By now, NBA season previews are rolling out. Countless basketball sites, podcasts, and television shows are breaking down all 30 teams; projecting how each will fare based on additions and subtractions. I would like to do something different and focus on teams through the fish-eyed lens of their respective most-intriguing player or players. I continue with the Dallas Mavericks.
Dirk Nowitzki is a player whose Q Score with me changed over the course of his career. While I've always considered him great, I just believed there was something mentally weak about him as he was becoming a great player in the 2000s. The image of David West tapping Dirk's chin while both were face-to-face and Dirk not doing anything about it is forever etched into my mind. He would routinely let players shorter than him stifle his offense, and shy away from physical play. And then there's the time he (and his owner) whined about the officiating in the 2006 Finals, instead of lamenting a blown 2-0 series lead.
That changed in 2011. We remember LeBron James' lack of productivity in the Finals, but Dirk was an unstoppable force throughout the Western Conference playoffs. Even in Game 2 of the Finals, the one that turned the series (despite Miami winning Game 3), Dirk had the game-winning layup. It was a culmination of overcoming all the things that plagued him on the court. A physical defender in Udonis Haslem pushes him out to the free throw line, expecting Dirk to settle for his patented fadeaway. Dirk understood that, used a hesitation move and finished with a lefty layup for the win. In that moment, the Grinch-ness in my heart grew three sizes, and I've respected him ever since.
Now, Dirk is older. Firmly established as the best overseas import to not attend American college, his place in NBA history is as sturdy as the one leg he pushes off to shoot the fadeaway. He's a European relic that's still somewhat functional, but surely not brand new anymore. He's one of the few remaining of the endangered species of players drafted before 2000, and probably the most effective. Him being sixth on the career points list is so overlooked, even though he will let teammate Justin Anderson know about it in practice.
The Mavericks appear to be reloading more than necessarily rebuilding. There are playoff expectations, and the franchise's greatest player does not have another valley in him. Dallas gave him a two-year, $50 million contract. Normally, contracts are about what you will do. But this one is certainly a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Speaking of large contracts and lofty expectations, Dallas also gave Harrison Barnes a $94 million contract over the next four years. Olympic gold medalist and NBA champion Harrison Barnes will now be required to assume the throne after Dirk retires. While Barnes has been heralded as a superstar since high school, he has yet to show flashes of dominance. The paws on this puppy aren't as big as we thought before he got to Chapel Hill, and that sizable contract is too pricey for someone who's just serviceable.
The transition should prove interesting over this season. Will Barnes assume the role of #1 option? Or will he be similar to Chandler Parsons, with Dirk finishing his career on a mediocre team. Take that with you.
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