Cuban: Dirk elite for 'at least' three more years

If Dirk Nowitzki put up his post-All-Star break numbers all season long, he probably wouldn’t have been able to take a midseason vacation on a Mexican beach.

Since his 11-year streak of All-Star appearances was snapped, Nowitzki has averaged 18.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, shooting 49.5 percent from the floor and 50 percent from 3-point range.

“What we’re seeing now with Dirk is what we can expect to see next year and the year after, if he stays healthy,” Mark Cuban said. “And the year after that.”

Three more years of All-Star caliber play from a power forward who turns 35 this summer?

"At least," Cuban said.

“I’m not sure about all that,” Nowitzki said. “We’ll just have to wait and see. Hopefully I can finish this season strong and have a good summer like I basically did last year with a lot of lifting and running and hopefully not have a setback with a surgery. We’ll see how consistent I can be again next season.”

It’s only been a couple of months since Nowitzki was wondering whether he wanted to keep playing after his contract expires next summer. He recently declared that he’d stick around through at least the 2015-16 season, but Nowitzki openly discussed making a transition from go-to guy to a role player in the years to come.

But Cuban can’t see Nowitzki as a role player, not even if the Mavs succeed in their year-old mission to acquire a legitimate star to pair with him, if not remove the burden of the franchise from the future Hall of Famer’s shoulders. Not for the next few years, at least.

“Is Kevin Garnett a role player? Is Tim Duncan a role player?” Cuban asked rhetorically. “Do you think Tim Duncan is going to be a role player next year? You think Kevin Garnett is going to be a role player next year? And those guys are based more on athleticism than Dirk is, you know?”

Cuban’s point: If Dirk’s peers as legendary power forwards of this generation can be All-Stars at 36, as Duncan and Garnett were this season, why can’t Nowitzki?

Duncan and Garnett both returned to the All-Star Game this season, a year after their decade-plus-long streaks of appearances were snapped at least in part due to knee problems that tend to pop up a decade and a half into a heavy-minute NBA career.

Garnett’s production has dipped in recent years, but he’s still a force for a perennial playoff team. Duncan’s numbers are down, too, but that’s primarily because his playing time has decreased. On a per-minute basis, there’s not much difference between Duncan’s production now and in his prime, and his Spurs are still contenders.

The talent and work ethic of players such as Duncan, Garnett, Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce and Steve Nash gives them a chance to keep playing at a high level deep into their thirties. Advances in fields such as sports medicine, nutrition and strength and conditioning increase their odds to enjoy success as NBA old-timers.

“Just because of the technology, guys can stay healthy longer,” Cuban said. “The science of dieting and health is just completely different than when we let Nash walk nine years ago. I think it’s just a different animal.”

That’s why Cuban is counting on at least a few more years of the same, ol’ Dirk.