The Dirk Nowitzki Era: How to Build Around a 7-Foot Machine

In the NBA, a common strategy that has been implemented by almost every team is to shy away from being a middle tier team. Many NBA executives will argue if you’re not good enough to win a championship, but too good to get a high draft pick, then you’re in “No Man’s Land”. Just ask the Philadelphia 76ers, when they blew up their team just a season after signing Jrue Holliday and Andrew Bynum to big deals. Fast forward three seasons later, and the Sixers are once again battling for the worst record in the league.

A team that likes to prove that bottoming out is a waste of time is the Dallas Mavericks. They are a team that tweaks its roster practically every season, in order to build around their superstar, Dirk Nowitzki. Their trial and error type philosophy has prevented them from trying to build a Lebron/Bosh/Wade Miami team or a Pierce/Allen/Garnett Celtics team. Instead, they flirt with title contention every year, by making smart signings and not always going for the best talent, but the best supporting cast for Dirk.

Dirk Notwizki is one of the greatest shooters of all-time. He’s so dangerous, that a contested off balance 20 footer is considered a “good” shot. However, even in Dirk’s prime he was not the greatest rebounder or defender, so coaches Don Nelson, Avery Johnson and Rick Carlisle spent their time figuring out ways to shield Dirk’s weaknesses.

Dwayne-Wade

In the 2006 Finals, the Mavericks finally built a strong enough team to beat the Spurs and face Dwyane Wade, Shaq, and the rest of the Miami Heat. As far as talent goes, I’d truly be surprised if this Mavs team would even make the playoffs in today’s Western Conference. Seriously. Besides Dirk, the next best five players on that team were Jason Terry, Josh Howard, Jerry Stackhouse, Keith Van Horn, Devin Harris, and Erick Dampier. Their lack of a superior wing defender caused Dwyane Wade to shoot 97 free throw attempts in the series, and ultimately win the championship in six games.

After this series, the Mavericks were known as a one and done team in the playoffs. The following season they went a franchise record 67-15, only to lose to the eighth seed Baron Davis Warriors in the first round. After such an upset, the Mavericks figured out that Dirk can’t win it by himself and decided to chase another superstar who had the same issue of being so close to winning it all, but no cigar: Mr. Jason Kidd of the Newark New Jersey Nets. For the first time in a while the Mavericks decided to get rid of a lot of their assets, trading Devin Harris, Keith Van-Horn, DeSagana Diop, Trenton Hassell, three million dollars, and two first round draft picks.

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Kidd was able to help in numerous ways and led the Mavericks, alongside Dirk, to become one of the toughest teams in the West. However, they still could not find their niche to excel in the playoffs. From 2008-2010, the Mavs lost to a much more athletic Chris Paul Hornets team in the first round, an unguardable Carmelo Anthony Nuggets team in the second round, and fellow Texas rival San Antonio Spurs in the first round.


In the summer of 2010, the Mavericks traded for rim protector Tyson Chandler, and with the past acquisition of Shawn Marion, they were able to solidify their defense.

Due to their past struggles in the playoffs, the 2010-2011 Mavericks were considered major underdogs, even though their record was 57-25. In the first round they fought a Trail Blazers team with an injured superstar in Brandon Roy. The Mavs were able to go up 2-0 at home, but then lost the next two in Portland, because Brandon Roy defied all odds and went bananas, only to become one of the most tragic stories in all of sports with his ailing knees.

Once the series was tied at 2-2 apiece, many doubted the Mavericks, but they fought back the next two games and won the series 4-2. Still, after barely getting past the first round against such an inferior team, they were going to get creamed by the Lakers in round 2!

The 2010-2011 Lakers had just won two championships in a row and were looking to threepeat. Are you willing to tell me that backup point guard JJ Barea was going to become an all-star in this series? Was he going to beat every Laker off the dribble and get open layups/shots off of his penetration? Was he going to piss off Ron Artest and Andrew Bynum so much that they both get ejected? Yeah, that happened. Mavericks swept the Lakers.

