Dirk Nowitzki is a changed man on a Mavericks team that has changed again this offseason.
By ART GARCIAFS Southwest
DALLAS— At first listen, Dirk Nowitzki's summer sounds like a bad reality show.
"I got married like four times," he said Friday afternoon at Media Day, signaling the start of training camp for the
Rest assured, the marriages were to the same person. Nowitzki celebrated his union with Jessica Olsson in the Caribbean, her native Kenya, his Germany and back home in Dallas.
An exciting new chapter in the life of the 34-year-old has begun. As for the old chapter, that of a 14-year NBA veteran and team leader, it's back to the grind with a clear head and sound body.
Nowitzki returns refreshed and ready to practice, a marked contrast from last December when he and the rest of the league were unsure as to whether there would even be a season. The Big German wasn't physically or mentally ready for camp, and it showed.
The Mavericks had to even shut down Nowitzki for a week during the season because he was so out of shape. That had previously been unheard of for a player with Dirk's unquestioned work ethic and commitment.
"It was a great lesson to learn that I can't shut it down all the way to zero anymore and expect to be in shape in four weeks," he said. "You can do when you're in your 20s, but not after 14 years in the league. Even though it was a tough year for me last year, it was a good learning experience."
It wasn't tough just physically. The Mavericks were in a state of transition, some might rightly say decay, after blowing up the 2011 title team. Nowitzki lost several valued teammates, including Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea, and a legitimate chance to repeat. The Mavs were embarrassingly swept in the first round.
This summer also had plenty of bad news – Deron Williams, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd – but as we've learned, the Mavs rallied and so did Nowitzki's outlook.
"I was pretty disappointed with the way July started," he said. "At first Deron didn't come and then J-Kidd and Jet left, two warriors that had been through a lot of stuff with me and won the championship together and were like brothers to me. That was tough to see those two guys go somewhere else. It's going to be weird to see them in different uniforms, for sure.
"But then I think we settled in a little bit."
They sure did. Chris Kaman, Elton Brand, O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison were brought into the fold, bringing with them hope that this season isn't just a formality that has to be played out to get to the next round of free agency.
"We have a heck of a team for basically saying we're still going to be a player next summer and still put a decent product out there," Dirk said.
Nowitzki said Kaman, his former German teammate, "should be the best offensive center that I've played with here in my career." Dirk is equally excited about Collison's skill set and ability to create, and Brand's versatility. Mayo's signing admittedly surprised Nowitzki, who didn't know the Mavs were even talking to O.J.
"We've got a lot of potential," Nowitzki said.
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle is equally amped about the changes. He concedes the challenges in working at least three or four newcomers into the rotation, with two or three probably starting. It doesn't hurt that Kaman and Brand are former All-Stars.
Carlisle heads into Saturday's first practice at American Airlines Center with championship aspirations.
"You have to think that way," said Carlisle, entering his fifth year in Dallas with a four-year contract extension. "If you're setting yourself for most-improved that's kind of a demeaning way to approach it from a fan perspective."
Nowitzki is a bit more cautious. The West has three teams that appear a cut above the rest. The defending conference champs reside in Oklahoma City. Steve Nash and Dwight Howard have joined forces with Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles. San Antonio has quietly had the West's best record the last two years.
"Where we're going to end, I have no idea," Nowitzki said. "I think the West is stacked, especially on the top. It's going to be tough to crack those top two or three up there, but we're sure going to try."
The Lakers have caught Dirk's eye, labeling their starting lineup "almost an All-Star" team.
"They're going to be tough to beat if they stay injury-free," he said. "Nobody knows how Dwight is feeling after his back surgery. If they're all healthy, they're definitely a tough team and one of the favorites in a tough West.
"It was definitely weird to see Steve in a Phoenix uniform. It'll be even weirder now to see him in a Lakers jersey."
Imagining No. 41 in anything other than a Dallas jersey is ever weirder. He's ready to have it on again after not touching a basketball for more than three months. He's rested and reenergized, while also being fit after a summer of cardio and hitting the weights.
Between weddings, of course.
"That's a big chunk," he said. "If I feel good, we're going to be OK."