Dallas Mavericks: Don Nelson
That's a pretty pleasant response to being called "a pain in the ass when I had him" and "little selfish bastard" by the man who coached him for four seasons with the Golden State Warriors.
"That's Nellie being Nellie," Ellis told ESPNDallas.com, chuckling. "I mean, at that time, I was, but it is what it is."
Nelson has never been one to bite his tongue, as folks in Dallas fondly recall from his eight-year tenure as the Mavericks coach. His comments on Ellis were one entertaining nugget in a story about Nelson's retirement in Hawaii, where he watches basketball on a regular basis when he isn't busy playing poker with neighbors Willie Nelson, Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson.
"I said, 'You know, Monta, this is what I want you to do in practice today. I don't want you to take a shot. I think you have the ability to create and make plays. If you could ever be a point guard, the way you can score, you could really be a special player,'" Nelson told Sports Illustrated, recalling a conversation he had with Ellis during their time together with the Warriors. "So he did. He found people in practice. And I said, 'Monta, why don't you focus on being a great point guard? They have the most fun of anybody. They're the man, they control everything.'"
At this point, Nelson paused.
"He said, 'Coach, I just want to play. I just want to play,'" Nelson continued. "He wouldn't consider that. Now, as he's matured, he's started making plays. To his credit, he's a pretty good player right now. When I had him, all he wanted to do, little selfish bastard, was to shoot every time. And never pass."
Ellis, who started playing for Nelson as a 21-year-old in his second NBA season, confirmed that they had that conversation. Ellis isn't any more concerned about Nelson's opinion now than he was then.
"That's him," said Ellis, who averaged a career-high 25.5 points per game in his final season playing for Nelson. "There really ain't nothing negative I can take from him. I give my career start to Nellie. It's going to stay that way, but he was saying that when I was there. It's nothing new to me.
"He did come to me about that, but like he said, I told him I was a guard. I just play basketball. I mean, I've had success with my career doing what I've been doing my whole career. Like I said, that's Nellie. Ain't nothing you can do about it but just laugh it off. That's it."
The fact that the Mavs managed to pull out the 109-102 win over the Clippers obviously pleased Cuban.
|Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss the historical perspective of Miami's 27-game win streak, the Mavericks' playoff push, the job Rick Carlisle has done this season and if it's a good idea for the Mavs to shave their .500 beards.
“Absolutely,” Cuban said before Thursday’s game against the Pacers, which he’ll watch before flying out in the morning to rejoin his wife and kids. “I was proud of the way everybody received Jet. Proud of the energy the crowd had [Tuesday night]. You could feel it through the TV. We felt it in the Caymans.”
Jason Terry, aka Jet, received the appropriate standing ovation when the Mavs legend recently returned to the American Airlines Center for his first appearance here as a member of the Boston Celtics.
Odom, of course, received the polar opposite sort of welcome, which was appropriate given his disgraceful partial season in Dallas that ended prematurely after Cuban basically kicked him off the team.
Odom told ESPNDallas.com before Tuesday’s game that he felt no guilt about what happened during his tenure with the Mavs, but would apologize if he ever had a conversation with Cuban.
Confused? Well, Odom’s pseudo-intellectual comments didn’t exactly clarify his stance, but they did give Cuban some comedic fodder.
“You might be married to somebody for 40 years and then go to the Caymans,” Cuban said, mocking Odom’s bizarre explanation of why he felt no guilt about his failed Dallas stint. “You might just go the Caymans one time and just move there and live there for 100 years. That’s just a thing a man has to figure out.”
Odom indicated that he felt that Cuban didn’t really have any harsh feelings for him, saying, “I can say, 'F--- that garbage can,' but I love it. And you wouldn't ever know, because every time I come up to you I say, 'F--- that garbage can,' you know what I'm saying?”
Cuban’s laughing response to the garbage can metaphor: “Why do you think they line it with plastic?”
However, Cuban did indicate that he’d be willing to have a conversation with Odom at some point.
“Look, there’s only one person, two maybe that I still hold grudges against and neither are basketball related,” Cuban said. “You guys thought the same thing about [Don Nelson]. Nellie and I get along great. So …”
|ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to talk about the Mavericks and what it might take to fix their problems.
But Cuban vows there will never again be any confusion about who is the ultimate decision-maker on the Mavs’ personnel moves.
“Me, because I have to write the check,” Cuban said during his pregame workout Wednesday evening. “So it’s my ultimate judgment, not so much on which guy, but does he fit economically into the big picture?”
That doesn’t mean Cuban ignores the input of president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, coach Rick Carlisle and the Mavs’ other basketball minds. He values that very much, but these decisions ultimately come down to dollars, especially under the new collective bargaining agreement.
