Rick Carlisle: Dirk Nowitzki should be ranked as top-12 NBA player of all time

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We overreact, in terms of historical rankings, whenever a player completes a grand accomplishment. With the milestone so fresh in our minds, our judgment gets clouded.

The issue isn’t unique to any one player, but it really seems to affect our perception of Dirk Nowitzki.

When Nowitzki led the Mavericks to the 2011 championship, the discussion suddenly went bonkers. Is he the greatest power forward ever? Is he better than Larry Bird? Is he a top-10 player ever?

Now that Nowitzki has moved into the top 10 of the all-time scoring list, we’re doing it again.

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle via Marc Stein of ESPN:

“I think there’s a certain criteria where you can say pretty much for certain that he’s one of the top 12 all time,” Carlisle said in an interview that will air Thursday night on the “NBA on ESPN Radio” pregame show.

“And that is, there’s only been 12 guys that have been 10-time All-Stars, [NBA] Finals MVP and league MVP. So I think that firmly puts him in the top 12. And then getting into the top 10 in all-time scoring validates that even more.”

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Carlisle is obviously biased. He even called Nowitzki a top-10 player all-time before winning a championship (not sure why Nowitzki drops to top 12 now). That doesn’t make the Dallas coach inherently wrong, and as a close observer of Nowitzki, his opinion should count.

But I don’t think Carlisle is right.

Here are the 12 players he refers to:

Player MVPs Finals MVPs All-Star games
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 6 2 19
Michael Jordan 5 6 14
LeBron James 4 2 10
Wilt Chamberlain 4 1 13
Magic Johnson 3 3 11
Larry Bird 3 2 12
Moses Malone 3 1 12
Tim Duncan 2 3 14
Shaquille O’Neal 1 3 15
Kobe Bryant 1 2 16
Hakeem Olajuwon 1 2 12
Dirk Nowitzki 1 1 12

Because the criteria were deliberately set to include Nowitzki, he ranks at or neat the bottom of the list in each category. He’s last in MVPs, last in Finals MVPs and third-to-last in All-Star games. Quite arguably, Nowitzki is the worst player on this list (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

But the list isn’t even fair to begin with.

The NBA didn’t begin awarding NBA Finals MVPs until 1969.

Bill Russell (5 MVPs, 12 All-Star games) won 10 championships before that. Take your pick how many NBA Finals MVPs he would have won during that run.

Bob Cousy (1 MVP, 13 All-Star games) won six championships prior to 1969. Though all six overlapped with Russell, it’s possible Cousy could have stolen a Finals MVP – particularly 1961, when he averaged 19.8 points, 10.6 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game.

Bob Pettit (2 MVPs, 11 All-Star games) won the 1958 Finals, when he led the St. Louis Hawks with 29.3 points and 17.0 rebounds per game. He definitely would have won Finals MVP that year.

Oscar Robertson (1 MVP, 12 All-Star games) played most of his career before Finals MVP existed, and though he won his only championship after it did (1971, when Lew Alcindor won Finals MVP), does Carlisle really want to argue Nowitzki belongs ahead of Robertson?

Elgin Baylor played in five finals before 1969. His Lakers lost them all, but he led most of them in scoring. If there’s anyone who was a darkhorse contender to win of those unnamed Finals MVPs while playing for a losing team, it’s him.

And what about Jerry West, who never won a regular-season MVP but finished second four times?

Carlisle’s cutoffs don’t work, and left to evaluate the full picture, it’s tough to make a compelling case for Dirk in the top 12.

But top 15…

Marc Gasol opting in with Raptors for $25,595,700

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He joined the Raptors this season, helped them win a championship and will stay.

No, not him.

Marc Gasol, who had a $25,595,700 player option for next season.

Raptors PR:

Marc Gasol has exercised his player option with the Raptors for the 2019-20 season.

If Kawhi Leonard re-signs, Toronto will be happy to have a solid starting center like Gasol for a title defense. This leaves Leonard and Danny Greenwho’ll also be an unrestricted free agent – as the only core Raptors not locked up for next season.

But if Leonard leaves, Gasol will be an overpaid cog on a middling playoff team. There just isn’t that much of a market for merely solid centers, especially a 34-year-old.

Of course, Toronto knew Gasol’s salary situation when acquiring him just before the trade deadline. The Raptors got the best immediate outcome with a championship. Paying him $25,595,700 next season is a perfectly acceptable cost.

