What can you say about Dirk Nowitzki? Future Hall of Famer? Yes. NBA Champion and MVP? Certainly. Fun loving jokester? Sure. Lifelong Maverick? Up until few a weeks ago we would have said yes, but seeing as though he opted out of his contract in Dallas after an early playoff exit, we are starting to connect the dots that his time as a Maverick may be coming to an end.
He has done everything in his 18 seasons for the franchise, including bringing a title to the city, but all good things must come to an end eventually. Chandler Parsons looks like he is gone, Zaza Pachulia is on his way out, and Jeremy Evans is a free agent in 2017. Mark Cuban may choose to retool and sign the best B-level free agents, like he always does, but it may be in the franchise’s best interest to just rebuild.
If that happens, Dirk should take the last years he has as an NBA talent and make the most of it. He should look to either win another ring or go be a mentor for a budding young super star. Almost every team in the NBA would jump at the chance to sign a player like Dirk, but the decision is his.
Here are the 15 best possible destinations for Mr. Nowitzki.
29 Golden State Warriors
The Warriors have expressly showed interest in the 38-year-old forward. Obviously if they are able to sign someone like Kevin Durant, Dirk may be too expensive for the team. But if they strike out on Durant then you can expect to see an all-out pursuit from Golden State. Dirk fits into the Warrior’s scheme, which basically means he can shoot a 3. After the horrible performance of Harrison Barnes in the finals, the Warriors would love to find a player who can reliably produce at big moments. If Dirk were to join the Warriors, it would be hard to imagine him playing in a starting role. He wouldn't be the key to fixing all of the Warriors faults; he is a good player who can shoot and make big shots, but the team has have more than enough shooters. The Warriors need a guy who can defend guys who play like Kevin Durant, and Dirk has never had much success playing defense in general. If he were to join the Warriors, Dirk would be a weapon off the bench and as a backup for when Draymond Green inevitably gets suspended, but that would be fine as long as he only cares about winning another ring.
27 Oklahoma City Thunder
Serge Ibaka is out of Oklahoma City and now resides in Orlando. That means the Thunder will be looking for a new forward to take his spot and may be eyeing the German 7 footer. Serge at one point was a key piece of the puzzle for the Thunder, and many analysts were making the argument that he was more important for his team than his teammates James Harden and even Russell Westbrook. His abilities to play in the paint and shoot from the perimeter were great during his glory years, but he has since regressed to a dunker who can sometimes shoot the occasional 3. Dirk would be able to fit right in the spot that Ibaka once occupied. Adding Dirk would give the team another 7 footer who can shoot the ball and cause fits for teams like Golden State, who just don’t have the size to rival the 3 giants that would be running the Thunder’s front court (assuming Durant comes back). If Durant chooses to go to another team, Dirk would never go to the Thunder.
We assume that Dirk has loved his time in the United States, and by all accounts he absolutely has. He seems to have embraced the culture and is even married to an American Woman. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t get a bit homesick. Imagine yourself in his shoes; you have been playing basketball at a dominating level in a foreign country for 18 years, you reached the highest level in the sport that you could possibly achieve, and you still are able to play well, but you know that you would have to take a lesser role to be hired by a good team. Wouldn’t you consider going back home to Germany, where you can play in a city that's as beautiful as Munich and be the star of the team (and the city)? Dirk may look at the European League like soccer players look at the MLS; a great place to play in the twilight of their careers. We see this a more likely alternative than Dirk choosing to play in a place like Minneapolis or Indianapolis.
23 Toronto Raptors
The Raptors were the surprise team of the 2015 season. It was the best year in the team’s history both in win total and in playoff success. With the Pistons, Celtics, and Wizards all poised to come back much stronger next year, it’s tough to see the Raptors being as successful as they were this past season, unless they add a few more playoff ready pieces. They no longer can settle for picking up guys like DeMarre Carroll and calling it their defining off-season move. Toronto is a huge market and fans will support a winning team, so GM Masai Ujiri can’t play moneyball anymore and needs to go after the prize free agents like Kevin Durant or Al Horford. They don’t need Horford, and picking up Durant is pure fantasy, but they may be able to woo a guy like Dirk. He would be able to start for a real playoff contender and have the opportunity to thrive as the third option behind Kevin Lowry and DeMar DeRosen (assuming DeRosen comes back). Aging players should look at moving to the East as most of the potential threats are young with limited playoff experience (Pistons, Celtics), and it would be the least challenging route to get to an NBA Finals. That is if they can somehow get past LeBron.
