By Wendell Maxey, Special to NBA.com
Posted Sep 12 2011 10:01AM
VILNIUS, Lithuania -- An exhausted Dirk Nowitzki leaned with both hands on the iron railing circling the packed mixed media zone at Siemens Arena on Sunday night.
Television cameras lit up and voice recorders pushed forward only minutes after Germany was eliminated from EuroBasket by the host team Lithuania. Nowitzki tried to look ahead, but he was still hurting from what he'd just left behind.
"It's my fault. I was not in condition to play a good tournament, " said Nowitzki, who finished with 16 points in the 84-75 loss.
On a night where Germany's hopes of reaching the 2012 London Olympics were dashed, that reality suddenly became a small part of the bigger picture. The focus instead: Was this the last the German national team has seen of Dirk Nowitzki?
"I give him so much credit for having played here. Obviously he wasn't rested and I think 99 percent of NBA players who could have played in Europe wouldn't have played under these circumstances," said coach Dirk Bauermann.
"He dragged himself here and gave everything he could."
Nowitzki's future with Germany's team isn't the only one in flux -- Bauermann's tenure as coach is equally up for debate. According to Spox.com, the German-based sports website, former Philadelphia 76ers coach and assistant general manager Tony DiLeo is one of the candidates to replace Bauermann.
DiLeo has plenty of experience with German basketball. He played and coached in the former West Germany and coached both men's and women's teams there from 1979-90, collectively winning nine national titles in Germany's top division. DiLeo was also coach for the West German national team from 1981-85.
Nowitzki, though, might simply be tired of being tired. That much showed with each passing game, each passing month.
He won an NBA title and took home Finals MVP honors in mid-June. Two weeks later, he returned to his hometown of Wurzburg, Germany, where nearly 11,000 fans celebrated a "Dirk Day" parade through the city streets.
From there, it was right to work with the German national team, including a four-team friendly weekend series in Bamberg, Germany, against Turkey, Belgium and Greece. Two more exhibition games around Germany followed that.
There was a trip to Berlin in August where Nowitzki was awarded Germany's highest honor for sport -- the Silver Laurel Leaf -- awarded by German President Christian Wulff.
By the time EuroBasket began Aug. 31, Nowitzki had been on a whirlwind world tour with many stops and little rest in between.
"I had my chances. Overall in the tournament I just don't think I was really in the shape I needed to be in to play a good tournament for us. I missed a lot of shots. I had looks at shots that I just have to make," said Nowitzki, who was 4-for-17 against Lithuania.
"We did an excellent job on Dirk Nowitzki, we wore him down," said Lithuania coach Kestutis Kemzura.
Bauermann couldn't pinpoint when he believed Nowitzki started losing steam at EuroBasket.
"It's natural for someone who played 114 games in the NBA during a season, and winning an NBA championship, then winning all types of awards and traveling all over the world, and then having a 10-day vacation ... it's only natural that he can't be in the type of shape he needed to play a great tournament," Bauermann said.
The focus now for Germany is building toward the future. Aside from Nowitzki and L.A. Clippers center Chris Kaman -- whose future with the team is clearly linked to Nowitzki's -- players such as forward Robin Benzing, who finished with 18 points, drive the next phase of basketball for Deutschland.
The team won a gold medal in 1993, a silver in 2005 (another MVP award for Nowitzki) and bronze at the 2002 World Championships.
But will Nowitzki have a page in this next chapter?
"I will just have to wait and see what the future brings," Nowitzki said.
Germany must now wait and hope the future still includes him.
"My gut feeling is that he will come back," Bauermann said. "I don't think he is done playing for Germany. I think he will play for Germany again, not next year or the year after that, but I don't think he is done playing for Germany.
"That's his decision."
Nowitzki can finally rest and reflect on his busy summer as well as ponder his future. Yet the thought of not reaching London in 2012 is tough for him to accept.
"It's unfortunate," he said, "I couldn't come through for the young guys and help them reach their dreams of playing in the Olympic games."