Opinion: Mavs are down, but Nowitzki is still playing hard

By Colin Taylor

There is a very good chance this is Mavericks legend Dirk Nowitzki’s final campaign.

When the Dallas Mavericks begin their 37th season Oct. 18, Nowitzki will begin his 20th season as a Maverick. He told reporters this past March that “Twenty is a great number. I think 20 seasons also with one team … that’s a great accomplishment.”

He wouldn’t say outright that this will be his last season, but he did tell media that he believes 20 years is a good career length.

Nowitzki is only the second player in NBA history to play 20 or more years with one team. The other? Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant. Nowitzki is a transcendent talent who will go down as one of the greatest players of all time.

He showed that big men can be skilled players, not just large bodies to grab rebounds and block shots.

His name has become synonymous with the Mavericks and basketball in Dallas.

The German, who is sixth on the all-time NBA points list, has had a huge influence on the game.

He paved the way for some of today’s stars such as Kevin Durant, Paul Millsap and Kevin Love. All of these players are tall, physical players who would’ve been forced into dunks and boxing out for rebounds before Nowitzki.

He showed that a 7-footer can shoot and dribble, revolutionizing the league and creating a whole new archetype in the NBA.

Nowitzki also paved the way, with the help of Spain’s Pau Gasol, for Europeans to compete in the NBA.

Prior to Nowitzki, the NBA was made up almost entirely of Americans. Now, stars such as Kristaps Porzingis and Nikola Jokic can make it to the highest level of basketball competition.

Prior to Nowitzki’s arrival via a draft day trade with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1998, the Mavericks were a perennial bottom feeder in the Western Conference.

Nowitzki would eventually lead the team to its first-ever NBA Finals appearance in 2006, then lead them to their only NBA title in 2011. Nowitzki led a solid yet star-deprived roster against one of the greatest teams of all time: the Miami Heat’s Big Three.

This was a monumental upset in which Nowitzki carried his team against two future first-ballot Hall of Famers, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, as well as one of the greatest players of all time in LeBron James.

Nowitzki overcame huge obstacles to bring the trophy home to Dallas, scoring 21 points while having the flu in a critical Game 4 to tie the series 2-2.

In a time where championships had either LeBron, Wade or Kobe on them, Dirk brought one home for the underdogs.

However, the end of the Nowitzki era doesn’t look so bright. Last year the Mavs missed the playoffs for only the second time since the 2000 season, finishing 11th in the Western Conference. They had a very passive offseason, re-signing a couple of young, core members and having a decent draft.

Meanwhile, the rest of the West improved.

The Mavericks project to finish in the bottom four of the West and miss the playoffs for the second consecutive year.

Only once before in the Nowitzki era have they missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, the first two of his career.

With Nowitzki’s role on the team decreasing along with his athleticism, it is less likely that he will be able to carry the Mavericks like he used to.

The burden of winning games will fall on the shoulders of Harrison Barnes and Wes Matthews.

Nowitzki has been extremely loyal to team owner Mark Cuban and the Mavericks organization, repeatedly taking pay cuts to allow the team to sign big-ticket free agents.

As long as he wants to play in Dallas, Cuban and coach Rick Carlisle should continue to show loyalty to him. The man is very proud to be a Maverick and has absolutely no desire to play for any other team.

While the team should focus on the core of Barnes, Nerlens Noel, and Dennis Smith Jr., Nowitzki deserves to still be treated as the centerpiece of this team until he retires.

Fans should treat this season as a farewell tour, even if it’s not guaranteed to be his last.

Nowitzki deserves to be appreciated while we still have him.

Since no one has the Mavericks succeeding this season, early-season tickets are affordable, with prices likely increasing as the end of his career nears.

I encourage anyone who enjoys basketball to go to a game this year to witness the final run of one of the greatest to ever play the game.

He’s given so much to Dallas, it’s only right for us to pay tribute to him.

Thank you, Dirk.

— Colin Taylor is a reporter and a journalism major

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