- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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Dirk Nowitzki played less basketball this offseason than he ever has in his life, which is one of the reasons he thought it might be the longest offseason of his life.
He was happily proven wrong.
Nowitzki returned to the United States on Friday after some four months away feeling refreshed and excited about training camp for the first time he can remember. Insisting that he's "doing fine" as he moves past the off-court turmoil in his life, Nowitzki described himself as "fired up" as he steps into his 12th NBA season, clearly antsy after taking a break from national-team duty.
In a phone interview shortly before he flew back to Dallas, Nowitzki confessed to ESPN.com that he thought it was "going to be a tough summer" following the arrest of his ex-fiancee at his home in May during the Dallas Mavericks' second-round playoff series and the subsequent claims by Crista Taylor -- which have since proven to be unfounded -- that she was carrying Nowitzki's child.
"But I think everybody who's seen me recently knows I'm doing fine and knows that I had a pretty decent summer," Nowitzki told ESPN.com. "I did some fun things, did a little traveling. It was not as bad as I thought. And I'm actually excited about camp, which the last 10-11 years I haven't been because I always played [for Germany] in the summer.
"When it all first happened during the playoffs, I thought I would really be thinking about it all the time, all day, every day. But I came home [in late May] and took a great vacation [to Crete, Greece] with my family. In tough times, I think my family has always been there for me and they were again this year. They took my mind off all this stuff. I got to enjoy [sister Silke's two] kids and I was already doing a lot better after that. It just got better and better and got to the point where I didn't even think about [the situation] for long periods of time."
Nowitzki was on a league-sponsored Basketball Without Borders trip in South Africa in September with fellow stars Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh and a few other players when he found out that a pregnancy test given to Taylor -- which had been sought by Nowitzki's legal team through a court order -- had been confirmed as negative.
"A little weight came off the shoulders," Nowitzki said. "I was [mostly] worried about that because the situation for the kid wouldn't have been the best, so it's the best situation now that she's not pregnant.
"But if she would have been pregnant, I think I would have managed, too. I'm 31 years old. I would have taken the responsibility and I would have handled it."
Asked how he reacted to the news in August that Taylor received a five-year prison sentence for violating terms of her probation in Missouri from a decade-old forgery and felony theft case, Nowitzki said: "It is what it is. Those are things she did way before I ever knew her. ... For me, it's over. I'm ready to move on."
During the team's media day on Monday, Nowitzki was asked about his personal saga. He said the support of Cuban, the Mavericks and his family helped him through the emotional times, then he was taken aback during the summer by countless letters of support from fans who wrote of similar experiences.
"Just reading that made me feel great. You're not the only guy that went through a tough time in life," Nowitzki said. "That was really special."
Now, the 31-year-old former MVP said his goal is not to let the incident change him.
"I was really not the kind of guy that walked around and trusted everybody anyway. But it still happened," Nowitzki said. "I'm not going to change who I am. I'll always have fun with people. Obviously my goal is still to have a family sooner or later, so I'd better start trusting somebody here soon."
Nowitzki produced huge numbers against Denver -- averaging 34.4 points and 11.6 rebounds -- in spite of the public nature of the drama in his personal life.
"I just think that showed me that I'm mentally tougher than a lot of people think," Nowitzki said on Monday. "I played through that. I played through injuries. I may not be the most physically tough player, but I think mentally I'm right up there."
Since the bulk of his interviews have been in his native Germany, Nowitzki knew that he would have to answer questions on Monday, but he said on Sunday that media day "is going to be my last time talking about it."
"I just want to move on and play," Nowitzki said. "Let's get the season going. I really miss playing basketball on a high level. This was the first time in the summer that I didn't compete on a high level and I miss competing.
"I'm really looking forward to meeting all the new guys because we made some good moves. Obviously I think [Shawn] Marion can help us on both ends of the floor, address some [of Dallas' lack of] athletic ability. I think [Quinton] Ross is going to be able to guard some scoring 2s that have given us trouble. I think [Drew] Gooden is a nice piece. Tim Thomas gives us more shooting, which we need.
"I'm fired up. I'm ready to get this whole thing started. I'm ready to focus on having a great season."
The Mavericks are similarly optimistic about Nowitzki's mindset and freshness after a joint decision by Nowitzki and owner Mark Cuban for the 7-footer to skip the recent European Championships in Poland. Coupled with nine completely basketball-free weeks at the start of the summer, withdrawing from the national team gave Nowitzki an unprecedented amount of recovery time.
"It was tough for me to watch [Germany play] on TV, knowing I could have helped, but I think mentally it was a great decision to get away and not always be under pressure in the summer and kind of relax," Nowitzki said. "It was great for the mental state of my game, so I can start fresh when I get back, mentally and physically."
Asked about the Mavericks' outlook as a group, Nowitzki said: "It's very important for us to keep Josh [Howard] healthy. When he was healthy last year, we were pretty good, so hopefully with this [ankle] surgery that he had he's going to be able to stay healthy. When he's out there, I think we're a different team.
"I still think we can be a dangerous team. We can play big with [Erick Dampier] at the 5. We can go really small with me at the 5 and Marion at the 4. Now we're so long, we should actually be a pretty decent defensive team. I think we can do a lot of things once we're all healthy.
"But I also understand that the West is still a beast. I like all the moves, but all the good teams got even better, so I'm kind of curious to see where we fit in in the West."
It's also a big season for Nowitzki because he has the option to opt out of the final year of his contract and join the free agent class of 2010. Team sources say that the Mavericks' intent is to sign Nowitzki to an extension before he ever hits the open market, but those talks might actually be put off until next summer because Nowitzki continues to suggest that he won't opt out and instead play out the 2010-11 season with Dallas at $21.5 million.
Cuban likewise gives the impression that he expects Nowitzki to complete his current deal, telling ESPN.com: "I foresee not talking about [Nowitzki's contract situation] with the media at all during the year and we have all next summer to discuss."
Nowitzki described his relationship with Cuban as "stronger than ever" when his withdrawal from the national team was announced in August. He reiterated this week that he doesn't intend to give the opt-out issue deep consideration until after the playoffs.
"I still haven't really thought about it that much," Nowitzki said. "I always said I wanted to finish my career in Dallas and nothing that happened the last two years has changed that. As far as I'm concerned, I'm thinking about playing this contract to the end and we'll go from there. We all know, in this business, things can change in a heartbeat. But as of now, I don't plan on opting out. I plan on finishing my career in Dallas."
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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