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Thursday, May 13, 2010
2003-04: Year of Antoines and Antawns

By Jeff Caplan

Fourth in a series chronicling the Mavericks' streak of 10 seasons with 50 or more wins (previous installments).

The Dallas Mavericks were fresh off an exciting run to the Western Conference finals and motivated by the belief that had Dirk Nowitzki not suffered a knee sprain in Game 3, they would have defeated the San Antonio Spurs and advanced to the franchise's first NBA Finals.

Antoine Walker & Antawn Jamison
Mark Cuban's changes in 2003-04 included adding Antoine Walker and Antawn Jamison.
(And, wow, how might the landscape have changed throughout the 2000s had the Mavs won that series? The Spurs went on to beat New Jersey for their first of three titles in five seasons.)

But, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban made wholesale changes that he would later say were a mistake. The Big Three of Nowitzki, Steve Nash and Michael Finley returned along with Shawn Bradley and Eduardo Najera.

The rest of the roster received a major makeover, namely with two lanky, head-band wearing rookies and two big-name acquisitions named Antoine, er, Antawn.

All-in-all, the 2003-04 season would prove to be a disappointing watershed year for Nash, Nowitzki, Don Nelson and the franchise as a whole.

Coach: Don Nelson
Record: 52-30 (3rd, Midwest Division)
Playoffs: Lost to Sacramento (4-1).
Team payroll: $76.5 million*
Highest-paid player: Antoine Walker ($13.5 million)*

Offseason transactions: F/G Josh Howard (drafted in first round, 29th pick); G/F Marquis Daniels (rookie free agent); G Travis Best (free agent); traded Evan Eschmeyer, Avery Johnson, Popeye Jones, Antoine Rigaudeau and Nick Van Exel to Golden State for Antawn Jamison, Chris Mills, Danny Fortson and Jiri Welsch; traded Raef LaFrentz, Mills, Welsch and a 2004 first-round draft pick (Delonte West) to Boston for Antoine Walker and Tony Delk.

In-season transaction: Jan. 30, 2004: Signed Scott Williams (free agent).

Marquis Daniels, Josh Howard
Marquis Daniels (6) and Josh Howard (5) would join the Mavs' fray in 2003, but it was the beginning of the end for Steve Nash in Dallas.
The high: The Mavs won their first 10 games at home on their way to a franchise-best 35-6 home record. Antawn Jamison accepted a reserve role and was named the Sixth Man of the Year. Josh Howard and Marquis Daniels made the All-Rookie second team. On Nov. 17, 2003, Steve Nash recorded the first triple-double in American Airlines Center history (14 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds). Dallas led the league in scoring (105.2) for a third consecutive season. On Dec. 12, 2003, one year and a few days after blowing a 30-point lead at the L.A. Lakers, Dallas finally ended an agonizing, 26-game road losing streak to the Lakers, a string that stretched exactly 12 seasons. On Dec. 15, coach Don Nelson surpassed Pat Riley for second place on the all-time coaching wins list.

The low: The new lineup some called the 'Fantasy Five' just didn't click. After winning 60 games the prior season, the Mavs dropped by eight wins and settled for the No. 5 seed. Nelson often liked to go with a small lineup with Walker at center -- in fact, Nelson made Walker agree to play center in the final 10 games just for him to get on the floor -- but that didn't stop Walker from hoisting 305 3-pointers, (he made 82 of them) second on the team behind Michael Finley's 370. Nash received heavy criticism for his defense on Sacramento guard Mike Bibby in the five-game, first-round loss. Bibby outscored Nash in the series, 23.6 to 13.6, and went off for six 3-pointers and 36 points in the Kings' series-clinching victory. Nelson, as well as many of the Mavs players, ended the season with a cloudy future. To be sure, an offseason of change was on the horizon again, but no one saw the biggest change of all coming.

Roster:
F Dirk Nowitzki (team-leading 21.8 ppg and 8.7 rpg)
G Michael Finley (18.6 ppg, 40.5% 3FGs)
F Antawn Jamison (14.8 ppg, 53.5% FG)
G Steve Nash (14.5 ppg, team-leading 8.8 apg)
F Antoine Walker (14.0 ppg, 26.9% 3FG)
F/G Josh Howard (8.6 ppg, 23.7 mpg)
G/F Marquis Daniels (8.5 ppg, 18.6 mpg)
G Tony Delk (6.0 ppg)
F Scott Williams (3.0 ppg in 27 games with Dallas)
F Danny Fortson (3.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg)
C Shawn Bradley (3.3 ppg, 74 blocks in 66 games)
F Eduardo Najera (3.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg in 58 games)
G Travis Best (2.8 ppg, 1.8 apg in 61 games)

*Source: Basketball-Reference.com