The answer is probably priceless.
If you want to go with an actual dollar figure, start somewhere in the $50 million range. Nowitzki left at least that much money on the table by taking a three-year, $25 million deal to return to the Mavs instead of listening to pitches from teams interested in paying him around the max, as ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported.
This wasn’t just about Dirk’s desire to win. If that’s all that mattered, he’d be headed to Houston. The Rockets would have loved nothing more than to put the sweetest-shooting 7-footer in NBA history on the floor with shooting guard James Harden and center Dwight Howard. The Rockets would have kept Chandler Parsons in that case and featured the best starting five in the NBA.
Nowitzki, however, is too loyal to consider leaving the only NBA home he’s ever known. He desperately wants to contend for another championship, but departing Dallas to do it was never an option he considered.
Maybe it’d be different if there hadn't been a championship parade in downtown Dallas a few summers ago. If Nowitzki still didn’t own a championship ring, the thought of a Karl Malone-like, late-career jump to a contender would surely have been tempting.
But, with a Finals MVP trophy on his mantel, Nowitzki can comfortably continue his longtime plan to be a one-team man.
The choice Nowitzki made more than a year ago, when he publicly committed to taking a Tim Duncan-like discount to stay in Dallas when his contract expired this summer, was to sacrifice a small fortune to maximize the Mavs’ chances of contending for a championship during his golden years.
It’s not like Mark Cuban had a tough time negotiating with Nowitzki, who has never had an agent. At this point in his career, Nowitzki is essentially an assistant general manager, so it was just a matter of figuring out how massive his pay cut needed to be to allow the Mavs to fill their needs.
This is an unprecedented hometown discount, coming in at $5 million less than Duncan’s deal over the course of his contract. Nowitzki, who took $16 million under max on his previous contract, gave the Mavs enough salary cap wiggle room to overpay Parsons and re-sign Devin Harris after Dallas traded for Tyson Chandler.
The Dirk discount also guarantees that the Mavs will be major players in next summer’s free agency shopping as well. It also might plant seeds of sacrifice in the mind of Monta Ellis, who can opt out of his three-year, $25 million contract next summer or wait a year to be paid market value by the Mavs.
Clearly, Nowitzki is never going to have to plead poverty after making more than $200 million during his career, but he’s gone above and beyond with his loyalty and generosity to Dallas. That is true as the face of the franchise and a community man, as anyone who saw him grant every autograph request long after the lights were out at his sold-out charity baseball game last month can attest.
Nowitzki has two goals for the rest of his career: Retire as a Maverick and win another championship, in that order of importance. The money doesn’t matter that much.