Report: Sixers ‘expressing confidence’ they will re-sign Jimmy Butler; Rockets still seek sign-and-trade

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If the Philadelphia 76ers put a five-year max contract of $189.7 million in front of Jimmy Butler, the smart bet is he signs it. Fast. Butler will be 30 next season and has a growing history of injuries, plus the Sixers are going to be contenders with him. That’s a lot of money and a good situation to walk away from.

The Rockets are still hoping to lure him away to Houston, forcing a sign-and-trade on Philadelphia, but the Sixers are confident they will keep him, reports Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe of ESPN.

As noted in the ESPN story, there is no indication that the Sixers or Butler are down with this trade idea.

The only way this sign-and-trade happens is if Butler goes to the Sixers and says he’s leaving anyway and wants a sign-and-trade to Houston. Then Philadelphia would play along only because they could get something back for Butler, rather than losing him outright.

However, I have heard from league sources that if Butler leaves Philly the Lakers are the team at the top of his list, paring with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Whether that is true or not, he has options including the Knicks. Maybe for Butler the chance to chase a ring with James Harden and Chris Paul is a bigger draw, however, to make that happen the Rockets will be stripped of a lot of depth. If the Lakers add Butler at the max, they will have three stars, Kyle Kuzma, and the rest of the roster will be minimum contract guys (plus somebody for the $4.8 million room exception).

If Butler leaves Philadelphia, the most he can sign for with any team is a four-year, $140 million contract. That includes in a sign-and-trade with the Rockets, under the new CBA a player cannot sign the larger five-year max as part of a sign-and-trade, it can only be for the $140 million the Rockets could sign him with outright.

While this is a fun rumor and report that gets a lot of ink, it seems highly unlikely to come together. Never say never in the NBA, but this seems a longshot.

That said, a Rockets locker room with Jimmy Butler, James Harden, Chris Paul, and a lame duck coach would be good for those of us who love NBA drama.

Rumor: Several teams want to pair Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler

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Kawhi Leonard is choosing between staying in Toronto with the Raptors or coming to Southern California and being a Clipper, according to sources and multiple reports.

Jimmy Butler probably signs a five-year max contract to stay in Philadelphia if the Sixers put it in front of him (as their management has said it would do), but if not the Lakers are considered to be the frontrunners according to the buzz around the league.

However, there are teams dreaming of pairing Butler and Leonard this summer, reports Ian Begley of SNY.tv.

Multiple teams have expressed interest in pairing Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler together in free agency this summer, per league sources familiar with the matter.

Those teams, obviously, would need to create the cap space required to sign both players. The teams interested in Butler and Leonard believe they would have interest in playing on the same team, per league sources.

This doesn’t suggest that Leonard is seeking to team up with any other player; that doesn’t fit his persona. But teams interested in pairing Leonard and Butler believe they would have interest in playing together.

There is a whole lot of supposition in that report (and from teams).

First, and Begley touches on it, this assumes that Leonard wants to team up with Butler, or anyone for that matter. Superteams are not his style. Butler can bring drama with him, and that is also not Leonard’s style. On the flip side, does Butler want to partner up with Leonard?

Second, there are not a lot of teams that can clear two max salary slots. Brooklyn, the Clippers (if they trade Danilo Gallinari, something certainly possible), the Knicks and maybe a couple others with some cap gymnastics. Just a note here: the writer Begley is based in New York and covered the Knicks for ESPN for many years. Draw whatever conclusions you want from that.

Third, this is most likely not the path for either of them. Never say never, because NBA free agency can flip on a dime, but pairing those two is not the most likely outcome.

But it’s the silly season, so rumors are everywhere.

NBA reportedly clears Omer Asik’s $3 million salary off Bulls books

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Omer Asik came to Chicago as part of the Nicola Mirotic trade, but last season he never set foot on the court for the Bulls. Back in training camp, Asik was ruled out indefinitely with inflammatory arthritis, the latest flare-up in a condition that has been an issue for years. Asik had played in just 49 games combined the two seasons before sitting out this last one.

During training camp, the Bulls waived Asik. He was paid his full $11.3 million for this season and had a $3 million guarantee for next season.

After applying to the league to have it removed (because Asik hadn’t played in a year due to injury and was not expected to in the future), that $3 million is coming off the Bulls’ books in time for free agency, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

That $23 million is not a max player slot, but it is a little more money for the Bulls to spend as they chase a point guard and look to add depth and shooting to their young roster.

Asik still gets paid the $3 million, it just doesn’t count against the Bulls salary cap.