After beating 21-year-old James Harden and the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Mavs made it to the finals to face the Miami Heat again. How fitting. The good news was that Shaq was gone; the bad news was that Lebron James and Chris Bosh at the peak of their powers were in, not to mention Dwyane Wade wasn’t an injury plagued shell of himself yet.

This was probably my favorite finals series to watch, because this specific Mavericks team was created in a laboratory to murder Lebron James. Offensively, Dirk was on fire. He had been in this spotlight situation before against familiar faces, like Udonis Haslem. No one could guard Dirk in the post, and that enabled his teammates to get open threes as well.

On the defensive end, you had Shawn Marion, one of the best defenders at his position, locked into Lebron. Whenever Lebron was lucky enough to get by Marion, Tyson Chandler was right there to alter his shots. This would go down as Lebron’s worst playoff series in his legendary career. Dwyane Wade was so pissed off, he openly yelled at Lebron.

Not to mention Deshawn Stevenson rained threes the whole series, and talked shit to Lebron on the other end.

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It’s important to note that the Mavs won a championship without their second best scorer, Caron Butler, who was out early in the season and all of the playoffs. This was a remarkable run that should not be overlooked. The odds were so incredibly against this team, but they played hard, and they played together. The process sorted itself out.

That fairytale season ended with Dirk though. Throughout this run, and especially in the finals, Dirk hit some incredible shots and willed his team to victory. The Mavericks have always relied on Dirk in crunch time, because he’s a big time player. Whenever the Mavericks were not successful, they never blamed it on Dirk. Dirk has never been considered a one-dimensional player, because even if he might be, he’s so incredibly gifted at what he does that the ends justify the means.


Constantly building around one player gives you the leverage of being able to screw up occasionally, without any lingering circumstances. Right after Dirk won his first title, the Mavericks low-balled Tyson Chandler on a contract extension offer with the hopes of saving money to attract Dwight Howard and Deron Williams. That decision alone ended up screwing them over. Tyson Chandler signed with the Knicks, and then the season after that Jason Kidd signed with the Knicks. The Knicks built their own offensive juggernaut around Carmelo Anthony, using the same Mavericks schemes of isolation, spacing the floor, and throwing passes out of double teams for open threes, meanwhile solidifying defensive holes with Tyson’s uncanny ability to alter shots in the paint.

The Mavericks didn’t make the playoffs in 2013 for the first time in over a decade, finishing with a 42-42 record. After this, I felt it would be wise for the Mavericks to blow it up and trade Dirk. He was already 34 years old. With the West getting stronger every season, and the Mavs striking out on every big name free agent, I felt it made sense to gain a lot of picks, or young talent from a contender for Dirk. I was wrong. Somehow, the Mavericks turned it around in only two years. People I present the 2015 Dallas Mavericks Depth Chart via ESPN.com:

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Yeah, they got Tyson back (thanks Phil).

This is by far the most talented team in the history of the Dallas Mavericks. You can argue Dirk has fallen off a bit, but his shot is still dangerous, and he converted an alley-oop at the All-Star Game, plus after signing Amar’e Stoudemire, Dirk will be able to rest a lot more often this season.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at New York Knicks

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the Amar’e Stoudemire signing was a really good idea. According to basketball-reference.com STAT is averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds per 36 minutes. For someone who is going to average around 20 minutes a game for the Mavericks, that’s a tremendous bargain. He can come in with fresh legs and hit open 15 footers off of Rondo, Tyson pick and rolls, or he can just dance around with the ball and make some awkward post moves, the sky’s the limit!

Even if the Mavericks get swept in the first round for the remainder of the Dirk Nowitzki era, I still consider this blueprint as a success. If you have a specialist, you build around that specialist, unless he doesn’t want to be a part of your team anymore.

A huge reason why the Dirk Nowitzki era won’t be something my kids will be talking about is because throughout this era, Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant played in the same conference as Dirk and won five championships apiece. Dirk Nowitzki will go down as one of the greatest international players to ever play the game, and one of the most likable players. If you are a 7-footer who takes 20-foot turn-around jumpers with a hand in your face, and you don’t get criticized, you’re doing something right!

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