Mavericks preview: Will Dirk Nowitzki's patience run thin?

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

It seems unthinkable that Dirk Nowitzki will play for any other franchise, but if Dallas submits yet another mediocre season, will he really want to play out the string there as his career winds down?

Mark Cuban's grand plans to reload the Dallas Mavericks after the 2011 championship have not worked out. Tyson Chandler, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and J.J. Barea all moved on quickly; Kidd was the only one Dallas seemed interesting in bringing back.

Those four players were Nos. 1, 2, 5 and 6 in minutes played for the title team. The other two players from the top-six in minutes played that season -- Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion -- are the only two players on the 2013-14 roster from the championship squad. That was a wholly quick relaunch.

But the relaunch, again, hasn't gone as planned. Deron Williams? Struck out. Chris Paul? Not even remotely close. Dwight Howard? Nope, he chose a different Texas team.

Instead, the Mavericks continued along their path toward becoming Dirk's Roster of Misfit Toys. Vince Carter and Brandan Wright, good contributors, are sticking around. Samuel Dalembert came in to replace Brendan Haywood. The maligned Monta Ellis signed a pretty reasonable deal to replace O.J. Mayo who ... replaced Ellis in Milwaukee. To solve a lack of depth at point guard, Dallas signed 30-year-old Devin Harris and 31-year-old Jose Calderon. They threw in Wayne Ellington for kicks, and have some interesting young prospects like Jae Crowder, Ricky Ledo and Shane Larkin.

Dirk is now 35 and seems totally unlikely to play for any other NBA team. His current contract, a four-year, $80 million poundcake signed in 2010, expires at the end of the season. I believe Cuban when he says Dirk will play in Dallas as long as Dirk wants to play in Dallas. I wonder if that time is coming to an end.

Dallas missed the playoffs by four games last season, and there are real concerns that while the Mavs basically stayed level in the offseason or improved only a modest amount, other teams in their range got much better. The Timberwolves, Blazers and Pelicans all finished below Dallas in the standings, and all expect to compete for the postseason. The only teams above Dallas who devolved are the Lakers (who lost Dwight Howard and some amount of Kobe Bryant) and the Jazz. The Nuggets also got worse with the loss of Andre Iguodala, but Denver has a 16-game cushion on Dallas.

If the Mavericks have another lottery season right around 41 wins, will Dirk want to come back? He's played fewer minutes in each of the last three seasons than in any year but his rookie campaign. His scoring is falling off and he's just a fringe All-Star candidate at this point. If the point after the free agent failures is to surround Dirk with a motley crew of veterans and hope for the best, that's a disservice to Dirk's final years. Dallas absolutely tried to do better by him, but the effort fell short and the Mavericks' on-court efforts are almost certainly going to fall short. Is there anything Dallas is going to do in the next three years to make one of Nowitzki's final seasons count?

The likelihood of Dirk leaving for another team is slim. But if this is another rough season for Dallas, questions about whether Nowitzki plans to retire will get louder as a decision approaches. Dallas tried to get Dirk a co-star, and instead got him Monta Ellis. We'll see how Dirk responds once we all see what that means on the court.

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