Nowitzki a changed man on a changed Mavs squad
Dirk Nowitzki is a changed man on a Dallas Mavericks team that has again changed drastically around him.
There are eight new players since the Mavericks were swept out of the playoffs in May, and none of them are named Deron Williams. Nowtizki and Shawn Marion are the only players left on the roster that were on the floor when Dallas won its only NBA title less than 16 months ago.
''I was obviously disappointed there the way (free agency) started. First Deron didn't come and then (Jason) Kidd and Jet (Jason Terry) left,'' Nowtizki said Friday. ''But then we settled in a little bit. We got younger, we got more athletic and that was our goal around me. ... I feel good, that's already a big jump. If I feel good, we're going to be OK.''
The new-look Mavericks open training camp Saturday, and will have six practices in four days before going overseas for games in Berlin and Barcelona.
That gives Nowitzki a chance to play at home in Germany, where he was for about nearly a month this summer before returning to Texas last week.
That also means a few extra days together for a team that has to get to know each other. The roster includes five new veteran players - Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones - and three drafted rookies.
While his teammates were changing, Nowitzki made a significant change in his personal life as well before his 15th NBA season. He got married.
''It was a busy summer for sure. Kind of opened a new chapter in my life, so that was fun, and traveled around a bunch,'' Nowitzki said before joking about he and his bride's numerous ceremonies in different countries. ''Got married about four times, I think. It was good times. I had a blast and got to experience new things.''
Nowtizki said he didn't pick up a basketball for about three months, but unlike the uncertain offseason that preceded the lockout last season, he was still lifting weights and running, even during his many travels.
Following a shortened training camp last December, Nowitzki averaged 21.6 points a game, his lowest total since his first full season in 1999-2000.
There was even a four-game stretch in January when he was held out of the lineup to improve his game conditioning and sore right knee. During the pregame ceremony when championship rings were presented, he was wearing a suit instead of his No. 41 jersey.
''For me, it was actually a great lesson to learn, that I can't just shut it down to all the way to zero anymore and expect to be in shape in four weeks,'' he said. ''You can do that when you're in your 20s, not after 14 years in the league. Even though it was a tough year for me last year, I think it was a good learning experience for me.''
The 7-foot Nowitzki said when he got back on the court before last season he couldn't even touch the bottom of the backboard.
''The startup was a lot easier than last year. ... This year I can touch it a little bit,'' he said. ''I feel good, I feel refreshed, I'm ready to go.''
Coach Rick Carlisle, who got a new four-year contract this summer, is excited about having a lot of new guys at multiple positions. It will take time to incorporate eight new players in the system, including three or four in the regular playing rotation. Two or three of the newcomers will be starters.
But they will have 31 days together before the regular season opens Oct. 30 at the Los Angeles Lakers. And Carlisle plans to adjust to the players, instead of just trying to cram them into the Mavericks system.
That includes getting to where Collison, their new point guard, is able to direct things on the court much like Kidd did.
''My ongoing goal is to call less or no plays if we can,'' Carlisle said. ''We want our guys to make plays, not call plays.''
Right after Dallas acquired him in a trade from Indiana, Collison started watching film of his new teammates to determine how they played and where they liked to get the ball. Collison knows Nowitzki sets the tone.
''Dirk is so good, he doesn't need anybody to get him going. He gets himself going,'' Collison said. ''He'll do a good job helping us get on pace with him.''
Nowitzki won an NBA title with Kidd, thought there was a chance to be playing with Williams and then it looked as if there might be a Mavericks reunion with old friend Steve Nash, twice an NBA MVP after leaving Dallas for Phoenix.
Nash instead wound up with the Los Angeles Lakers.
''It was definitely weird to see Steve in a Phoenix uniform,'' Nowitzki said. ''It will be weirder to see him with a Lakers jersey.''