We've often viewed the summer of 2010 as the year of the big three: Lebron, Wade, and Bosh. There's a valuable second tier of guys like Boozer, Amare, Johnson, and Lee whom we'd all like to add but fear will be overpaid. It begs the question, where exactly does Dirk Nowitzki fit in?
Dirk's age, 32 this summer, doesn't exactly match a team that wants to build around Derrick Rose for a long time. However, his game couldn't fit with Rose any better.
Is there a player in the NBA who could space the floor better at PF than Dirk Nowitzki? Is there a player who'd be more deadly in a pick and pop situation?
One of the reasons we've rarely discussed Dirk is that he's always been largely assumed to remain in Dallas. However, after a third 1st round exit in four years, Dirk may finally consider moving to another team. He's at the age where he needs to try to make a run for ring. Would the Bulls give him a better chance than the Mavs?
Well, getting out of the 1st round will sure as heck be easier in the East that's for sure. His cast in Dallas isn't too special anymore either. Jason Kidd is done as an impact player, absolute joke of an all-star selection aside, he simply is no where near the player he was even two years ago which was no where near where he was in his prime. The same can be said of Shawn Marion.
Let's face it, unless Mark Cuban pulls a rabbit out of his hat, the Mavs are coming back worse than last season again. They don't really have any great trade assets to force a sign and trade, and they sure as heck aren't under the cap, so they're backed into a corner.
Also, unlike may FAs, Dirk won't be giving up a significant amount of money to
switch teams due to his age. He falls into the "over-36" rule. If
I'm reading the rule correctly, Dirk's 5th and 6th years count as over
36 years since he will be 32 when he signs his contract. Due to that,
they count as "deferred" salary, and thus their money actually counts
on the cap for years 1-4.
My interpretation is any contract 4-6 years is locked into
the same total value, but the four year version is paid out in four
instead of five/six years, so there's no reason for Dirk to sign a five or
six year deal. The Mavs could offer the slightly larger raises for
years 2-4, but the gap is only three million total dollars.
worth noting that Dirk is eligible for a far higher max deal than other
players. We'd be paying Dirk 93 million over four seasons if we
signed him which would eliminate the ability to bring in any other FA
making over a million dollars, and the rest of the roster might be
filled out with guys at the league minimum.
Given the salary difference is small, and Dirk probably prefers to return to Dallas unless his situation is significantly improved, the question becomes are Dirk's odds at a title significantly better as a Bull than a Maverick?
We know the Mavericks aren't a legit contender in the west. Since their finals appearance, the farthest the Mavs have made it is the second round of the playoffs. Are the Bulls considerably better than that?
With Dirk, I think they are. It would take a few things breaking just right, but I think that the Bulls with Dirk could be a legit contender next season and are on an even playing field with the best teams in the conference. It's hard to tell where the chips fall with every team, but let's take a look at the teams we expect to be great.
Cleveland - Still a one man show. Let's face it, if the Bulls had Dirk this year, they would have beaten the Cavs in the playoffs the way they played. Now, if the competition raised they may have also raised their games as well, but the would have had to entirely change their strategy towards defending Rose. The Cavs, if they resign James, are still likely worse next season than this season. They have no significant contributors who are likely to improve and several who are likely to decline.
Orlando - Orlando is in a similar boat with Cleveland in that they're good, but how can they improve from within? They also have no players on the roster on the upswing. They could use the MLE, but their financial situation makes that a tentative bet, and the talent at the MLE this year will be very low anyway.
Miami - If they keep Wade and bring in Bosh/Amare then they'd have an elite core, but they'd have very little else there. They'd still probably be awfully deadly through the strength of those two players though.
Atlanta - They have some pieces that still might have some improvement left on the table, and none of their major pieces outside of Bibby should be in notable decline. They're probably going to come back similar to where they are if they keep Joe Johnson.
Boston - Clearly they are on the downswing and aren't a threat to win the title next season even if they'll win 50 games in the regular season.
Milwaukee - I think they already overachieved this year, and Bulls fans have seen what Salmons can do when the honeymoon period wears off, so I don't think they're a threat to improve considerably.
Anyone else? - I don't see another team that really has a chance to take the jump outside of the Bulls. The Bobcats are on the downswing despite their playoff birth, the Raptors will lose their best player, and none of the other non playoff teams are close enough to make a jump.
How do the Bulls stack up?
Well, Derrick Rose with Dirk in a pick and roll might become the most difficult play in the NBA to stop. A combination of a big man with Dirk's range and accuracy and a guard with Derrick's ability to get to the hole would just dominate the hell out of teams. As a play combination, it'd be more deadly than anything Bosh or Amare would bring to the table for as long as Dirk's ability doesn't fall off a cliff.
Now I'm scared of Dirk declining in ability. Much like Ben Wallace, he's slowing down statistically, and while I think Dirk's game translates with age infinitely better than Wallace's it is worth checking out the warning signs. His PER over five seasons: 28.1, 27.6, 24.6, 23.1, 22.9. Now the first two seasons were MVP caliber PER years, and the last three seasons are still serious all-star caliber levels, but we've definitely seen that number decrease for five straight seasons.
Declining PER isn't always a sign of decline as players achieve PER partially through being a focal point. The Mavs may have simply relied on Nowitzki less to partially cause his dipping PER while trying to play more effective team basketball, and it's awfully difficult to ascertain the difference between supremely deadly and really really deadly when I only watch him play maybe eight times or so a season.
The fact that he'd be making near 20 million a season if he declines is also scary, but the four year commitment takes the edge off. A S&T of Amare or Boozer that nets one of those guys six years becomes a train wreck if they start cashing it in after a season. With Dirk, I think you get a high quality player for four straight seasons, but that quality might go from top 10 to top 25 by year four.
So where should Dirk rate in our off season plans if available? I'm sticking him in at #3, and I'm tempted to put him in at #2.
This list assumes everyone is getting a max contract, and doesn't take into consideration what might have to be given up to get a guy in here in terms of trade value. So if Bosh takes Joakim Noah in trade, but Dirk, Wade, Amare, and Boozer didn't then Bosh would slide lower on the list.
Also it's worth noting not all max contracts are created equally, but I am taking into account the personal max the player can get since that's a known quantity.