News broke on Friday afternoon that Dirk Nowitzki underwent successful arthroscopic surgery on his bothersome right knee Friday. The waiting game is officially over. According to the organization, the surgery was performed at Texas Sports Medicine by team orthopedic surgeon T.O. Souryal. Nowitzki is expected to resume on-court activities within approximately six weeks. “We’ve been preparing for this possibility,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said on Friday afternoon. “It’s never going to be easy to lose a game-changer for six weeks. We know that, but we’re going to have to make up for that in other areas. We’re going to have to play with grit, guts and we’re going to have to raise our level of efficiency in all areas.”
After having his knee drained on multiple occasions during the preseason and speculating if he could continue to work through the issue, Dirk decided to shut it down and begin the healing process. Dirk has been known as a machine as he’s had the ability to recover quickly from injuries, but this will push the boundary of that status, especially when it involves the knee. Carlisle did lighten to mood by sharing his own experience with the procedure, which was done during the 2010-11 season. “If it ‘s any comfort to you, I had a scope two years ago and I was back playing ping pong within six weeks,” Carlisle said. “It didn’t affect my game at all.”
Taking the calendar into account, it appears that Dirk will miss at least 13 regular season games if he takes the full six weeks before starting on-court activities. You expect that he will have to shake off rust and get back in basketball shape. Again, off a rough sketch of the timeline, he will be out until at the end of November. Luckily for the Mavericks, eight of the first 12 games are against non-playoff teams from last season. According to Mavericks statistician Dave Keeney, Dallas has the easiest schedule in the NBA until Thanksgiving (.403 opponents winning percentage – based on last year). Dallas will obviously miss a lot with Dirk on the shelf. According to ESPN Stats and Information, per 48 minutes last season, Dallas scored 97.4 points with Dirk on the floor, they scored 89.0 points with him off it. He completely changes the geometry of the floor for the team on offense as he still remains one of the elite shooters and scoring weapons the league has to offer.
Dirk or any of the people in the organization might not want to hear it, but getting the operation done now was the smart move. “It was headed this direction,” Carlisle said of the decision for surgery. “Our medical people did everything right.” The Mavericks need a healthy and right Dirk Nowitzki if they want to make a deep run in the playoffs. They’ve built a nice roster around their face of the franchise, so they can hopefully ride through the rough patch and stay in the playoff mix. On talent alone, they can still win games without Dirk. It just remains to be seen how they can hold up over a sustained period of time like the one they’re about to go through. The top of the Western Conference is stacked, but it’s all up for grabs after the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs take the top three spots. If you handle the situation now with the knee, you still have enough time to make a strong run as teams approach the All-Star Break and then make the sprint to the finish.
“It’s a great challenge for us,” Carlisle said. “We’ve just got to dig in and meet it. There’s opportunity in there as well. We’ve got to have a lot of guys step up.” For now, this means that it is a strong possibility that Chris Kaman and Elton Brand are likely going to be starting at the center and power forward positions, respectively. Carlisle did say that the new frontcourt combo hasn’t been playing so well together, so they’ll leave the door open on a possible different lineup other than Kaman and Brand. Shawn Marion has been known to play power forward to give the starting power forward some rest.
In my opinion, it seems like Brandan Wright and rookie Jae Crowder appear to be the two back of the roster beneficiaries of the news of Nowitzki’s surgery. “We’ve just got to ride it out,” Brandan Wright said. “We’ve got guys that need to step up, myself included. We’ve got to play hard and lift our level.” With extended minutes, Elton Brand will definitely have a chance to shine as the defensive anchor for the Mavericks now. With Dirk having surgery, the signing of Brand proves to be a significantly positive move for the Mavericks. “We’re going to have to be a team of go-to guys,” Carlisle said. “There’s no getting around that. We’re going to have a lot of balance. We’re going to have to play our style and be meticulous with how we approach it.”
Is there more pressure to compensate while Dirk is out? “No pressure,” Vince Carter said. “We’ve just got to play. I’m sure (the media is) not expecting to be good now, so where is the pressure? We’ve just got to go out there and play basketball. Nobody is giving us a chance, with or without him, so we’ve just got to go out and play basketball.”
If you know anything about Rick Carlisle, it’s that he’s ready to face a challenge head on. This situation won’t be any different. “It’s a challenge I’m looking forward to,” Carlisle said. “Let’s just put it that way. He’s not going to be out here until he’s ready to be out here.” He’s not worried about integrating the forward back into the mix due to Dirk’s intelligence and familiarity with the team’s system. He’s also not worried about Dirk trying to rush back too soon. “34 year old guys that are in the top ten players on the planet know their bodies,” Carlisle said. “Dirk is going to know when the right time is to come back.”
Carlisle also said that the team will “have our eyes open” in regards to adding depth to the front court with Dirk being out. That would require a trade or waiving a player as the Mavericks currently have a full 15-man roster. That’s likely going to be a decision between Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson.
On a day where “Big Tex”, the King of the Texas State Fair, went down in a blaze of glory due to a electrical short circuit, Dallas has another loss with their basketball snuggie going on the shelf for an extended period of time due to the knee surgery. Please, get off the ledge. They can and will rebuild them both. They have the technology.
Note: Chris Kaman has a strained calf and will not make the trip with the team over the weekend. He did not participate in practice on Thursday or Friday. Head athletic trainer Casey Smith will stay in Dallas over the weekend to help with rehabilitation for Kaman and Dirk Nowitzki. The team will have an update on Kaman next week.
Bryan Gutierrez writes about sportsmen. He is a contributing writer for Mavs.com. Bryan also attended Ball So Hard University. You can follow him on Twitter @BallinWithBryan.