While NBA teams await the decisions of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, the two biggest dominoes yet to fall in free agency, Marc Stein of ESPN reported the decision of a similarly large domino Thursday that no one was waiting to fall.
According to Stein, Dirk Nowitzki agreed to a new three-year contract with the only team he has ever played for, the Dallas Mavericks, in a deal believed to be worth around $30 million.
The reason no one was waiting for the former Finals MVP to make his decision was because no one expected, even for a minute, for Nowitzki to consider leaving the Mavericks.
Instead, Nowitzki has given his team a head start on the rest of free agency for two reasons.
The first is that, presuming the deal will pay Nowitzki around $10 million per year as reported, the Mavericks will have extreme flexibility to add quality players while remaining under the cap.
Consider that reports surfaced Wednesday that Miami Heat power forward Chris Bosh was looking for a five-year deal worth $18 million per year — not a stretch given his value but impossible for the cap-strapped Heat to honor while still retaining James and adding any quality talent — and you get an idea of how big of a sacrifice Nowitzki is making even if his best years are behind him.
But the biggest reason this deal helps Dallas this offseason is that the Mavericks, equipped with cap flexibility, can now survey the rest of the free agent landscape and act accordingly.
They’ve already reacquired the best center Nowitzki has ever played with in Tyson Chandler, getting him back in a six-player trade with the New York Knicks that also netted them point guard Raymond Felton.
Whether or not Felton is an upgrade over Jose Calderon, who went to New York in the deal, remains to be seen.
But if Chandler is anywhere near as effective at protecting the rim as he was during the Mavs’ 2011 title run the team is already improved.
Dallas still has the cap space to chase Anthony though reports of Anthony recruiting Los Angeles Lakers free agent big man Pau Gasol to play with him in New York, which surfaced Thursday, may point to the chances of landing him being slim to none.
But again, Dallas is still in a position of power.
Stein also reported that the Mavericks intend to extend an offer sheet to Houston Rockets restricted free agent Chandler Parsons or try to sign Cleveland Cavaliers unrestricted free agent Luol Deng.
Both players represent an upgrade on the wing for Dallas, and a deal with Parsons kills two birds by weakening a division rival.
Dallas can also, of course, attempt to resign free agents Vince Carter and Shawn Marion if all else fails.
That still gives them a slightly better version of the team that took the world champion San Antonio Spurs to seven games in the first round of the playoffs last season.
But the Mavericks have an abundance of options to improve the team early in free agency.
And Nowitzki agreeing to his reported deal Thursday is a big reason for that.