Countdown: No. 1 Dirk Nowitzki

Last in a 15-part series ranking the Mavericks' 2011-12 roster in importance of bringing back next season.

OK, so there just can't be any suspense as to who finishes No. 1 in the Countdown. No way, no how. The Dallas Mavericks would love to create some suspense for when I do this exercise after next season.

Know how they can?

Land a superstar in a month with all that first-time cap space to join forces with Dirk Nowitzki for the final two years of his contract and perhaps a few years beyond that.

After all, it's what Dirk needs and, frankly, what he expects. Remember when Nowitzki signed that four-year, $80 million deal two summers ago, right before leading the franchise to its first championship? Yeah, well, the 7-foot German could have really stuck it to owner Mark Cuban and demanded the maximum allowed under the old collective bargaining agreement of $96 million.

But that's not how Nowitzki is wired. He gave the old hometown discount to the only team he's ever known because he kept an open mind that the money he leaves on the table might go to someone who could help the Mavs remain a contender in the Western Conference into Dirk's twilight years.

"You have cap space," Nowitzki said, "so you can actually sign somebody decent."

That somebody is the local kid himself, perennial All-Star point guard Deron Williams, who is set to become a free agent July 1 and who certainly hasn't given any signs that's he's high on returning to the Nets, even as they begin a new (and possibly exciting) era in Brooklyn. Dirk wasn't thrilled that Cuban dismantled the title team, but he understood, at least he said so publicly, the business reasons behind it.

So now he's looking for a little ROI on his undervalued contract.

Dirk and Deron are no strangers. D-Will grew up in The Colony and he clearly didn't feel like a stranger at the AAC as he hung around the Mavs at times during the 2011 championship run.

"I know D-Will very well," Nowitzki said during a recent appearance on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM's "Galloway & Co." "In July I’m sure I can call him. He’s from here which obviously is a huge help and he loves golfing, so we have a lot of great golf courses around here. I think we’ve got a lot of stuff going for us. But like I said, Jersey (Brooklyn) is probably going to offer him a lot of things and so are some other teams that are out there with cap room.

"But, this should be an exciting time for the Mavericks."

And so the Countdown comes to an end with the one and only No. 1 ...


Pos.: PF

Ht./Wt.: 7-foot, 245

Experience: 14 years

Age: 33 (June 19, 1978)

2011-12 stats: 21.6 ppg (45.7 FG%), 6.7 rpg

Contract status: Signed through 2013-14

2011-12 salary: $19.1 million

2012-13 salary: $20.9 million

His story: Is there a franchise record that Nowitzki doesn't hold? Scanning, scanning, scanning ... Dirk is the greatest Mavericks player ever and as much as Cuban is credited for the turnaround of this franchise, it's Nowitzki who has served as the rock through 12 consecutive playoff appearances, two NBA Finals appearances, a championship and now the next phase. He enters the coming season No. 19 on the NBA's all-time scoring list and with the return of a full 82-game season, he will move into the top 15 with a chance to get as high as 13th, roaring past such luminaries as No. 17 Allen Iverson, No. 15 Jerry West and No. 14 Reggie Miller. In the final year of his contract, Nowitzki will easily move into the top 10, passing No. 10 Oscar Robertson, No. 9 Hakeem Olajuwon and, with good health, he will close in on No. 6 Shaquille O'Neal. How high Dirk can ultimately go will depend on how long he decides to play. How long he decides to play could ultimately depend on who he is playing with when his contract expires.

His outlook: Nowitzki has two years left on his contract, but it's hard to envision him not signing on for two or three more seasons as long as his body is capable. And with his dedication to nutrition and fitness (yes, even with last season's little hiccup), physical limitations wouldn't seem to be an issue if he decides to call it a career after 16 seasons. What then would convince him to retire when his current contract expires after the 2013-14 season? Most likely whether he's having fun will be a factor, and the fun factor starts where we started, with the Mavs landing Williams and then continuing to build a contender around Dirk and D-Will. If Williams heads elsewhere, this will become a very interesting team-building project for Cuban and Donnie Nelson that could be a bumpy road over the next two seasons. Nowitzki has repeatedly said he doesn't see himself playing in another uniform or a different city. So what happens in the summer of 2014 if the Mavs are a middling team and his contract is up? Hey, can we get through the summer of 2012 first?

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No. 15 Lamar Odom

No. 14 Brian Cardinal

No. 13 Yi Jianlian

No. 12 Dominique Jones

No. 11 Brendan Haywood

No. 10 Kelenna Azubuike

No. 9 Ian Mahinmi

No. 8 Vince Carter

No. 7 Rodrigue Beaubois

No. 6 Brandan Wright

No. 5 Jason Terry

No. 4 Delonte West

No. 3 Jason Kidd

No. 2 Shawn Marion

No. 1 Dirk Nowitzki