Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki now says his team has slid into wishful thinking territory.
Dallas, which won the NBA championship in 2011, has fallen far from the top of the league since taking the crown — and it’s not hard to see why. Rather than restocking the title-winning team, owner Mark Cuban instead let key free agents, such as Tyson Chandler, go last offseason. The Mavericks muddled to a 36-30 record last year and lost in the first round of the playoffs, then saw their cap-clearing go unrewarded when the team failed to pick up a big-name free agent over the summer.
This year, the Mavs again have a solid balance sheet, but their record is 13-21, and there’s no guarantee that free agents are waiting for them this summer, either. What once seemed like prudent decision-making — saving money and banking on the possibility of reeling in a star to complement Nowitzki — is increasingly looking like a bad idea.
Nowitzki, who had to wait a long time to finally taste a championship and is now 34 years old, knows the reality of the situation.
“It’s going to be tough now,” Nowitzki told ESPN.com. “I always liked to think you don’t want to build your franchise on hope.”
Nowitzki pointed to the Mavs clearing space for Deron Williams, Dwight Howard or Chris Paul but not getting any of them. Few players of that caliber are expected to be available after this season, but the Mavericks have again filled their roster with mostly one-year deals, meaning they have to rely on good options popping up on the free-agent market. That’s where the hope part comes in.
“That’s something we’ll have to see this summer,” Nowitzki said. “We’re going to play out this season. I’m going to get better and better, hopefully from game to game, so I can actually close out some of these games. And then we’ll see what happens.”
The Mavericks’ chances this season were further dented after Nowitzki had to miss the first 27 games of the season after knee surgery. The key player on a team that doesn’t have much else going for it, Nowitzki acknowledged again this week that the alternative to waiting for summer free agents would be to trade him.
“We knew that coming in, that eight or nine new guys on one-year deals is not really an ideal situation, but what else is there to do?” Nowitzki said. “So either you break the whole thing up and trade me, or you get a bunch of one-year deals and try to be a player next summer. That’s the decision we made, so now we’ve got to fight through it.”
Nowitzki said that, now that he has a championship with Dallas, he wants to stay with the team. But he also emphasized that he wants to be on a team that’s “competitive.”
That’s a situation that’s looking less hopeful.