So how would German engineering work with Italian style? That's something the Knicks have discussed as Dirk Nowitzki contines to send signals to the Dallas Mavericks that he'll at least test the waters this summer as a free agent.

Of all the superstar players potentially available, Nowitzki has always seemed the most likely to stay put mainly because he would stand to lose the most if he left Dallas. He is scheduled to make $21.5M in 2010-11, but if he opts out, the max on his next contract would start at 105 percent of his 2009-10 salary ($19.8M), which puts him at $20.8M. So he's already starting out down $700K and we're not counting the difference in raises (10 percent if he extends with Dallas, 8 percent elsewhere).

So for Nowitzki to come to the Knicks and join protege Danilo Gallinari and, perhaps, LeBron James, he'd have to accept much less than his max -- perhaps surrendering as much as $5M in the first year -- to fit into their cap plans. Very unlikely.

But never mind all that, how many teams -- even those with tons of salary cap space -- are going to eat up $20M on one player who has already proved he can't win a championship as the main ingredient? This is why Dallas is confident he'll eventually accept a contract extension.

But you can't ignore these comments made earlier this season when Nowitzki addressed the money issue that involves free agency and playing for a championship.

"If it means I have to play for less money, it's all possible," Nowitzki told Dallas Morning News reporter Eddie Sefko back in December. "It's all open."

Perhaps after yet another early playoff exit, Nowitzki is realizing at this stage of his career that he might be much better suited as a 1b player, a Man-Sittin-Next-to-The-Man kind of role, if he really wants to win a championship.

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"I'm very fortunate that I've made a lot of money in this league, even though I've never really played for money," Nowitzki also said. "I love the sport. I love this organization. Obviously I want to win. I won the MVP, and individually, there's nothing really left but winning a championship."

The question is, does Nowitzki think he can accomplish that in Dallas, where the franchise is capped out and, perhaps, maxed out?

One Mavericks source says the franchise is internally extremely concerned that Nowitzki will test the market this summer "because," the source said, "he knows he won't win a championship here."

If not there, then where? Very few teams can afford Nowitzki as a free agent, unless he takes a major pay cut. You can also expect Mark Cuban to spare no expense to keep his most prized asset, but if Nowitzki requests a trade it won't be easy to match the salary. Plus, Cuban can sell to Nowitzki the idea that the Mavericks will be under the cap in 2011.

But for Nowitzki, who turns 32 in June, is he willing to bypass this summer's seemingly endless possibilities for more of the same promises he's heard for 10 years in Dallas?

If he did opt-out, wouldn't Nowitzki immediately become the best big on the market? With his MVP skill set, he potentially fits next to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson better than Chris Bosh and Amar'e Stoudemire.

In James' case, Nowitzki can carry an offense on a given night, which takes pressure off James to be a primary scorer. James isn't wired to be a high volume shooter like Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. Physically, he should be a dominant power forward, but his happy place is on the perimeter, running the offense like an option quarterback, only one who prefers to pass more than take the ball himself. Despite the constant comparisons, James is really nothing like Michael Jordan and instead may be the closest thing the NBA has seen to Magic Johnson: Big, fast, mobile, incredible vision and high basketball IQ with the ability to score, but a penchant for making plays rather than finishing them.

Nowitzki has had success with Jason Kidd, who is much the same as a playmaking point guard, but though Kidd has had a renaissance with the Mavericks, he's not nearly as dominant as he once was and, obviously, nowhere near as physically dominating as James can be - yes - in the right system.

In Miami (coincidentally where he lost his only shot at a title), he and Wade would be a devastating 1-2 punch. But the key to Dirk is that his perimeter game would leave the middle open for Wade to do what he do: slash and attack the rim.

In all cases, however, the team would have to find a rugged big to play next to Dirk to protect him and be a physical presence in the paint on defense. That was what Eric Dampier and, later, Brendan Haywood were brought in to do for the Mavericks.

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"Problem is, how many big, rugged guys are there?" the Dallas source said. "This league just doesn't have them anymore."

For Miami, Udonis Haslem sort of fits the bill and Joel Anthony provides shot blocking off the bench. The Heat could offer Michael Beasley to the Mavericks in a sign-and-trade, which would give Dallas some much needed youth and cap relief. Dallas should also demand some first-rounders with the deal to soften the blow. It would be extremely difficult for the Mavs to make this move, but if Nowitzki wants to go, they can't let him go without something in return. Even if you wipe his $21.5M off the books next season, Dallas is still several million over the cap and therefore can't do anything more than sign a mid-level exception player and attempt to make trades with their three expiring contract players (Dampier, Caron Butler and DeShawn Stevenson).

It's unlikely the Mavs would have sign-and-trade interest in David Lee mainly because it would mean locking into a long-term situation when they'd want to go into rebuilding mode and clear as much cap space as possible, so there's very little the Knicks can offer if Nowitzki wanted to entertain a move to New York. He'd have to sign outright and even then Nowitzki, as we said above, would have to take a serious pay cut to fit, especially because he'd be coming as the second piece to a LeBron James ($16.5M) situation.

Perhaps Nowitzki will include himself in a conversation that Wade says will take place between three of the top free agents-to-be before the calendar flips to July 1.

Wade told the Chicago Tribune that free agency "has been three years coming. We've discussed it prematurely at different times. [But] you don't know what guys are thinking and where they're going. I think we'll all sit down, and before one of us makes a decision, all of us will have spoken to each other and [listened to the] thinking.

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"A lot of decisions [will be based on] what other players are willing to do and what other guys want to do. So it's not just a 'me' situation here. We all have to look and see what each other is thinking."

Wouldn't you love to eavesdrop on that conversation.