Now that Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki is through the first knee surgery of his career, he’ll lean on the longest absence of his 14 NBA seasons to figure out how soon he can come back.
The short answer: He won’t rush it.
The 11-time All-Star walked gingerly but without a noticeable limp in his first post-op meeting with reporters Tuesday, four days after arthroscopic surgery on his ailing right knee. He says he’s encouraged but wouldn’t go much past that.
Coach Rick Carlisle has said Nowitzki would miss six weeks, but declined Tuesday to offer any updated time frame.
”A timetable at this point is pretty ridiculous to talk about,” said Nowitzki, hunched over the podium with the legs stiffened on his 7-foot frame. ”It’s hard to say right now when the swelling is going to be gone.”
All the 34-year-old Nowitzki knows is he came back too soon after sitting out nine games when the same knee was sore during Dallas’ championship season two years ago. He’s almost certain to surpass that career high in games missed with the season starting next Tuesday at the Los Angeles Lakers. The Mavericks figure to be at least 10 games in before his return.
”We definitely need to find a way to win some games and play some decent basketball until I come back,” Nowitzki said. ”But I don’t think that’s going to change our approach with rushing back. I don’t think we’re going to rush things here.”
Nowitzki said he didn’t have any problems with the knee as he went through offseason workouts, but soreness and swelling kicked in not long after training camp started late last month. He had the knee drained twice and tried to play through it – just as he did with chronic ankle trouble early in his career – before finally giving in to surgery.
He played just one preseason game – the opener in his native Germany.
”It’s not that I was afraid of surgery or scared,” Nowitzki said. ”I wanted to be there, especially with all these new guys. I wanted to be a part of starting the season. Now that’s out of the question, but it’s the right moment to do it.”
Nowitzki said the surgery took care of ”some stuff that needed to be cleaned out” but declined to be more specific. He said doctors didn’t find anything unusual in a knee that’s been through so many seasons. He said workouts will get more intense once the swelling subsides, but he figures he’ll have to be on the court at least a week or two before he can think about getting into a game.
With Nowitzki out, the Mavericks could have four new starters for the opener against the Lakers as they undergo their second roster makeover in two seasons since winning their first title. Some of the scoring load could fall to free agent guard O.J. Mayo, while veterans with as much service time as Nowitzki – Vince Carter and Elton Brand – could get a lot of his minutes at power forward.
The Mavericks would like to replace some of Nowitzki’s scoring and rebounding with another newcomer in his friend and fellow 7-footer, center Chris Kaman. But Kaman remains sidelined with a strained calf, and Carlisle wasn’t sure about the timing of his return Tuesday either, although it seems certain it will be sooner than Nowitzki.
”When Dirk’s in the game, it seems like everybody gets easier shots because the defense is so focused on him,” said new point guard Darren Collison. ”But that just means we’ve got to work a little bit harder, get into the paint a little more. We’ve got the personnel to do it, so we’ll be fine.”
Meanwhile, Nowitzki will be picking through his suit closet every game day for a while. Just don’t expect a new fashion line to crop up.
”If I would have known that, I probably would have stepped it up a little bit and got some new suits this summer,” Nowitzki said. ”I’m bringing the same suits back from the White House, from the championship trophy ceremony. It’s going to be a bunch of repeats.”