At the Dallas Mavericks media day on Monday, I asked the best player in the history of the Dallas Mavericks if he felt old. He needed about five seconds to answer a basic question.
"Uhhh ... in my head, probably not; I'm probably in my early 20s," he said. "Body wise, yeah - I am probably up there. Year 17. I still feel good. I had the knee thing a couple of years ago. Last year showed me I could play at a high level and compete and it was fun again."
Despite the additions of Tyson Chandler and Chandler Parsons, or even Monta Ellis last season, Mark Cuban's toy remains Dirk, Dirk, Dirk.
He is 36, and is coming off a season where he played 80 games and averaged 21.7 points and 6.2 rebounds. He also averaged 32.9 minutes per game. That figure has to come down.
Last season, Dirk showed he can still do it. The concern for the Mavericks regarding Dirk is not whether he can still do it, but how to ask less of him and still expect to win games. I asked Mavs coach Rick Carlisle how they can ask less of their franchise player.
"That's a good question," he said.
That's right - it was a good question. Please continue...
"I'd like to keep to continue to work his minutes gradually down if I could," Carlisle said. "We are going to have to find a high energy level with our guys and play with a lot of pace. If we can do that, I think we can find a way to get 32 minutes maybe down to 29 - who knows? A lot of it is spacing and how you rest him. He played bigger minutes late in the year. The important thing was when we got to that he was fresh enough he could do it. We are looking big picture with him."
This is not the first time Carlisle has tried to massage and manage a Hall of Fame player near the end of his career, and monitored minutes closely to save aging legs.
In 2003-'04 and '04-'05, Carlisle coached Indiana Pacers guard Reggie Miller when he was 38 and 39.
"There are similarities. We were vigilant how we played Reggie his last couple of years," Carlisle said. "But he was a different position and a different style of player. There are some similarities, but many, many differences."
In his last two seasons, Reggie averaged 28.2 and 21.9 minutes, respectively, and 10 and 14.8 points in each of his final two years.
Having signed a three-year contract over the summer, Dirk is not expecting to retire any time soon. He said he expects to fulfill this deal, and for the time being he should remain the Dirk we have all come to completely take for granted.
The question for the Mavs is how to ask less of their Hall of Famer, while still expecting to win games.
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