DALLAS -- When it comes to the inexact science of drafting basketball players out of the college game, either back in the day when they stayed four years or today when they might not stay two, every general manager ever on the clock will tell the same story.
There's the good, the bad and the ugly.
"Every GM worth his salt has had their really good picks where they look smart and they've had the ones they wish they would have had back," