How much will Dirk want?
Really, the question is, how much of a paycut is Nowitzki willing to take to help Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson try to construct a contender-quality roster?
"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."
Nowitzki took $16 million less than he could have gotten on the open market with his current contract, settling for a four-year, $80 million deal. (He somehow still manages to make ends meet, even after getting married.)
That contract was worth every penny after the priceless, Dirk-led championship run in the first season of the deal, but it has become problematic for the Mavs. Based purely on his production this season, Nowitzki is arguably one of the NBA’s most overpaid players at $20.9 million and is due another $22.7 million in the final year of his deal next season.
It’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to rebuild a championship-caliber roster with one player accounting for more than a third of the payroll.
Nowitzki knows that as well as anyone. As the face of the Mavs’ franchise, he’s probably as well versed in the CBA as any NBA superstar.
Nowitzki also knows it might be a stretch to still call him a superstar – and he’ll certainly slip from that status at some point during his next deal.
For the Mavs to win during Dirk’s golden years, he needs to be a complementary piece. He cited Sam Perkins, a floor-spacing stretch four on Finals teams for the Sonics and Pacers late in his career, as an example. That comparison is taking Nowitzki’s humility too far – he’s not going to be a reserve role player – but he can’t be a focal point for a contender in his late 30s.
That means the Mavs must acquire at least two or three franchise pillars for Dirk to complement. Never mind who at the moment. Just assume those guys will cost good money, although it’d sure help if the Mavs hit big on a draft pick or two.
It’d be bad business to keep paying Dirk big bucks.
Nowitzki has made it clear over and over again that having a chance to bring another championship is his goal for his golden years. Bank on that being reflected in his next deal. It wouldn’t be surprising if he settles for seven-figure salaries in his next contract after making eight figures for 12 straight seasons.
The man will have made $200 million in his NBA career by the end of this deal, so it not like Dirk is desperate to squeeze every dollar he can out of Cuban’s wallet. He’d much rather have another ring.
The Mavs’ books are basically blank for 2014-15 at the moment. Even if they’re successful in free agency this summer, they’ll have ample financial flexibility after Dirk’s deal expires. Ideally, Cuban wouldn’t have to sacrifice much of that cap space to re-sign Nowitzki, giving the Mavs a chance to acquire a star or two and a solid supporting cast.
Here’s betting Nowitzki’s next contract will be a huge bargain for the Mavs. He has to be to give the Mavs realistic hope of hanging another championship banner.