21 Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks are never going to win a championship with the lineup they are currently using. We love Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Greek Freak is only one man (even if he can play every position). Jabari Parker needs more time before he can be the star we saw at Duke, Michael Carter-Williams hasn’t really lived up to his Rookie of the Year season, and Greg Monroe obviously did not want to play in the team's system. So why would a future Hall-of-Famer chose to spend his final years playing for them? Because of Jason Kidd. Kidd and Dirk famously had a great relationship during their shared time in Dallas, where the two won a championship together. Kidd’s time as a coach in the NBA has been tumultuous, to say the least. He was forced out of Brooklyn and his days in Milwaukee may be over before we know it. Dirk may go to the Bucks and help his old friend by playing a similar role as Kevin Garnett does in Minnesota, a coach-player for all the young players. He could mentor Parker, and he may even be exactly what the team needs to fight for a playoff spot – though at best they are a 7 seed even with Dirk.
19 Miami Heat
It looks like Luol Deng may not be returning to Miami next season. That only magnifies the Heat’s issues in the front court considering their penciled in starters are Chris Bosh and Justice Winslow. Winslow is a young player with a ton of potential, but possibly may never reach it. Bosh may never be able to play again, and even if he does there’s no telling what he may look like. To sure up their frontcourt, signing a guy like Dirk makes sense. He can stand at the perimeter and hit a three, plus he has thrived when he plays with a defensive minded center like Hassan Whiteside (assuming the Heat is able to resign him, which could easily not happen). However, Dirk going to Miami would be a dagger to the hearts of his fans. Yes, Dallas beat them in 2011 in the championship, but the 2006 finals are still a soar subject and Dwayne Wade may be the most hated athlete in the city of Dallas. Nowitzki may not care about losing fans at this point in his career and he fits the Heat’s roster, so he may look at taking his talents to South Beach.
17 Sacramento Kings
Could you imagine how good Dirk would be with DeMarcus Cousins patrolling the paint and Rajon Rondo distributing the ball? This is the ideal lineup for Dirk to thrive in, or at least it would have been 5 years ago. Writers and analysts would scream at Mark Cuban to sign a good center, and it wasn’t until 2010, when he traded for Tyson Chandler, that Cuban finally provided. And what happened that year? The Mavs won the championship. Another piece that Dirk always needed was a true point guard. After Steve Nash went to Phoenix; guys like Devin Harris, Rodrigue Beaubois, Anthony Johnson, and Tyronn Lue all tried to take up the mantle, but never really accomplished anything. When the Mavs traded for Rajon Rondo, most people thought it was a great move and Rondo would truly complete the team. NOPE! Instead he turned the team into a dumpster fire and whined until he was kicked out by his teammates. If Dirk can put his memories of Rondo aside and willingly go to the Kings, Sacramento would greatly benefit.
15 Detroit Pistons
Something great is brewing in Detroit. Let’s assume the Pistons do whatever it takes to lock up Andre Drummond to a long term contract, and they name Reggie Jackson, Stanley Johnson, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as their starters next season. In this situation the Pistons would have to start either Tobias Harris or Marcus Morris at power forward. Tobias is no scrub; he was able to put up almost 15 points a game, but he had no playoff experience going into the 2015 season. Morris also puts up good numbers, but is always a risk to quit on his team like he did in Phoenix. The Pistons really need to bring in a veteran with true playoff success to mentor all these young players and Reggie Jackson will not cut it. Dirk can be that guy while also giving the Pistons a shooter off the bench who can play clutch minutes at the 4. He would graciously share the ball, let Harris and Morris play a lot, and show the team what an NBA champion should play like. Stan Van Gundy would love a professional like Dirk on his team and Dirk is a lovable guy who would get along with the high-energy youngsters that make up the starting lineup. The Pistons say that they are ready to compete and making a move like this would prove it.
13 Charlotte Hornets
Similar to the Pistons, the Hornets have a good young lineup without a real veteran playoff performer. The only player currently expected to start in Charlotte who has any experience getting past the first round of the playoffs is Jeremy Lamb, and he played a total of 12 minutes the last postseason. Kemba Walker is one of the brightest young stars in the game, and if he was playing for a team like the Lakers he would probably be a household name. However, besides Kemba no one on the Hornets is really all that impressive. Frank Kominsky has some potential that he showed in his rookie year, but averaging 7 points a game will not cut it for a starter. If Dirk were to come to Charlotte he would be tasked with taking Frank under his wing and teach him how to shoot the ball. The two men are nearly identical in size and weight, and both are able to shoot. We feel that if Kamisnsky can pick up the same fall away shot that Dirk has been using to dominate the NBA, then nothing would be able to stop him. This spot may not be the place for Dirk to win a ring, but if he wants to mentor a young player then Charlotte would be ideal.
