By Art Garcia, NBA.com
Posted Oct 16 2009 2:05PM
We've been talking about his window for the better part of his career. Once Dirk Nowitzki emerged as one of the very best in the world -- and he is -- we've wondered if the Mavericks would take the final step separating contenders from champions.
Such a step would have to happen with Nowitzki in his prime, and both the Mavericks and their franchise player were on the precipice of a title a little more than three years ago. While much has changed within the team since, Nowitzki remains on the elite short list.
But he's 31 now and entering his 12th season. How much time, realistically, do the Mavericks have to get it done with Nowitzki still at the top of his game?
"We'll just see how long my window is," Nowitzki said. "I'm not really worried about it. We'll just see how long it goes from year to year."
Though he hardly qualifies as ancient in today's sporting world of sci-fi surgeries, personal dieticians and year-round training, Nowitzki does admit the wear and tear is piling up. The former MVP has nearly 940 NBA regular season and playoff games logged, not to mention countless offseasons playing internationally.
"I did put a lot of miles every year on this frame," said Nowitzki, who took off the summer from the Germany national team for the first time in his NBA career.
Seven footers normally don't have the career lifespan of those not as vertically blessed, but Nowitzki has remained remarkably healthy throughout his career. He's avoided major injuries and only had a few minor surgeries, mostly to clean up ankle issues, along the way.
Nowitzki arrived for training camp at 243 pounds, at least a dozen pounds lighter than last season, figuring he'd have to do a lot more running this season. The Mavericks, looking for a significant upgrade defensively, added guys who like to get after it, and get up and down the floor.
Shawn Marion heads the list that includes Drew Gooden and Quinton Ross. Three-point specialist Tim Thomas, currently recovering from knee surgery, also came aboard. The additions weren't made at the expense of a nucleus that helped the Mavericks reach the Western Conference semifinals last season. Jason Kidd re-signed. Josh Howard, Jason Terry, J.J. Barea and Erick Dampier are among those rotation regulars back for another go-around.
The Mavericks overwhelmed their longtime rival Spurs, without Manu Ginobili, in the first round before falling to the Nuggets. The West, led by the NBA champion Lakers, figures to be as solid this season with as many as six teams believing they have a legitimate shot to reach the Finals. After falling off the radar some the last couple of years, the Mavericks consider themselves in that contending group again.
"We can be right there, especially if we get better defensively than we were last year, and we should be since we're longer and more athletic," Nowitzki said. "And offensively we should be better and if we can keep Josh healthy.
"We were really good with him last year in the lineup, but he missed almost two months and missed some in the playoffs. And that really` hurt us because he showed in the San Antonio series how valuable he is to this team."
Team insiders expect and actually welcome a drop off in production from Nowitzki this season, since the burden, in theory, has been eased on the blond bomber. Kidd, Marion and Howard are former All-Stars. Terry is the reigning Sixth Man of the Year. Add it all up and the retooled Mavs have perhaps their deepest bench since the Finals team of 2006.
"We want to make the team better," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "When you have a superstar player, you want to make sure you have the right components around him. And with Dirk, we feel we've got to surround him with the right kind of physical presence at different positions, dynamic athleticism, and have to be guys out there that can make shots and take pressure off him."
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban added that a different attitude permeates this bunch. That can be chalked up to normal offseason boasting that everything is better, and Cuban acknowledges as much, but the writing is on the wall. Everyone can read it.
"This thing here is about winning a championship," Carlisle said.
Nowitzki knows that as well as anyone. That's really all he has left to do. It's just a question of time.
"I'd love that, but the sad thing is you can't really plan a championship," Nowitzki said. "It either happens or it doesn't. A lot of factors play into it with injuries. You have to have luck in the end. We'll just see. I think we have a good team and we'll take it from there."
1. STILL GOT IT:
The names Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion evoke images of greatness. Do their games still do the same?
2. JOSH'S HEALTH
Both physical and mental for Josh Howard, whose ankle might not be 100 percent until December. Also moving to SG.
3. RECOMMITMENT TO D
Avery Johnson used to preach it. Rick Carlisle is doing so now, aiming for a top-10 defensive club.
-- Art Garcia
LAST YEAR: 50-32, Third Southwest
FINISH: Lost in Conf. Semifinals
2008-09 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2008-09 Stats|
JASON KIDD, GUARD
9.0 PPG | 6.2 RPG | 8.7 APG
Tested free agency before returning to his NBA birthplace. Has lost a step, but still an above-average quarterback. Summer off should help 36 year old.
JOSH HOWARD, GUARD
18.0 PPG | 5.1 RPG | 1.6 APG
Ankle surgery was more serious than expected, so he's taking it easy in the early going. Must improve ball-handling in switch to backcourt. Contract year.
SHAWN MARION, FORWARD
12.9 PPG | 8.5 RPG | 2.0 APG
After years of torturing Dallas, the Matrix joins forces. His impact is twofold -- ability to guard multiple positions and score without having a play called.
DIRK NOWITZKI, FORWARD
25.9 PPG | 8.4 RPG | 2.4 APG
Refocused after tumultuous several months. Remains the focal point offensively for the Mavs. Can opt-out after the season.
DREW GOODEN, CENTER
11.9 PPG | 7.1 RPG | 0.4 BPG
Lack of size shouldn't matter in a conference without Shaq or Yao. Athleticism is a plus. Seventh team after seven years sounds like a minus.
|Jason Terry||6-2||180||G||Instant offense and energy ... Fourth-quarter finisher|
|Erick Dampier||6-11||265||C||Can bang against the few true centers left.|
|Tim Thomas||6-10||240||F||Rehabbing knee ... 3-point specialist.|
|J.J. Barea||6-0||175||G||Lightning-bug change of pace ... Solid scorer.|
|Quinton Ross||6-6||193||G-F||Stopper with a 3-point stroke ... Dallas native.|
ADDED: Shawn Marion, Kris Humphries, Quinton Ross, Tim Thomas, Drew Gooden, Nathan Jawai, Rodrigue Beaubois
LOST: Brandon Bass, Ryan Hollins, Jerry Stackhouse, Antoine Wright, Devean George
SHAWN MARION, FORWARD
Jason Kidd helped break Shawn Marion into the league. They're teammates again after an eight-year break. "He's going to be great in the locker room and as well as on the court," Kidd said. "In this league when you get easy baskets it can help on both ends of the floor, and he'll help us get easy baskets. He has the ability to play above the rim."
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