Dirk Nowitzki will opt out of the final year of a contract that would’ve paid him $8,692,184.
The big question: Why?
Does Nowitzki want a higher salary? More years? A lower salary that enables the Mavericks to upgrade their supporting cast?
He could command whichever of those he desires.
Tim MacMahon of ESPN, transcribing Nowitzki’s interview on 1310 The Ticket in Dallas:
Nowitzki reiterated Monday that he is committed to remaining with the Mavs for the rest of his career, saying that decision was essentially made when Dallas won the championship in 2011.
“That would have been the only scenario where I go somewhere at the end to kind of hang on and maybe try to win one,” Nowitzki said, referring to if he didn’t have a ring. “But ever since I won a championship here and we did that, I want to finish my career here. I always said that. The only scenario where I’ll try to go somewhere is if we’re rebuilding, if we really say, ‘This is the end of the line. We tried every which way and we can’t go any further and we’re starting basically with five rookies.’
“Obviously, that’s not what I want my last couple of years. But knowing Mark and Donnie, they always want this to be a winning franchise, so there’s no reason for me to go anywhere.”
“We had one more year on the contract, but I think this is the right thing to do,” he said. “We’re going to sit with Mark [Cuban] and Donnie [Nelson] obviously over the next few weeks and figure out how to improve this franchise again.
“Ever since after the championship, we’ve been basically a first-round exit. We’ve been a seven, eight seed. We’ve only won a few playoff games, and obviously the goal was to compete at the highest level in my last couple of years. So there is some moving to do, some thinking, some putting our heads together the next few weeks heading into free agency, heading into the draft. So this is just one move that hopefully starts a chain reaction for us to get better again, to compete really at a high level. We’ll see how it goes.”
Usually, I’d say this would at least open the door to the player leaving. But it’d be difficult for the Mavericks to pivot into rebuilding now. They don’t have their own first-round pick, and Justin Anderson is their only young player of consequence.
With Wesley Matthews and J.J. Barea signed long term and Nowitzki intent on returning, it makes far more sense to try to win now. Dallas might fail, but it’ll almost certainly be the goal.
The Mavericks project to have about $20 million in cap space accounting for cap holds for Chandler Parsons ($19,969,950), Nowitzki ($12,500,0001), Deron Williams ($6,454,769) and Dwight Powell ($1,180,431). If those players sign elsewhere or get renounced, Dallas would clear more room.
Nowitzki could accept a lower salary than his cap hold, and his first-year salary would become his cap number once signed. Essentially, he could monitor free agency and slide his salary requirement depending on the quality of free agent the Mavericks could sign with the available money. Land a star, and maybe Nowitzki would take far less to accommodate him. Strike out, and Nowitzki might want a raise.
He has leverage, though it seems he’s set on using it harmoniously with management.
Still, what if Dallas flops majorly in free agency? Could Nowitzki leave? I expect the Mavericks to land productive veterans, and I doubt Nowitzki would leave anyway. But by opting out, he has the ability to walk.
The Mavericks have an opportunity to improve this offseason. Two years ago, they leveraged Nowitzki’s commitment to the franchise into a below-market deal that helped them sign Parsons. The goal should be once again involving Nowitzki in the process and having him help.
The better Dallas does in free agency, the more likely Nowitzki will be to sacrifice for the team.