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September 30, 2009

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Nowitzki strolls back to new-look Mavericks

DIRK Nowitzki strolled back onto the NBA scene on Monday looking like a carefree surfer, his long, curly blond hair framing a wide smile.

The Mavericks forward even had a tan, quite a departure from the ashen-faced All-Star who five months ago politely told reporters he didn't want to talk about the arrest at his Dallas home of a former girlfriend who said she was pregnant with his child.

Dallas was days away from elimination in the second round of the playoffs by Denver when news broke of Cristal Taylor's arrest on a theft-of-service warrant and a probation violation. Nowitzki couldn't get home to his native Germany fast enough once the season was over, but he looked just as eager to be back on media day leading into his 12th NBA season.

He said the support from the Mavericks and his family helped him through the emotional times. He said he was taken aback during the summer by countless letters of support from fans who wrote of similar experiences.

Now, the 31-year-old former MVP said his goal is not to let the incident change him.

"I was really not the kind of guy that walked around and trusted everybody anyway. But it still happened," Nowitzki said. "I'm not going to change who I am. I'll always have fun with people. Obviously my goal is still to have a family sooner or later, so I'd better start trusting somebody here soon."

Nowitzki's mind is back on basketball after his first summer without playing competitively in about a decade. That included about a nine-week stretch of doing basically nothing, which Nowitzki acknowledged wasn't by accident.

The Mavericks made some big changes while he was gone. The biggest move was maintaining the status quo by re-upping with point guard Jason Kidd for three years. But they also altered the dynamic of their lineup by trading for Shawn Marion to try to solve matchup problems they believe have dogged them in recent years.

Dallas also added Drew Gooden, and there's talk of him becoming an offensive alternative to Erick Dampier at center.

Still, it all starts with Nowitzki, who averaged 36 points in the three games after Taylor's arrest but couldn't stop the Nuggets from rolling to a 4-1 series victory.

"I just think that showed me that I'm mentally tougher than a lot of people think," Nowitzki said. "I played through that. I played through injuries. I may not be the most physically tough player, but I think mentally I'm right up there."


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