While Cuban doesn’t trust his eye for talent, he is confident in his ability to make decisions based on financial fit and the opinions of his basketball people.
“First of all, I never use my eye test, because I’m blind when it comes to that, so it goes by what Donnie and all our guys say,” Cuban said. “I just give my input, we discuss and we make a decision.”
By “we,” Cuban means he makes the decision, with a lot of help from his basketball people.
It wasn’t always that way. "Big Nellie" used to have free rein, but Cuban reconsidered that approach a few years into their relationship, stripping the coach of the ability to agree to player contracts and pull the trigger on trades without the owner’s permission.
“That’s when the head-butting started,” Cuban said, pinpointing the turning point as the rich contract given to blockbuster-trade bust Raef LaFrentz.
The longtime college basketball coach's passing Saturday was thus felt deeply in Dallas, where the Nelson-and-Harris tag team remains firmly entrenched after they reunited with the Mavericks from 2000 through 2007 alongside current Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson.
Said Harris on Sunday: "Rick will be known by his friends and those players who followed him closely by one short sentence: He cared.
"Regardless of how demanding he was, Rick proved his love for friends and players past and present in a myriad of ways. I have recorded and saved voicemails he has sent me and my son Dominic has saved encouraging letters Rick sent him from years past. Obviously I could go on and on.
"He had tons of friends (in the game). He was totally dedicated to his family, particularly caring for his mother after his father died. He called me the brother he never had and I suspect he used that expression a lot."
Majerus died Saturday at 64 after a lengthy battle with heart disease and a career filled with NCAA successes at Marquette, Ball State, Utah and Saint Louis. He was likewise close to Denver Nuggets coach George Karl and Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, meeting Rivers as a kid and calling him "Doc" before anyone after seeing him at a Marquette summer camp in Dr. J T-shirt.
|ESPN's Stephen A. Smith chimes in on the Dallas Mavericks' season, their free agency plans and more.
The former lottery pick of the Golden State Warriors provided two areas that the Mavs' sorely lacked and will look to gain more of this offseasaon -- youth, he's only 24, and athleticism. He's a high-motor big man who can run the floor. He has soft hands and is an impeccable finisher around the rim with a nice array of moves -- he boasted a team-best 61.8 shooting percentage.
The biggest issue with Wright is where he fits. His natural position is power forward, but coach Rick Carslisle converted him to center because Dallas obviously has Dirk Nowitzki entrenched there and at the time they believed Lamar Odom would fill the bill when Nowitzki sat. At center, Wright started out on the depth chart behind Brendan Haywood and Ian Mahinmi, but as the season wore on the spindly-framed Wright at times logged more minutes than the others.
Until the playoffs.
And that's the conundrum with Wright. He hasn't developed a mid-range game to be able to play power forward effectively in Dallas' offense and he's not physically strong enough to consistently defend the center position. When he got his brief chance to play in the first round against Oklahoma City he had a serious case of butterfingers and the moment, the first playoff action of his career, seemed a bit too big. He played a total of 26 minutes in the series with a high of eight in the Game 3 blowout.
But at less than $1 million last season and next (assuming the Mavs pick up the team option), Wright is cheap, cheap labor and a talent worth trying to develop for the long run. In fact, he could be a talent the Mavs must develop for significant minutes next season because the center position at the moment is in total chaos.
Haywood is a prime candidate for the amnesty provision and Mahinmi is a free agent with no guarantee that he'll be back. Dallas won't dare go into the regular season with Wright as its primary man to patrol the paint, but he could certainly be relied upon to become a prime player.
The Countdown winds down a second week with No. 6...
Ht./Wt.: 6-foot-10, 210
Experience: 4 years
Age: 24 (Oct. 5, 1987)
2011-12 stats: 6.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 16.1 mpg, 49 G
Contract status: Team option for next season
2011-12 salary: $915,852
2012-13 salary: $947,907
His outlook: Wright has to feel good that the Mavs will pick up his option (it would certainly seem to be a no-brainer). The real question is whether Carlisle will continue to try to mold him into a center or if power forward can be an option now that Odom is out of the picture and Shawn Marion (if he returns) might seem better off exclusively, or close to exclusively, at small forward. Wright believes he can develop a consistent mid-range jumper that could force defenses to extend out, providing the spacing the Mavs need to operate their halfcourt sets. He also needs to add muscle to his 210-pound frame (for a bit of reference, 6-5 guard Dominique Jones weighs 215 pounds) so he can hold his ground defensively at either the 4 or 5. If he can do that and sharpen his jumper, combined with his vertical jump and ability to finish at the rim, Wright could eventually live up to his lottery-pick status.
