Nowitzki won't play for Germany
Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki revealed Friday that the decision not to play for his country's national team this summer stems from a mutual agreement he hatched years ago with Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.
Irked by press reports suggesting that Cuban barred him for representing Germany at next month's European Championships in Poland, Nowitzki told ESPN.com that his relationship with Cuban is "stronger than ever" and that he had promised his boss that he'd take a step away from international play if the Germans managed to qualify for the Olympics. That happened last summer when Nowitzki's team finally made it to Beijing after missing out in 2000 and 2004.
"I'm not mad at Cubes at all," Nowitzki said in a phone interview. "He's been great to me these last 10, 11 years. He always let me chase my dream. And we always agreed that if I made the Olympics, it would be [time] to take a break.
"This time he basically told me, 'I'd prefer if you not play.' He kind of left it up to me. I think if I would have really kept harping on it, then he wouldn't have tried to stop me. But I think it's the right decision.
"I'm happy I'm keeping my word to him, because he kept his word to me for the last 10, 11 years."
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.
The exception to that rule is when a player is injured or still recovering from a documented injury, as evidenced earlier this week when the Mavericks did invoke their right to prevent reserve guard J.J. Barea from joining Puerto Rico's national team because Barea is still recovering from shoulder surgery in late May.
Another example is Los Angeles Clippers center Chris Kaman, who was not ready to play for Germany this summer -- after his contributions as a newcomer last summer helped the Nowitzki-led Germans make their Olympic breakthrough -- because of a stubborn foot injury that limited Kaman to 31 games last season.
Without Kaman on the roster for the European Championships, Nowitzki ultimately agreed that the potential payoff from grinding through an extra month of practices and games with no NBA-level help were minimal at best. Having celebrated his 31st birthday in June -- after a difficult end to the 2008-09 season during which he had to play through the arrest of his fiancee in the midst of Dallas' second-round series with Denver -- Nowitzki is bound to benefit from the extra rest heading into his 12th NBA season.
Nowitzki, though, conceded that his first taste of the Olympics only stoked his patriotism further, prompting him to start musing about a return to international play in the summer of 2011 to try to help Germany qualify for the 2012 Games in London.
"I'm not retiring from the national team," Nowitzki said. "I have to see where my body is at and where my career is at, but the Olympics were so good that I wouldn't mind trying again for London."
Reminded that he first has a big decision to make in the summer of 2010, when he can bypass the final year of his contract to become a free agent, Nowitzki said: "You know that a lot of things can happen in this league in a year, but I'm not looking to opt out right now. I've still got a year to figure all that out. ... Everything [about the future] is still open, but like I've always said, I'm still looking at finishing my career in Dallas."
Referring in part to the July acquisition of Shawn Marion, Nowitzki added: "I like where we're at. I think we made some good moves this summer. Now we've just got to give it some time so we can grow together."
Cuban on Friday described Nowitzki's international break as a non-issue, saying that "Dirk and I are good with everything."
Yet in spite of his longtime backing of Nowitzki's national-team excursions, Cuban remains a very reluctant supporter of international tournaments in general, having railed for years against the risks absorbed by NBA teams when star players such as Nowitzki return to FIBA play, where more physical contact is frequently allowed by referees.
Injuries suffered on international duty this month by San Antonio's Tony Parker (France) and the Los Angeles Lakers' Pau Gasol (Spain) have generated renewed concern about those risks. But Cuban's more recent frustration is tied to summer-league ball, after FIBA blocked players under contract with international clubs from participating in summer play in Orlando and Las Vegas without written consent from their overseas clubs.
Nick Calathes, selected No. 45 overall in June by Minnesota and dealt to the Mavericks on draft night, flew to Dallas in July to join the Mavericks summer-league squad, only to learn that the Greek club (Panathinaikos) he is contracted to play for in 2009-10 would not give him clearance. Calathes ultimately couldn't even practice with the Mavs.
"Dirk and I agreed last year after his Olympic run, which was his dream for Germany, that he would take a year off," Cuban said. "He has the option of returning after this year if that is what he wants to do. Hopefully, instead, the NBA will return the favor to FIBA in the use of our players that FIBA gave to us in summer league."
In announcing to the German media that Nowitzki would not be playing in Poland, federation president Ingo Weiss told reporters that "we accept this decision completely," describing his organization's relationship with the Mavericks as "excellent and reliable."
Nowitzki said he and Mavericks assistant athletic trainer Dionne Calhoun will instead travel to South Africa in early September with Orlando's Dwight Howard and other NBA players as part of the league's Basketball Without Borders program.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
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