The Dirk Bargain

Dirk Nowitzki wants back in Dallas, but what price makes sense for the Mavs?

Dirk Nowitzki wants back in Dallas, but what price makes sense?

Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks
Dirk Nowitzki is talking like he’s playing next year. He’s even talking like it might be for the Dallas Mavericks. Dallas Mavericks/Facebook

Dirk Nowitzki isn’t playing like a guy who’s slowing down. He’s averaging 21.1 points per game this season, nearly four points better than last year’s average. He recently dumped 40 points on New Orleans, a night in which he hit five 3-pointers and went 15-of-16 from the line.

It’s the Dirk we know and the Dirk that Mavs fans love. So it’s no surprise that he’s talking like he’s playing next year. He’s even talking like it might be for the Dallas Mavericks.

Nowitzki is an unrestricted free agent after this season, but he recently told Sport1, a German sports website, that he would “likely” sign a two- or three-year contract extension with Dallas after the season. That supports what Nowitzki said earlier this year when he felt he had about “10 to 15 thousand minutes” left in his body. That comes to about three full seasons.

 Dallas should re-sign Nowitzki, but they cannot break the bank to do it. Even he knows that. But what’s a pay cut in Nowitzki’s world?

Nowitzki is 35 years old. A new deal this summer would carry him to his 38th or 39th birthday. That’s ancient in professional athletics. Nowitzki knows it and mentioned that after this last contract, that would probably be it.

So now we know that he has the want to. But does Dallas? And should Dallas re-sign him?

The answer to the first question, most likely, is yes. According to Nowitzki, owner Mark Cuban has told him that “you are and you always will remain my franchise player.”

That’s not a stunning development, given how Cuban feels about the guy. Plus, there’s no question that Nowitzki still has something to offer this team. Not as the primary option, mind you, but certainly as a secondary option that can play on most nights like a primary option.

The answer to the second question is a bit more complicated. Dallas should re-sign Nowitzki, but they cannot break the bank to do it. Even Nowitzki is aware of that, telling Yahoo Sports in May that he’d be willing to take a pay cut to help attract big-name free agents, which is necessary to de-emphasize Nowitzki and extend his career.

But what’s a pay cut in Nowitzki’s world? He hasn’t said. So we have to do some research.

According to Spotrac.com, a site that tracks pro sports salaries, the Mavs have about $67 million committed to their 2013-14 roster. Next year that number is slashed by more than half to $31.2 million. The Mavs have nine players under contract. The projected 2014-15 salary cap is $62.1 million. So right now the Mavs have about $30 million to play with.

The Mavs can’t give Nowitzki anything close to the $23 million he’s making this season and expect to attract a top-shelf free agent. To try and gauge what it would take, let’s look at the contracts of three players that are in Nowitzki’s age and talent bracket: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

Garnett and Pierce were traded to Brooklyn as a package deal in the offseason. Garnett is making $12.4 million, and Pierce is making $15.3 million. The Nets have the worst cap situation in the NBA and are well over the cap and the luxury tax threshold. They also stink.

Meanwhile, Allen went to Miami as a free agent last season and signed a two-year deal for about $6 million. The Heat won the NBA title last June, will contend again this season and have a manageable cap situation. Allen is, of course, surrounded by better players.

How much of a pay cut Nowitzki is willing to take may be the difference between languishing on a team with less talent and no options and flourishing on a team with plenty of talent and the flexibility to add talent.

He won’t take what Allen is getting, but he won’t get what Pierce is making, either. Paying Nowitzki in that $10 million-$11 million range makes sense. He’s paid well and his team can pursue top free agents at the same time.

All Nowitzki wants is one more shot at a ring. This summer we’ll find out how badly he really wants it.