No. 15 Lamar Odom
No. 14 Brian Cardinal
No. 13 Yi Jianlian
No. 12 Dominique Jones
No. 11 Brendan Haywood
No. 10 Kelenna Azubuike
No. 9 Ian Mahinmi
No. 8 Vince Carter
No. 7 Rodrigue Beaubois
No. 6 Brandan Wright
No. 5 Coming Monday
Nelson got the call Wednesday morning that he will be among this year's Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class.
"It's a great honor to cap my career," the one-time Mavericks coach said. "I've had a great time and a great life coaching basketball. I don't actually need to be rewarded for anything, but I am very proud and my family is very proud of this award."
Nellie Ball included small ball and point forwards and an emphasis on playing fast and scoring in bunches.
He traded for a little-known, mop-topped, 7-foot teenager from Germany named Dirk Nowitzki at the 1998 draft. Nelson set him free to shoot 3-pointers and the future course of the Mavs’ franchise, one of the worst in the NBA if not in all sports during the 1990s, was set.
When owner Mark Cuban bought the team on Jan. 4, he kept Nelson at the half. Trades for Steve Nash and Michael Finley (prior to Nelson's arrival) landed the Mavs a Big Three, and Nelson guided the Mavs to the Western Conference finals in 2003 for the first time since 1988.
Nelson stepped down with 18 games remaining in the 2004-05 season, handing the reins to assistant coach Avery Johnson, who a year later led the franchise to its first NBA Finals.
“I enjoyed building teams,” Nelson said. “I enjoyed going into cities that had losing records and getting involved in their franchise and building it into a contender. When you do it that way you end up with teams that won 20 games the year before. It forces you to be innovative to be competitive. It’s a necessity to learn how to do it to be competitive.”
Nelson took over the 1997-98 Mavs after a 4-12 start under Jim Cleamons, who won 24 games in his first season. Nelson went 19-31 in the lockout-shortened 1999 season and then had Dallas flirting with .500 at 40-42 the next season, paving the way for 11 consecutive playoff appearances.
The relationship between Nelson and Cuban soured toward in the final years and hit a low point with a contentious lawsuit. In 2007, Nelson revived the Golden State Warriors in his second stint there and relished the moment as his eighth-seeded Warriors, calling them a bunch of “schmoes,” ousted the No. 1 seed Mavs in the first-round series.
Nelson said he and Cuban have reconciled and exchanged text messages Wednesday after Nelson received the news of his inclusion.
When asked for his reaction, Cuban said via email, "I'm happy for Nellie. He deserved it."
Now that Nelson will be among the game’s greats in the Springfield, Mass., shrine, does he still have a passion to coach? He was highly interested in the Minnesota Timberwolves opening that was went to Rick Adelman.
Would the right job lure him back for a chance to add to his 1,335 career victories?
“That’s a good question,” Nelson said. “I would doubt it. But, I would never say no.”
Dec. 2 is a particularly eventful day in Mavs history. It’s littered with brilliant performances from names like Mark Aguirre and Jason Kidd, great honors for folks like Don Nelson and Steve Nash, and sadly also includes yet another tragic turn for Leon Smith. But two things jump out and grab me as fantastic moments in Mavericks history.
But I also wanted to note that on Dec. 2 of their inaugural season, Dallas signed former Lakers first-round pick Brad Davis. Davis had bounced around the League and spent time in the CBA and was on the verge of retiring when he gave pro basketball and the Mavericks one last chance. He went on to become one of the best guards in team history and the first player to have his jersey retired.
When I think of Davis’ playing days the images that flood my mind include:
1. Davis taking violently vicious charges
2. Catching and shooting that crank behind his head and fling jumper after Aguirre passed out of double teams
3. The chomping of that gum being exaggerated due to the wicked mustache game he was throwing down
4. That Toyota commercial in which he unleashed the Camry Jam and Corolla Rolla dunks on an 8’ goal
5. That perm, yo!
Some so-called Mavs fans that either don’t know any better, weren’t old enough to remember, or just plain weren’t paying attention at the time view Davis as some sort of Bill Bates hustle type that was only out there cuz he played really hard and set a good example. They think that it’s somewhat shameful that his number is retired.
Those people are just wrong. Davis was a baller.
About a month ago, FSSW re-aired the classic Moody Madness game and it was great to watch it for a number of reasons, but I really dug watching Brad’s game again. He did for the Mavs during that era what Mo Cheeks was doing for Philly. He ran the show and orchestrated the offense. And he made perfect entry passes to Aguirre who was just devastating on the block.
Ask Derek Harper how difficult Davis was to play against. He went against him every day in practice and has enormous respect for his game.
“And if you don’t know, now you know …”
Still, making peace doesn't mean Johnson doesn't think about how close he came to leading the Dallas Mavericks to its first NBA title. And it doesn't mean it still doesn't sting either.
"More than anything [I think about] that 10-point lead with about five minutes to go and we just could not get a bucket. We couldn’t get stops, could not get a bucket and Miami had a guy [Wade] that averaged 20 free throws a game," Johnson said. "I just felt awfully bad for our team. You know I would do anything to have that moment back again. Because anytime you get in the Finals, you’re one of the last two teams standing and I’d do anything to have that chance back again, and I know Dallas would love to get back to the Finals after that."
Johnson took over the Mavs late in the 2004-05 season from Don Nelson,who stepped down after acknowleding that he had lost his desire to coach the team.
"That first day was still kind of surreal," Johnson said. "Nellie at 9 a.m. informed me that I was going to be the head coach. The next thing you know we had shootaround at 11, and he passed me a whistle and said, 'Boys, so long, here’s the next coach.' That’s typical Nellie."
The Finals trip came in Johnson's first full season as head coach and he won the NBA's Coach of the Year Award. As fast as the ride up was -- including a franchise-best 67-win season in 2006-07 -- the bottom fell out quickly as well -- including a six-game playoff loss to Golden State following the 67 wins. It all came to end in May 2008 after the Mavs feebly lost a five-game first-round playoff series to the New Orleans Hornets.
After spending the next two seasons in the ESPN studious as an NBA analyst, Johnson was hired as head coach of the rebuilding New Jersey Nets under new Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov.
Here's more of Johnson's thoughts on a variety of topics after the Nets wrapped up practice Wednesday afternoon at the American Airlines Center:
On staying in contact with Mavs players and personnel: Mark [Cuban] and I text every three weeks or so. [Jason] Terry is good. I get a lot of messages from Dirk Nowitzki through [Nets assistant coach] popeye [Jones], [assistant general manager] Keith Grant and I are still close. I’m really good with everybody here."
On having regrets from time in Dallas: "Oh no, none, no regrets, no way, not one. I would say as you go back, I was 39 years old when I got this job, maybe a lineup change here or there, or a situation here or there, but I wouldn’t say as a regret. It’s something I learn from."
On how he's changed: "I’m a different person in some ways. Not from discipline or accountability or details, just teaching a lot more, I got younger guys. I inherited a [Dallas] team that didn’t have a lot of playoff experience, but had quite a bit of regular-season experience and basketball players that could work themselves out of some jams. I’m teaching a lot more now than I did then at that point.
On what caused Josh Howard's downfall:"I talked to him one or two times in the offseason. Josh is recovering from an ACL injury and he’s 30 now and it’s going to be interesting to see what happens with his career. Obviously, there were some setbacks here, but Josh played awfully well for me. Josh was the best first-quarter player that I coached and I had seen in a long time. His versatility at the 3-spot really was a huge asset for us. Josh got better, became an All-Star. Obviously, there was a setback here and there, but I’m interested to see what type of player he’s going to be post-ACL injury, because if he can get back to playing the way he played when he was an All-Star he’s going to be an asset for any franchise."
On being fired despite owning the best winning percentage (.735) in franchise and league history:Time for me to go. That was it. Time for me to go. Like we say sometimes in professional sports, teams need a new voice and a coach needs a new audience, no matter what his record is. That’s why, again, you see me still in contact with Mark Cuban. That’s why he still gets one of my beautiful Christmas cards every year. I don’t think when a guy gets fired it’s always got to be a bad thing and there has to be animosity. When I left San Antonio, [coach Gregg] Popovich helped me pack when I went to Denver, and he’s one of my closest friends. So, again, it’s the same thing here. Because I got fired it [doesn't] always got to be a bad thing. Everybody just needed to go in a different direction. I needed a two-year break and it was fantastic, on a personal level and on a professional level."
On reuniting with point guard Devin Harris: "It's been good. I'm glad to be back with Devin. He’s playing awfully well. The two games he missed here recently [with a knee injury] we definitely missed him. He came back and had 18 [points] and 13 [assists] last night. When he’s on the floor and he’s playing well we’re a pretty good team. And he’s got a lot of pressure on him because when he’s not playing well, we’re not as good."
On if he still hears Mark Cuban's voice in his head screaming at officials from his baseline seat: Not at all. That was a good thing because that actually got me hired because he was so close to the bench. [Prokhorov] sits in the suites and I barely even see him sometimes after the games."
"Those games are done," he said tersely. "Look, Golden State is a team that doesn't have a great record, but they can beat anybody at any time because of their explosiveness, and their two guards are phenomenal. They were down 23 last night [at Oklahoma City] and cut the game to a three points with under five seconds to go, so we've really got to play and we've got to concentrate on what we're doing."
One reason Carlisle might have been quick to jump forward and focus on the Warriors' visit Tuesday night is what happened in Golden State's first visit to Dallas last season. Don Nelson was ailing, and so were the Warriors. With just six players, Monta Ellis led the short-handed visitors to a 111-103 victory.
The assistant coach who filled in at the time is now head coach Keith Smart.
"That's a dangerous team, and he's ready," Carlisle said of the Warriors and Smart. "Last time he coached in here he took over for Nellie and he beat us, so he's very capable."
The Mavs (16-4) begin a season-long, six-game homestand against Golden State. During the two-week stretch, only Utah (Saturday) and Phoenix (Dec. 17) have winning records. At the same time, the Southwest Division-leading San Antonio Spurs (17-3) are in the midst of a six-game homestand and nine of 10 at home.
"Now's not the time to pat ourselves on the back or feel good about anything," Carlisle said. "This homestand is a key stretch for us. We've got to continue to be respectful of every opponent and continue to bring the same sort of energy and disposition to the game that we've been bringing during this streak."
Well, not yet at least.
But, with ballhandling skills usually reserved for men of smaller stature, he is one of the more interesting players in the draft and at least one mock draft board -- DraftExpress -- has him slotted at No. 50 to the Dallas Mavericks.
Maybe that's because of the Mavs' diligence in sizing up European players or their willingness to go after unique players. Can't you see it now: a 7-foot power forward in Dirk Nowitzki who plays like a shooting guard and a 6-10 guy who'll play point forward?
Maybe if Don Nelson still coached the team it would make more sense.
However, Bjelica might not be as attractive after DraftExpress.com reported Wednesday that he signed a three-year deal overseas with Benetton. He has a $1 million NBA buyout after each season.
Of course, if the Mavs were to draft him, he'd likely play overseas anyway.
Johnson chose to rest his players down the stretch and he rarely deployed a lineup that would play together once the No. 1 seed Mavericks opened their first-round series against Don Nelson's feisty, but hardly worrisome, No. 8 seed Golden State Warriors.
Dallas had clinched its first outright division title since 1986-87 and had won 65 games by Game No. 78. With the Chicago Bulls' 72 wins out of reach, Johnson took his foot off an accelerator that had been mashed all season. The Mavs started 0-4, the anticipated hangover after the Finals flop the prior season. But, motivated by it and their driven head coach, the Mavs proved to be the class of the league.
It will never be known for certain what happened in the first-round loss. Was it rust? Was the team burned out from Johnson's hard-charging style? Did Johnson's starting lineup switch to match the Warriors' smaller starters send the wrong signal? Was the Little General, just in his second full season as head coach, outcoached by Nellie the mad scientist? Were the Mavs simply outplayed?
All that is known is the Mavs followed up their epic Finals failure with the franchise's greatest regular season and then a humiliating postseason. It forced the NBA to celebrate the league's MVP after he had been eliminated. Dirk Nowitzki solemnly picked up his award and then vanished into the Australian outback.
Despite the setbacks, it hardly seemed plausible at the time that Johnson's tenure was fragile and that the entire future of the organization would soon change again.
Coach: Avery Johnson
Record: 67-15 (1st, Southwest Division)
Playoffs: Lost to Golden State (4-2)
Team payroll: $88.1 million*
Highest-paid player: Michael Finley ($16.1**); Dirk Nowitzki ($15.1)*
In-season transaction: Feb. 22, 2007: Traded Anthony Johnson to Atlanta for a 2007 second-round draft pick (Nick Fazekas); April 2, 2007: Signed F Kevin Willis.
The high: The season was all about the regular season. The 67 wins was a franchise best and earned the Mavs the West's No. 1 seed. Their .817 winning percentage was the sixth-best in NBA history, and they were the sixth-fastest team in league history to reach the 50-win mark (59 games), and that was after an 0-4 start. The season included win streaks of 12, 13, eight, 17 and nine games. Dirk Nowitzki completed his best all-around season. He averaged 24.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and a career-high 3.4 assists. He set career-bests in field goal percentage (50.2), 3-point percentage (41.6) and free throw percentage (90.4). Nowitzki was rewarded by becoming the first player in franchise history to earn the league's MVP award. He was also a first team All-NBA selection. Nowitzki joined Josh Howard, an injury replacement, on the West All-Star team, marking the first time two Mavs were named to the team since Nowitzki and Steve Nash in 2003.
The low: This is all about the postseason. It was strange from the start when former Mavs coach Don Nelson brought his undersized Warriors to the American Airlines Center for Game 1. Mavs coach Avery Johnson decided to match small-for-small and deferred from his usual starting lineup by sitting center Erick Dampier. Golden State stole Game 1, a precursor of things to come as Dallas lost all three games in Oakland and became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 8 seed since the first-round expanded to best-of-7 in 2003. In the 111-86 Game 6 debacle that clinched the series for the Warriors, Dirk Nowitzki was frustrated by constant trapping defense and went 2-of-13 from the field. It set up a most uncomfortable MVP ceremony back in Dallas, one in which Nowitzki had a terrible time finding solace among Mavs owner Mark Cuban and NBA commissioner David Stern. Later, as part of a lawsuit between Cuban and Nelson, Cuban would contend that his former head coach used insider information to beat the Mavs.
F Dirk Nowitzki (24.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg)
F/G Josh Howard (18.9 ppg, 6.8rpg)
G Jason Terry (16.7 ppg, 43.8% 3FG)
G/F Jerry Stackhouse (12.0 ppg, 38.3% 3FG)
G Devin Harris (10.2 ppg, 3.7 apg, 26.0 mpg)
F Erick Dampier (7.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg)
G/F Devean George (6.4 ppg, 21.4 mpg)
G Greg Buckner (4.0 ppg, 18.1 mpg)
G Anthony Johnson (3.8 ppg in 40 games with Dallas)
F Austin Croshere (3.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 11.9 mpg)
F Pops Mensah-Bonsu (2.4 ppg in 23 games)
F Kevin Willis (2.4 ppg in five games)
G J.J. Barea (2.4 ppg in 33 games)
C DeSagana Diop (2.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 18.3 mpg)
C DJ Mbenga (0.8 ppg in 21 games)
G Maurice Ager (2.2 ppg in 32 games)
**The Mavericks waived Michael Finley on Aug. 15, 2005, taking advantage of a one-time amnesty provision that allowed them to avoid luxury taxes on the $51.8 million owed him over the next three years. Finley became an unrestricted free agent and joined the San Antonio Spurs, although the Mavs remained on the hook to pay his full salary.
When Mavericks owner Mark Cuban declined to counter with an offer anywhere close to the $65 million the Suns put on the table, Nash quickly made his call. The Big Three, one year removed from the West finals, was no more. Nash returned to Phoenix, Dirk Nowitzki lost his best friend and coach Don Nelson lost his point guard, and later would admit lost his enthusiasm to coach the new-look Mavs.
"It's exciting, but it's also bittersweet," Nash told ESPN.com at the time. "I'm really sad to leave my teammates, but I'm glad to be going somewhere where they really wanted me."
Cuban, who had not been shy in spending big money to acquire players, said no this time. He contended that Nash's body couldn't endure another five or six years playing the break-neck style that had come to define his game. At the time, it seemed many fans agreed.
President of basketball operations Donnie Nelson got to work and acquired streaky shooting Atlanta Hawks guard Jason Terry to run the point. He would join rookie guard Devin Harris. Veteran center Erick Dampier and ornery swingman Jerry Stackhouse came aboard via different trades.
The club thrived to win 58 games. The final 16 game under Avery Johnson, who took over when Nelson abruptly stepped down on March 19. The Mavs reached the second round, but in the end, it was Nash who got the last laugh, at least for one season, and set the stage for his double MVPs to come.
Coach: Don Nelson (64 games)/Avery Johnson (18 games)
Record: 58-24 (2nd, Southwest Division)
Playoffs: defeated Houston (4-3), lost to Phoenix (4-2)
Team payroll: $91.9 million*
Highest-paid player: Michael Finley ($14.6 million)*
In-season transaction: Dec. 3, 2004: Traded Dickau and a 2005 second-round draft pick (Marcin Gortat) to New Orleans for Darrell Armstrong; Feb. 24, 2005: Traded Calvin Booth and Alan Henderson to Milwaukee for Keith Van Horn.
The high: The Mavs finished the season on a 9-0 run under Avery Johnson but lost their first two playoff games at home against Houston. Dallas rallied and won Game 7 at home by 40 points, the largest margin of victory in a Game 7 in NBA history. Dirk Nowitzki put together a remarkable regular season, averaging a career-best 26.1 points and 9.7 rebounds that would see him finish third in in MVP voting and make him the first Mavericks player to be named All-NBA first team.
The low: Nash did it all in the West semifinal series against his old team, putting up the best numbers of his career. Nash averaged 30.3 points, 12.0 assists, and 6.5 rebounds a game. He recorded his first playoff triple-double and scored 48 points in Game 4, then followed it up with 34 points in Game 5 and 39 points in the series-clincher. In that Game 6 on the Mavs' home court, Nash hit the biggest shot of the series, nailing a game-tying 3-pointer from the top of the arc with 5.7 seconds left with Jason Terry -- who poured in 36 points -- drifting off of him to force overtime. The Suns had trailed by 16 points with four minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Nash 3-pointer to tie led Nowitzki to verbally berate his first-year teammate Terry on the court, a rare scene from the frustrated 7-footer. Losing Nash, then losing to Nash, did not foreshadow what was to come next for the Dallas Mavericks.
F Dirk Nowitzki (26.1 ppg, 9.7 rpg)
G Michael Finley (15.7 ppg, 40.7% 3FG)
G/F Jerry Stackhouse (14.9 ppg as sixth man)
F Josh Howard (12.6 ppg, team-high 116 steals)
G Jason Terry (12.4 ppg, 42.0% 3FG)
F Keith Van Horn (12.2 ppg in 29 games with Dallas)
C Erick Dampier (9.2 ppg, 8.5 rpg)
G/F Marquis Daniels (9.1 ppg)
G Devin Harris (5.7 ppg, 19 starts in 76 games)
G Darrell Armstrong (2.3 ppg in 52 games with Dallas)
F Alan Henderson (3.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 15.4 mpg)
C Shawn Bradley (2.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 11.5 mpg)
C Calvin Booth (2.4 ppg in 34 games with Dallas)
G Dan Dickau (played just four games)
C DJ Mbenga (played just 15 games)
C Pavel Podkolzin (played five games)
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.
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).
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.
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)
Coach: Don Nelson
Record: 60-22 (T1st, Midwest Division)
Playoffs: Defeated Portland (4-3); defeated Sacramento (4-3), lost to San Antonio (4-2)
Team payroll: $72.9*
Highest-paid player: Michael Finley ($11.95 million)*
Offseason transactions: G Walt Williams (free agent); G Raja Bell (free agent); F Popeye Jones (free agent); G Adam Harrington (free agent, then released in January)
Major transaction: G Antoine Rigaudeau (free agent, signed Jan. 17, 2003)
The high: The Mavs posted a second consecutive franchise record for wins. They started the season 14-0, falling one win shy of tying the NBA record. Dallas led the NBA in scoring for a second straight season (103.0) and committed an NBA record-low 11.6 turnovers a game. Dirk Nowitzki averaged a career-best 25.1 points a game, finishing sixth in the league, and joined Mark Aguirre as the only Mavericks player to score 2,000 or more points in a single season. Nowitzki finished with 2,011. He and Steve Nash (17.7 points, 7.3 assists) made the West All-Star team again. After taking a 3-0 lead over Portland in the first year of the first-round being expanded to best-of-7, the Mavs had to pull out a Game 7 to advance. Dallas then slayed Sacramento in seven games, a series that included a thrilling 141-137 double overtime win in Sacramento and a 112-99 Game 7 win in Dallas in which Nowitzki scored 30 points and had 19 rebounds. It put the Mavs in the West finals for just the second time in franchise history and first since 1988.
F Dirk Nowitzki (team-leading 25.1 ppg, 9.9 rpg and 111 steals)
G Michael Finley (19.3 ppg, 37.0% 3FG)
G Steve Nash (17.7 points, team-high 7.3 assists and 41.3% 3FG)
G Nick Van Exel (12.5 ppg, 4.3 apg, 27.8 mpg as sixth man)
F/C Raef LaFrentz (9.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 91 blocks in 69 games)
C Shawn Bradley (6.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 170 blocks in 21.4 mpg)
F Eduardo Najera (6.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg in 48 games)
F Walt Williams (5.5 ppg, 37.4% 3FG)
G/F Adrian Griffin (4.4 ppg in 18.6 mpg)
F Tariq Abdul-Wahad (Played in just 14 games)
G Avery Johnson (3.3 ppg in 48 games)
G Raja Bell (3.1 ppg in 75 games)
F Popeye Jones (2.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg in 26 games)
G Antoine Rigaudeau (1.5 ppg, 0.5 apg in 11 games)
F/C Evan Eschmeyer (1.0 ppg, 1.4 rpg in 17 games)
The alterations were fitting with the Mavericks moving into the luxurious American Airlines Center and leaving behind the cozy, but run-down Reunion Arena and the dark days of the 1990s. With exuberant new owner Mark Cuban wearing jeans and T-shirts behind the bench, and an exciting Big Three taking hold, Dallas was suddenly a player again in the Western Conference.
A second consecutive big deadline deal injected toughness into Don Nelson's team -- which wouldn't fully be realized until the following season -- and it was clear the city was getting behind this fun-and-gun team that was bringing breakneck offense back to the NBA.
Consider that the Mavs finished the season with the league's top-scoring offense at 105.2 points a game. Dallas was one of four teams to average at least 100 points. Now this is truly amazing: This season, 18 teams averaged at least 100 points. So, the Mavs were doing something almost no one else was at the time and excitment was building for a second playoff run.
Coach: Don Nelson
Record: 57-25 (2nd, Midwest Division)
Playoffs: Defeated Minnesota (3-0); lost to Sacramento (4-1).
Team payroll: $56.98 million*
Highest-paid player: Juwan Howard ($17.8 million)*
Offseason transactions: G Adrian Griffin (free agent); C Evan Eschmeyer (free agent); F Danny Manning (free agent); G Johnny Newman (free agent); traded 2004 second-round draft pick (Matt Freije) to Miami for G Tim Hardaway.
Major transaction: Feb. 21, 2002: Traded Tim Hardaway, Donnell Harvey, Juwan Howard, cash and a 2002 first-round draft pick (Frank Williams) to Denver for Avery Johnson, Raef LaFrentz, Tariq Abdul-Wahad and Nick Van Exel.
The low: The playoffs started with the Mavs rolling past Kevin Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves by an average of 10.6 points in a three-game sweep. The Mavs then got the split they wanted at ARCO Arena to start the second round against the Chris Webber-Mike Bibby-Peja Stojakovic Kings and came home to the AAC. The good times didn't last long as the Mavs lost both home games, including a 115-113 overtime defeat in Game 4 that saw Nowitzki score 31 and Webber go for 30. The Kings took Game 5, 114-101, back in Sacramento to end the Mavs' season with a thud.
F Dirk Nowitzki (team-leading 23.4 ppg, 9.9 rpg)
G Michael Finley (20.6 ppg, team-high 39.9 minutes)
G Steve Nash (17.9 points, team-high 7.7 assists and 45.5% 3FG)
G Nick Van Exel (13.2 ppg, 4.2 apg in 27 games with Dallas)
F Juwan Howard (12.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg before traded in February)
F/C Raef LaFrentz (10.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 60 blocks in 27 games with Dallas)
G Avery Johnson (3.2 points, 8.9 minutes in 17 games with Dallas)
G/F Adrian Griffin (7.2 ppg in 58 games)
F Eduardo Najera (6.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 21.9 mpg)
G Greg Buckner (Avg. 5.8 points in 44 games)
F Tariq Abdul-Wahad (Played just four games with Mavs after trade)
C Wang Zhizhi (5.6 ppg, 2.0 rpg in 55 games)
G Johnny Newman (Avg. 4.2 points in 47 games)
C Shawn Bradley (4.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 14.3 mpg)
F Danny Manning (Played just 41 games)
F/C Evan Eschmeyer (Played just 36 games)
G Charlie Bell (Played just two games with Mavs, seven overall)
G Tim Hardaway (9.6 ppg before deadline trade to Denver)
F Donnell Harvey (Played just 18 games)
G Darrick Martin (Played just three games)
103.3 FM ESPN PODCASTS
Play Podcast Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett at Mavericks media day to discuss his expectations for the upcoming season.
Play Podcast Mark Cuban joins Galloway and Company to discuss the Mavericks' new GM Gersson Rosas and much more.
Play Podcast Fitzsimmons and Durrett discuss Mark Cuban's comments from Las Vegas about the Mavericks' offseason, how he sees the team without Dwight Howard and more.
Play Podcast Marc Stein joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why the Mavericks didn't want to match Cleveland's offer to Andrew Bynum, what's next for the Mavs and the possibility of Dirk Nowitzki ending his career elsewhere.
Play Podcast Jeff Platt fires quick-hitters at Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon in the weekly sports standoff about Andrew Bynum, the Mavs' current backcourt, a potential Nelson Cruz suspension and more.
Play Podcast ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why she thinks Andrew Bynum got a bad rap in Los Angeles and how he would fit in with the Mavericks.
Play Podcast Buy, sell or hold? If Dwight Howard goes to another team, what are the Mavs' options? The guys take a look at a list of potential fallback options.
Play Podcast ESPN's Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the latest news on the Mavericks' meeting with Dwight Howard.