Dirk Nowitzki's season is over, but all signs point to a Mavericks return at age 40

Yahoo Sports

Dallas Mavericks legend Dirk Nowitzki‘s 20th NBA season is over, the team announced on Thursday.

As for the 39-year-old’s career, that’s another matter.

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Nowitzki underwent minor debridement surgery on his left ankle on Thursday morning, so he will not play the final three games of the season, as the Mavericks (24-55) idle their tank into a resting spot. The surgery had been scheduled for several days, per Dallas Morning News beat writer Eddie Sefko.

He played two games through a left ankle impingement this week after being listed as questionable against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday. The ankle kept him out of Wednesday’s all-important loss to Orlando — a loss that moved them into a tie with the Magic for the NBA’s fourth-worst record.

Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, 39, is expected to be back next season. (AP)
Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, 39, is expected to be back next season. (AP)

Nowitzki played 77 games this season — his most since his 13th and last All-Star campaign — averaging 12 points and 5.7 rebounds in 24.7 minutes per game. His production reached its lowest point since his rookie season in 1998-99, even if the German marksman is still shooting 40 percent from 3-point range, and the Mavericks are guaranteed to submit their worst record since that same rookie year.

The question isn’t whether Nowitzki can return, at least based on reports of the severity (or lack thereof) of his ankle injury — a bone spur-related issue that he’s dealt with throughout his career.

The question is why he would return. He’s owed another $5 million in 2018-19, which, for a man who has nearly a quarter-billion dollars playing basketball, isn’t likely to be a motivating factor. And the Mavs are clearly in a rebuilding stage. So, why? Nowitzki answered that question back in December.

“I’m not going to say 100 percent I’ll be back — but it’s looking like it,” Nowitzki told The Dallas Morning News some four months ago. “I feel fine so far. I’ve played every game. I’d love to play all 82. That would be amazing at [age] 39. We’ll see how the body feels. But so far, it’s been fine.”

It turns out Nowitzki played 77 of his first 78 games before the surgery. He turns 40 on June 19.

“I signed up for, obviously, two years to help the franchise push through [the rebuilding process] and get better,” Nowitzki added back in December. “I didn’t think we would be sitting here 10 [games] over .500. I mean, I wasn’t delusional. … As long as my body feels fine like it has so far, with no setbacks like last year when I missed two months, I’m looking forward to hopefully fulfilling my contract.”

We shall see if this is enough of a setback to alter his thinking, but early reports are hopeful we won’t have to say goodbye to one of the game’s all-time greats yet. ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, Dallas Morning News writer Eddie Sefko and New York Times scribe Marc Stein — three of the closest reporters to Nowitzki — all reported that the surgery isn’t deemed so severe that it will impact his decision. Rather, he opted for the surgery to improve his chances of returning for a 21st season, according to Stein.

With the franchise’s lone championship and 31,187 career points (232 points behind Wilt Chamberlain for fifth in NBA history) in tow, Nowitzki can play as long as he wants in Dallas, even if he’s barely mobile on defense at this point. And here’s hoping he’s got a season full of fade-aways left in him.

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Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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