Much has been said about the future of Dirk Nowitzki. I can tell you this morning that he is going to leave the Mavericks. I say this without hesitation.

It's going to happen.

One day.

The fact that it doesn't have to happen this summer and almost certainly will not happen this summer should be of no comfort to owner Mark Cubanand Mavericks fans.

I don't know anyone of reasonable mind who thinks simply getting rid of Nowitzki or blowing up the Mavericks after another frustrating first-round defeat makes sense. I'm inclined to agree, but not to the extent that it simply ends the discussion.

Nowitzki remains a more polarizing figure than he should be. He's without question the greatest Maverick of all time, one of the 10 best players in the league today and the kind of player who is capable of being the best player on a championship team.

Without question.

But his critics and doubters are not entirely wrong in the things they say about him. They argue against his ability to lead the Mavs to a title and, until it happens, it's just our word against theirs. It could have happened in 2006 but it didn't, so it's strictly a matter for conjecture.

Nowitzki wasn't the reason the Mavericks' season ended so suddenly in San Antonio10 days ago. Then again, before we had the Where's Roddy? controversy develop at the end of Game 6, the biggest question of the game's first half was Dirk, What the %$#&*?

For no reason beyond frustration or lazy play, Nowitzki committed his third and fourth personal fouls both reaching against George Hill in the second quarter.

Before Beaubois' untimely benching, Nowitzki's soft play with the season on the line had the potential to be the biggest story. Then Nowitzki scored 25 points after halftime and quieted the critics once more.

Coach Rick Carlisleis correct when he says it's not going to be pretty whenever the time comes that Dallas takes the floor without Nowitzki.

That's true, but two things need to be considered on that front. One is whether or not pretty in the form of 50-win seasons that tend to end in the first round is all that's left for the Nowitzki era.

Most likely, with an occasional plunge into the second round (when Manu Ginobiliis hurt), that's going to be about it. Even with a solid summer of practice from Beauboisand with Caron Butler becoming a consistent offensive force, it's hard to see the Mavericks holding off strong teams with much younger cores such as Oklahoma Cityand Portland.

That's not to mention the still-active Utah Jazz, which somehow own the Knicks' pick in next month's draft lottery.

The other question is just how ugly it has to be when Nowitzki goes.

If you were able to move him now in a sign-and-trade swap that makes the Mavericks younger but not as competitive for next season, would you consider it?

I would, because I think local interest in seeing this team win 50 games and fold the tent before we get to May is definitely waning.

Would Cuban?

My guess is no. Although he has spent freely and often wildly to try to make this team more competitive, I don't think he's that kind of a gambler.

He may consider himself the ultimate in that department. But when he bought this team 10 years ago, it had Nowitzki and Steve Nash and Michael Finleyas its young cornerstone players.

Two of those pieces have been changed into Jason Kiddand now Butler. The central piece remains. All the rest that flows around that core, all the juggling that has gone on at the cost of so many millions for Cuban, is just window dressing.

Cuban and the Mavericks can give fans some new names this summer, probably using Erick Dampier's expiring contract as the centerpiece of a trade.

It's not such a bad thing, serving up 50-win teams year after year, even if the hope of championship rings continues to diminish.

But I can't buy this notion that Dallas is keeping him because a title remains so close. Donnie Nelson talked on the Ticket on Thursday morning about how the Mavericks would be in the second round if not for running into a buzz saw in the first.

At the time he spoke, that buzz saw trailed Phoenix2-0. Now, after watching a Suns backup guard light up the Spurs in the fourth quarter (did this make anyone else think of Beaubois?), that buzz saw is down 3-0 and about to be eliminated.

I think what the Mavericks ran into in the playoffs was what they have mostly run into for four years now. All I see when I look at the Thunder and Blazers and young Western teams with dollars to spend are more buzz saws chopping away at Dirk and the Mavericks.

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