Mark Cuban and the Mavericks chose to keep their franchise player, in Dirk Nowitzki, for the long haul. Credit: Getty Images
They were drafted in consecutive spots back in 1998, and their careers followed similar paths.
Paul Pierce won his lone championship in 2008, and was named Finals MVP. Dirk Nowitzki won his lone championship in 2011, and he too was named Finals MVP.
But Pierce can no longer call himself a Celtics lifer. Celtics GM Danny Ainge traded him in a mega-deal to jumpstart a rebuilding effort last summer. Nowitzki will not suffer the same fate as Pierce. Mavs owner Mark Cuban is dead-set on making sure Nowitzki retires in Dallas.
As the defending champions in 2012, the Mavs snuck into the postseason as the No. 7 seed. Last season, they failed to make the playoffs. Like Boston, they seemed to be stuck in mediocrity – exactly where you don’t want to be in the NBA. But Cuban wasn’t ready to blow things up, although he doesn’t fault the C’s for doing so by trading Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
"Every organization has got to make their own decision,” Cuban told Metro Boston. “And Paul is fine. He's moved on, right? And the Celtics did what they felt was right. If it was easy everybody would do it. There are no easy decisions like that in this business. The Celtics are a great organization, just look up at the banners. So it's hard to question them."
Now, Ainge must figure out which players are going to be in it for the long haul. Everybody knows what Rajon Rondo can do. And it now looks like a healthy Jared Sullinger is something special. Are those guys capable of taking the torch from Pierce and KG and maintaining that "Celtic Pride?"
For Cuban, keeping Nowitzki has just as much to do with his skill as it does his overall meaning to the organization.
"I can't speak from the Celtics perspective at all, but from my perspective, culture is one of the most important things to develop as a team,” Cuban said. “Dirk is the continuity for our culture. So I'd rather give up something - when you blow it up you never know what direction your culture is going to go.”
Nowitzki is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. Both sides expect him back. Not only that, Nowitzki will have some say in the offseason plans. Pierce didn’t have that luxury in the end.
"Well he's involved in that process,” Cuban said of Nowitzki. “He's not going to watch, he's going to be part of it. The whole goal is to win another championship and that's his goal so he understands what's involved in doing that."