DALLAS — Dirk Nowitzki decided a while back that he would play a 20th season for the Dallas Mavericks.
The big German has a potential heir in Harrison Barnes, some intriguing young players with rotation potential around him and a good enough feeling about his body that the 38-year-old might even hang around beyond next season.
But the Mavericks are coming off their worst record (33-49) since 1997-98, the season before Nowitzki arrived. They’ve missed the playoffs twice in five seasons after qualifying 12 straight years. And they still haven’t won a playoff series since winning the franchise’s only championship in 2011.
Whether with a top 10 draft pick or a signing in free agency after years of summer failures, Dallas needs more star power.
“It’s an important summer for this franchise, for sure, to head back in the right direction, if you want to say, starting with the draft,” Nowitzki said. “And then free agency is important, too. So, yeah, this is a big summer, but we tend to stand here the last few years and always say it’s a big summer for the franchise.”
The losing record was the first in the 17 full seasons that Mark Cuban owned the team. Rick Carlisle had just his second sub.500-season in 15 years as a head coach.
Injuries, including an Achilles problem for Nowitzki, played a part because most of them came during a difficult schedule early, dooming Dallas to a 4-17 start. Since the Mavericks were out of contention, president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson transformed the roster at the trading deadline.
Nerlens Noel, an athletic center and sixth overall pick in 2013, came from Philadelphia in a trade. Undrafted rookie point guard Yogi Ferrell, added on a 10-day contract and now signed for next year, was given a chance to start when veteran Deron Williams was waived by his hometown team.
Seth Curry, Stephen Curry’s younger brother, emerged as an option at both guard spots before a late-season shoulder injury. Argentine rookie Nicolas Brussino showed some promise as a 3-point threat, and the Mavericks like the defense of Dorian Finney-Smith.
“I love the way Mark and Donnie turned over the roster at the All-Star break and just pointed us in the direction of developing younger guys for our young core,” Carlisle said. “But we have to have great players.”
Things to consider with the Mavericks currently holding the ninth pick in the draft going into the lottery May 16:
The smooth-shooting 7-footer said a year ago he didn’t want to be part of any rebuilding. But he essentially backed off that, acknowledging once and for all that he’s a Mav for life.
“At the end of the day, I just can’t imagine myself in a different uniform,” said Nowitzki, who reached 30,000 points for his career and has an outside shot at Wilt Chamberlain for No. 5 on the career list. “If we’re rebuilding, then I’m the face of that.”
After signing a max contract at $94 million over four years, Barnes led the Mavericks at 19.2 points per game and could have averaged 20 without a late-season focus on youth. He’s ready to accept the role as the next face of the franchise, and likely will play Nowitzki’s old power forward spot most of the time. It’s where he had his best success this season.
BUT FIRST, NOEL
The 6-11 center is a restricted free agent, and Cuban has said the Mavericks are likely to match any offer. Dallas covets Noel’s shot-blocking and general athleticism, and wants to make him more of a threat on the offensive end. “He’s an exciting young talent and I do think he can expand his game. But we’ve got to be careful about doing too much too soon,” Carlisle said.
After a flashy start that got him a multiyear deal, Ferrell was steady enough to make the Mavericks believe he has a future. But Carlisle still isn’t ready to say the former Indiana player is an NBA starter.
“We didn’t have a good record,” Carlisle said. “At this point in time, projecting exactly where he’s going to be is not really fair.”