11 Memphis Grizzlies
Memphis is a team that is comprised of a lot of aging veterans who are looking to compete for a ring. Last year their season was derailed by a multitude of injuries to many of their best players. Now the team is in danger of losing star point guard Mike Conley to free agency, so they are going to have to replace him with something. There are no players in free agency who really can replace Conley if he leaves, so you’d have to assume they try to bring in a package of players to pick up the slack. One of the guys who make sense to join the roster would be Dirk. He would come off the bench behind Zach Randolph and play in games when they need a shooter. The Grizzlies are a long shot to compete for the finals next year, and many even expect them to be on the outside looking in when then Playoffs come about, so why would Dirk want to go there? One reason is because they are vaguely reminiscent of the 2010-11 Mavericks that won the title. They have a lot of veterans who have never won a ring, and are starving for one. That list includes All-Stars Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Dirk’s good friend Vince Carter. There is a lot of talent on the squad in Memphis and they may be able to surprise the world.
9 Atlanta Hawks
All of the team's energy and resources will be used to resign Al Horford this offseason, but if he chooses to go elsewhere (like many believe) they may throw a lot of money at Dirk to be a key player for the team. However, Dirk won’t go there unless they also bring back Horford. As we’ve mentioned already, going to the Eastern Conference would be the better choice for Dirk if he is purely seeking a ring, so that’s a good enough reason to go to Atlanta on it's own. That being said, without Horford the Hawks may not be good enough to even make the playoffs. If they are able to resign the All-Star center, The Hawks would still need a guy who can come off the bench and shoot the ball. Kyle Korver was horrible last year, and Thabo Sefolosha did nothing to replace DeMarre Carroll. Dirk would be a great addition to the team, though he would not play many minutes with Paul Millsap, Mike Scott, and Tiago Splitter clogging up the depth chart.
7 Chicago Bulls
This would be the worst-case scenario for Dirk. The Bulls’ squad will be depleted at the end of the offseason. Chicago has already traded Derrick Rose and it looks like Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, and Jimmy Butler may all be on new teams also. While Dirk was growing up in Germany, his favorite team was the Chicago Bulls. After wearing a Mavericks Jersey for the past 18 years, Dirk may want to try something new and Chicago might be just that. There’s very little chance Dirk would be able to get the Bulls to the playoffs with the roster we expect to be in place, but if they are able to resign Pau and/or Noah, and they choose not to trade Butler, then adding Dirk would give them a great shot to make the playoffs and go far. However, with the amount of young teams in the East it would be a very rough road. Dirk may enjoy playing for another team, but he should avoid Chicago, even if he was once a fan.
5 San Antonio Spurs
If you think Dirk would lose fans by going to the Heat, imagine if he went to Dallas’ ultimate rival. It would be a tough pill to swallow for Mavericks fans, but it really would be one of the best spots for Dirk. Part of the reason that many fans expected LaMarcus Aldridge to go to Dallas last offseason was because he pairs very nicely with Dirk. Aldrige is a fantastic scoring big man in the post and from 15 feet from the basket, Dirk would take the rest of the floor. The two would be nearly unguardable together. The Spurs will be in the market for a top tier power forward after the David West experiment failed, and there really aren’t many options for them. With Tim Duncan’s future up in the air, they may look to bringing in another future Hall-of-Famer to be a leader in the locker room. Dirk would love to be in San Antonio as it would be the ideal place for him to go to win another ring. Also the allure of playing for Gregg Popovich cannot be understated. If the Spurs are able to get a player like Durant, then they may not pursue Dirk. However, we see Dirk as their number 2 target in this free agency.
3 Cleveland Cavaliers
If Dirk is really in the business to win another ring, why not go to the most recent winner? During much of the playoffs it looked like the Cavs didn’t have a weak spot. Everyone was shooting the lights out and the team was clicking on all cylinders. One of the key players during the playoff stretch was Channing Frye who averaged 7 points in 14 minutes. However, Frye is making nearly 8 million dollars each year to back up Kevin Love, so there is a good chance he may be cut. Dirk could demand more money, but he would be far more effective than Frye at the exact same role. He could be trusted to play significant minutes in games that matter or in games where Love isn’t playing well. At this point in his career, Dirk would be willing to take a backup role and a pay cut to play on a team like Cleveland. Adding Dirk would give Cleveland yet another weapon on the bench and a helpful cog when the playoffs come around. Also, who wouldn’t want to play with LeBron James?
1 Dallas Mavericks
Ok, so Dirk is probably not leaving Dallas. Since Troy Aikman retired, no other athlete has been nearly as beloved in that city as Dirk Nowitzki is. Seeing him change jerseys would be absolutely surreal and borderline horrifying. He has said that he has no intention to ever leave the Mavs countless times. However, Dirk also has said that if the Mavs choose to start 5 rookies he would then, and only then, consider changing teams. Mark Cuban may choose to strip down the team and rebuild for the first time since he bought the team in 2000, so this may be the year that 5 rookies start. However after the draft, we really doubt it. If it is true, Cuban and Dirk have probably had a meeting earlier this year. That meeting would have to involve Cuban saying words, “You’ve been amazing Dirk, now go get another ring cause you won’t get one here.” That is the only way Dirk would leave his home.