Dallas Mavericks: Evan Eschmeyer
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)
So, here we go, starting where it all began with the 2000-01 season, Cuban's first full season since adding the title of ambitious owner to biggest fan. Twenty players dotted the roster and The Big Three started to take hold:
Coach: Don Nelson
Record: 53-29 (T2nd in Midwest Division)
Playoffs: Defeated Utah (3-2); lost to San Antonio (4-1).
Team payroll: $51.4 million*
Highest-paid player: Michael Finley ($8.4 million)*
The high: Cuban bought the team in the middle of the previous season (Jan. 4, 2000) and the Mavs finished on a roll. The momentum carried over and the franchise finally ended an 11-year playoff drought, the longest in the NBA and then rallied from 2-0 deficit to stun Utah in the first round, 3-2 ... Only team in the league to finish in the top five in points per game (100.5, 4th), field-goal percentage (45.9, 5th), free throw percentage (79.4, 2nd) and 3-point field-goal percentage (38.1, 4th) ... It was the team's first 50-win season in 13 years and the franchise's third since joining the league in 1980.
Major transaction: February 22, 2001: Traded Courtney Alexander, Hubert Davis, Christian Laettner, Etan Thomas, Loy Vaught and cash to Washington for Juwan Howard, Calvin Booth and Obinna Ekezie.
F Dirk Nowitzki (team-leading 21.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg and 151 3FGs)
G Michael Finley (21.5 ppg, lead team with 118 steals)
F Juwan Howard (17.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg in 27 games with Dallas)
G Steve Nash (15.6 points, team-high 7.3 assists)
G Howard Eisley (Started 40 games, played 82, second on team with 107 3FGs)
C Shawn Bradley (7.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg, team-high 228 blocks)
G Greg Buckner (Played in just 37 games)
C Calvin Booth (Always remembered for game-winning layup to defeat Jazz in Game 5)
C Wang Zhizhi (7-foot, second-round pick played in five games)
G Vernon Maxwell (Mad Max averaged 4.3 points in 19 games after being signed as free agent)
F Gary Trent (Injuries reduced him to just 33 games played)
F Eduardo Najera (Traded from Houston to Dallas in the summer; played 40 games)
F/C Obinna Ekezie (Played in just four games)
F Donnell Harvey (Played in just 18 games)
F/C Mark Bryant (Played in just 18 games, started one)
F Christian Laettner (7.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg before trade to Washington)
G Hubert Davis (Started seven of 51 games before trade to Washington)
G Courtney Alexander (Averaged 4.2 ppg before trade to Washington)
F Loy Vaught (Averaged 3.1 points before trade to Washington)
F Bill Curley (Played in five 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.