According to Tim McMahon of ESPN, Dirk Nowitzki, a comfortably above-average basketball player at age 39, is close to signing a two-year, $10 million deal to continue and possibly conclude his career in Dallas.
If that seems comically light, well, it is. Nick Young will make more money than Dirk next year. P.J. Tucker will make more money than Dirk next year. Dion Waiters will make a lot more money than Dirk next year. Kelly Olynyk, who approximates Dirk about as well Adam Lambert approximates Freddy Mercury, will likely double the legend's salary. I asked our resident NBA guru Michael Pina to throw out a market value annual salary for what Nowitzki could reasonably make and he said up to $15 million—so, in other words, up to three times what he'll actually get.
This is a thing that can happen when an athlete saves his money and does not employ an agent, as Dirk has and does not, respectively. His last three deals with the Mavericks were not negotiated so much as casually ping-ponged about between Nowitzki and Mark Cuban, with the endgame amounting to one of the 20 greatest NBA players in history leaving tens of millions of dollars on the table in the years since he hauled Dallas to its first NBA championship in 2011.
Whether it's a good thing or not depends on one's perspective. The initial goal was to help the Mavericks retain sufficient cap flexibility to lure a star player to Dallas to ride shotgun with him. As you know by now, that didn't work out, unless you count Deron Williams belatedly boomeranging to Dallas about four years and two lost steps removed from losing a bidding war with Brooklyn. The Mavericks never developed one, either, and so Nowitzki's prime and late-prime years were bled dry by a front office that badly miscalculated how to best manipulate an evolving collective bargaining agreement. He was the disheartening forbearer to Kevin Durant's current run of financial altruism, a star who trusted a franchise enough to forfeit his own earnings and was given diminishing returns for his troubles.
That set the stage for this latest, and perhaps final, deal. The two-year pact contains a player option for next year, which Dirk may or may not decline depending on his whims. That's the upshot: Because he has sacrificed so much and he means even more to Dallas, the Mavericks do whatever it is Dirk feels like doing. No NBA star has more cachet in his home market, pre- and post-retirement. Cuban and Co. will pay him as much—or, in this case, as little—as he asks for, consult him on personnel decisions, award him a post-playing role of his choosing, construct him a statue outside the arena, shoe his jersey into the rafters at the earliest possible date, and quite possibly hand him an ownership stake, too.
None of it is enough, exactly; the statue should probably be something more along the lines of a city block. But in a labor market that treats nearly everyone as fungible and disposable, Dirk Nowitzki has the rarest commodity of all: Agency. It's something money can't buy, even if it probably should have brought him more of that, too.