Germany teammates hope to be reunited
Last week's triumphant two-win trip to Los Angeles came with a bonus for Dirk Nowitzki. The Dallas Mavericks stayed in L.A. after Saturday night's victory over the Clippers before flying back home Sunday, giving Dirk some unexpected time to hang out with his pal Chris Kaman.
Kaman busted the Mavs for 27 points and 11 rebounds in Dallas' narrow 93-84 escape, but that wasn't going to keep them from meeting for a postgame meal. The bond between the Clippers' quirky center and Nowitzki is pretty thick after the summer of 2008, when Kaman secured a German passport and joined Germany's national team to help Nowitzki grind through a brutal run of qualifying games weeks before the Beijing Olympics.
The addition of Kaman -- coupled with Nowitzki's usual offensive mastery -- enabled Germany to qualify for the Summer Games for the first time in the Dirk era after a decade of trying. Disappointing as it was for Germany to win only one of five games in Beijing, neither spends much time dwelling on those details. The bottom line: Kaman's assistance enabled Nowitzki to realize one of his two main hoop dreams, after years of declaring that taking Germany to the Olympic basketball tournament was a very big 1A on Nowitzki's list next to winning an NBA championship.
"Going to Beijing after 10, 11 years [of trying] was probably the greatest experience of my basketball career and it would have been very, very hard to get there without [Kaman]," Nowitzki said. "He was huge for us on the boards, got a lot of tough rebounds against Brazil and Puerto Rico [in the qualifying tournament]. I will never forget that."
So it was fairly inevitable, once the Mavs decided against a postgame flight back to Big D, that Nowitzki and longtime mentor Holger Geschwindner would head to Kaman's house after Saturday's game and spend the rest of the evening replaying the highs and laughs from the great summer of '08. Naturally, they also talked about how fun it would be to team up again someday, which is why Nowitzki and Kaman are both praying that Germany is awarded one of the two or three European wild cards from FIBA for next summer's World Championships in Turkey.
"International basketball has done a lot for my career," Nowitzki said. "I think I've always come back from the national team [as] a better player [for the NBA].
"I want to see Germany in every major tournament. Even last summer [when Nowitzki wasn't playing at the European Championships in Poland], I taped all of the games and watched the young guys. We've got to stay at the top level, [so] the wild card would be great."
But those wild cards -- with FIBA's decision expected in mid-December -- aren't easy to snag. Especially these days.
Traditional powers such as Russia and Lithuania as well as Great Britain -- home team for the 2012 Olympics and a fast-improving hoops nation led by Chicago's Luol Deng -- are in the running with Germany and others.
And here's what they're chasing: Wild-card entry to the 2010 World Championships comes with automatic qualification for the 2011 European Championships. From there, Germany would have a direct path shot to qualification for the 2012 Games in London.
There is little doubt that Nowitzki benefited greatly from the mutual decision with Mavs owner Mark Cuban to take a summer off from national-team play and skip the 2009 Euros. Nowitzki reported to training camp feeling fresher than he has in years ... as his 29-point eruption in Tuesday's fourth quarter against Utah slams home.
Back in August, though, Nowitzki stressed that he was "not retiring from the national team" and admitted that the "Olympics were so good that I wouldn't mind trying again for London." A lot of variables factor in here -- including the decision Nowitzki must make next summer about opting in for the final season of his contract or becoming a free agent July 1 -- but Cuban also said in August that the discussion about Nowitzki returning to the national team would be reopened as long as he took "a year off" after making his Olympic breakthrough.
Kaman likewise can't make any commitments yet. He has to prove he can stay healthy after a stubborn foot injury limited him to 31 games last season, which enabled the Clippers to block him from playing for Germany last summer. The NBA's agreement with FIBA -- basketball's international governing body -- stipulates that NBA teams cannot prevent their players from participating in international competition in the offseason as long as the players' respective national federations can afford the requisite insurance . . . unless the player is injured or still recovering from a documented injury.
It seems safe to suggest that neither Nowitzki nor Kaman -- no matter where they are in body and spirit next summer -- is going to be playing for the Germans in 2011 if they don't get a wild card into the Worlds and have to slog through qualifying for the European Championships. But Germany's road to qualification for London gets a lot more reasonable if it does get that wild card.
Just as it must seem reasonable to Mavs fans -- after digesting all of the above -- to wonder whether Nowitzki and his buddy Kaman will ever wind up on the same NBA team.
Do they ever talk about that scenario?
"We don't go there too much," Nowitzki said of Kaman, whose name has blipped in and out of leaguewide trade speculation for the past few years.
"He's a really skilled center, scores with both hands around the basket, can put it on the floor. He can do a lot of things, but all that stuff is out of our control."
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com and contributes regularly to ESPNDallas.com.