockets and Parsons is a master recruiter; both tools used in last offseason’s agonising pursuit of Jordan.
At the center spot, the Mavs are expected to use Parsons' lure to make a push for Dwight Howard and D12 would certainly fit the bill for what they need.
His physical prowess and defensive strength make him perfect for Dallas, as teammate Jason Terry told Mike Fisher of scout.com.
"He would look good (in a Mavs uniform). Anybody that has his physical stature alongside Dirk is always a huge factor… He still can be a dominant force, primarily on the defensive end. He’s such a presence back there controlling the paint. And then offensively, when he sets screens and rolls hard to the basket and runs the floor, he’s one of the best we have.”
Elsewhere they could also look to make offers for Al Horford or Hassan Whiteside but they would be outsiders to recruit either of those. Horford is likely to be heavily courted by Houston and Boston as well as Atlanta, while Whiteside will garner interest from all corners of the association, especially Miami and the Lakers.
Dwight is their best chance and, next to Dirk, he might be the best fit. He certainly ticks all the boxes.
The point guard class, however, is pretty thin this year. It is headlined by Mike Conley and Rajon Rondo but we can quickly eliminate one of those names because there is no chance that Rondo returns to Dallas.
Conley is going to be a highly-coveted piece, with the Knicks among a host of teams trying to entice the point guard. He is, however, a perfect fit for what the team needs and is of the necessary calibre to push the Mavs on. Conley would help improve their defence while improving their offence at the same time.
After Conley, the group is rather mediocre. Jeremy Lin is perhaps the best of that bunch but, with all respect for Lin and the role he has found as a backup, the Mavericks would be better off keeping Deron Williams than starting Lin.
If they can’t get Conley and/or Howard, Dallas will have to wait at least one more year with the knowledge that Dirk doesn’t have much time left. If they wait until 2017, the Mavericks could realistically chase Jeff Teague, Derrick Rose, Jrue Holiday or Lowry at the point and each would be an improvement.
Even Rose and his injury troubles would be the right move as they might need to take risks. They could also chase the likes of Gordon Hayward, Danilo Gallinari, Paul Millsap, Tyreke Evans and Rudy Gay to improve their roster if Nowitzki’s role decreases.
Either way, the Mavericks need to bring in a high-end point guard and center to truly become contenders again and they will need to do it soon if they don’t want to have to chase someone to replace Dirk’s input as well.
Will they contend again before Nowitzki retires?
If the Mavs can recruit both Howard and Conley to their cause, why not? Their starting five will be among the most balanced in the league. They would have shooters, defence, speed, strength, hustle, and drive. They would have everything.
If they can’t, it depends on when Nowitzki retires. The Mavs wouldn’t be able to address their needs until the 2017-18 season and, by then, age may have clamped down on the 13-time All-Star, who already struggles to defend his position. And if the German can't start, that will leave Cuban’s team with another hole to plug.
Even with Dirk's sacrifices, if Dallas is going to contend again before he retires, they ideally need to bring in both Conley and Howard this offseason. That’s a tall order, but never underestimate the Dallas Mavericks in free agency.
Still, the Mavs may be forced to see out the career of their best ever player in mediocrity and that would be a shame.