Commentary

Mavs not about to sleep on Dirk

If Nowitzki gets away, it won't be because Dallas wasn't aggressive about keeping him

Updated: June 29, 2010, 9:15 PM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

DALLAS -- There's been nothing leaked about a player summit involving Dirk Nowitzki. No known extravagant dinners in his honor overlooking grand views and furnished by NBA teams. No published list of teams waiting to woo him in their fair cities.

No word of teams flying to Nowitzki's doorstep at 11:01 p.m. CT Wednesday when free agency officially begins.

Well, there is one.

"I've got a reservation," Dallas Mavericks vice president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said Tuesday.

The honest answer is we're hopeful and optimistic that what we think is going to happen is going to come to fruition. But, we don't know.

-- Mavericks vice president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson

Nelson could be on his way to Germany on Wednesday, although he said he might not go because, as strange as it sounds, he's not sure Nowitzki will even be there. Nowitzki might be stateside. Still, Nelson said, Nowitzki's coach, mentor and representative in contract matters, Holger Geschwindner, is expected to be in Germany.

But why, when everyone in the free world expects Nowitzki back in Dallas with a new four-year deal, is hustling Nelson overseas even a consideration for owner Mark Cuban?

"Our deal is we've got to be ready for anything. We're in this reactionary position at this point," Nelson said. "The honest answer is we're hopeful and optimistic that what we think is going to happen is going to come to fruition. But, we don't know."

The Mavs, burned once by a casual approach to Steve Nash's free agency, are taking no chances with the franchise's all-time leading scorer and only league MVP. They know any shred of hope of landing LeBron James or Dwyane Wade -- or Joe Johnson, for that matter -- wholly depends on the loyal Nowitzki re-signing with the only NBA team he's ever known.

"That's why this is our No. 1 priority," Nelson said. "If, for whatever reason, this becomes a swing and a miss, then we have to rethink everything."

According to what sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein, Nowitzki on Tuesday officially notified the Mavs that he will opt out of the final year of his contract, leaving $21.5 million on the table to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.

While walking away from such a sum would seem ludicrous to most or suggest Nowitzki is fed up in Dallas, in the NBA, it's a wise business decision. A new deal affords Nowitzki an extra contract season and more money through the life of the deal, a potential no-trade clause and protection from a possible salary rollback in a new collective bargaining agreement after the current one expires following next season.

A swing and a miss would be devastating to Cuban and the franchise. While no one in basketball expects it, give the Mavs credit for not taking it for granted.

"We don't know what's going to happen," Nelson said. "We have an idea of some of the things that we think will happen, but we're like most everybody else out there. After a certain domino falls, it's not necessarily a given that things will happen the way that we hope they will."

Nowitzki will have options. Those same teams that have painstakingly shed salary to make room for James, Wade and Chris Bosh should be knocking on Nowitzki's door, too. Miami, Chicago, New York and New Jersey can't all live the dream. Nowitzki should be on each team's wine-and-dine list.

Nowitzki certainly can provide the Mavs a verbal agreement early in free agency, but contracts cannot be signed until July 8, enough time to gauge Dallas' pursuits. If Nowitzki isn't impressed, he is free, as he surprisingly stated after Game 6 of another disappointing playoff loss, to explore his options.

"We've heard there's obvious interest [in Nowitzki]," Nelson said. "What's being planned and plotted, I really don't know."

The Mavs have almost nothing to worry about. But, it's good they're acting as though they do.

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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