DALLAS — Dirk Nowitzki reaffirmed his intention to return to the Dallas Mavericks for a record-breaking 21st season.
“That’s the plan,” Nowitzki said before Tuesday’s season finale, his first public comments since undergoing surgery last week to remove bone spurs in his left ankle. “That’s why I went ahead and got the surgery, kind of get the whole process started, get the rehab process started early. I’m planning on coming back.
“I didn’t miss a lot of games this year. I felt fine most of the time. I always said all year that I want to fulfill that two-year contract if possible. I saw nothing this year that was going to stop it. So, as of now, we’ll see how the rehab goes the next few weeks and how the ankle responds, but obviously I’m going to work towards the season.”
Nowitzki, the sixth-leading scorer in NBA history, did not rule out extending his career beyond next season.
“I’m hoping the ankle will be tons better than this year, and then I’m hoping I can play some decent basketball next year, and we’ll kind of go from there,” Nowitzki said. “I always kind of leave the end open. It’s just hard for me at this point to commit further than one year or say one year is it. I kind of want to see how it goes.”
Nowitzki, who joins Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant as the only players in NBA history to play 20 seasons for only one franchise, said he has known for months that he would need surgery on his ankle. He still managed to play in 77 games, the most ever for a player in his 20th season, and averaged 12.0 points and 5.7 rebounds while shooting 45.6 percent from the floor and 40.9 percent from 3-point range.
Nowitzki, 39, said he “felt at times I was moving on one leg out there” this season, adding to the frustrations as the Mavs (24-57 entering Tuesday’s game against the Phoenix Suns) endured the worst season of his career. He will wear a protective boot on his left foot for the next three or four weeks and then begin a rehabilitation process that will last much of the offseason.
However, Nowitzki never wavered in his goal of completing the two-year, $10 million contract he signed last summer. The Mavs technically hold a team option for his $5 million salary next season, but owner Mark Cuban has indicated that is a mere formality.
“I’ve said it numerous times: I want to help push through the tough times,” Nowitzki said. “I came into the league here, we had some tough times, didn’t make the playoffs a few years. Then we were riding the high time. We won 50 games every year. It seemed like it was easy. We took it for granted. And the last couple of years have been tough, so hopefully I can help the team push through those times. We have some interesting young pieces that can get better and hopefully be cornerstones of this franchise one day. I think we’re on the right path. We’ve just got to keep pushing, and I’m here to help push through.”
With 31,187 career points, Nowitzki stands only 232 behind Wilt Chamberlain for the fifth spot on the all-time scoring list. However, as Nowitzki noted with a laugh, LeBron James (31,028 points) is closing quickly on him.
“I always say, that’s not one thing that keeps me going,” Nowitzki said. “I don’t think I want to come back another year just to move up in the scoring ladder. I play the game for fun, I play to compete, I play to win most nights, so that’s what I go for. If things happen along the way, that’s great.
“Like I always say, it’s an honor to be among these guys already. And the good thing is, the way it’s looking, LeBron’s going to pass me before [catching Chamberlain is] going to happen, so I go right back down to No. 6. Got all the merchandise for it already. We’re good to go.”