Nowitzki, who ranks sixth in NBA history with 31,187 points, has been open to the idea for the past few years. He said that he anticipated transitioning to a reserve role when the Mavericks signed center DeAndre Jordan in free agency over the summer, considering that Nowitzki has primarily played center the past two seasons due to what he referred to, with a smile, as “movement issues.”
“When we signed DeAndre, it was pretty much clear in my head that I’m coming off the bench,” Nowitzki said at the Mavs’ media day Friday. “It’s all about winning, at the end of the day. Whatever puts us in the best position to win is what we’re going to roll with, and coach Carlisle has obviously shown over his time here that he’s willing to try anything.
“If that’s the case, and I’m coming off the bench, we better keep [an exercise] bike ready and keep a couple of massage therapists in the back, and I’ll be ready to go.”
Nowitzki, 40, who averaged 12.0 points and 5.7 rebounds in 24.7 minutes per game last season, is likely to be limited at the beginning of training camp as he continues to recover from spring ankle surgery. He said he suffered a minor setback after playing pickup games last season and feeling soreness in his tendons, but the Mavs are optimistic that he will be able to play during their preseason trip to China.
Nowitzki’s transition to the bench would have made sense regardless of his health, as Carlisle plans to start Jordan at center and rookie Luka Doncic as a playmaking power forward.
“It’s pretty obvious at this point — and Dirk knows this, and we’ve talked about it — that we have to move the franchise forward the right way,” Carlisle said. “Dennis [Smith Jr.] and [Wesley] Matthews and Harrison [Barnes] and Luka and DeAndre right now look to me like the best team to start games. We need Wes out there to guard the best wing player, the best perimeter player. We need DeAndre out there to be our center. And I think the other pieces fall into place.”
Nowitzki has started all but 31 of his 1,471 games, with the vast majority of his appearances off the bench coming during his rookie season in 1998-99. However, the Mavs’ rotation has been constructed in recent years for Nowitzki to play extensively with units otherwise featuring all reserves.
That lineup was by far the Mavs’ most successful last season, as a 24-win Dallas team outscored opponents by 19.4 points per 100 possessions when Nowitzki was on the floor with reserves J.J. Barea, Yogi Ferrell, Devin Harris and Dwight Powell, all of whom (with the exception of Ferrell) are still on the Mavs’ roster.
“Look, for 20 years, he’s been a starter,” Carlisle said. “We’re going to have to really work on the best way to get him prepared to go into the game if this is going to be the way that we go. There will be constant dialogue. We’re going to have a lot of communication about it.”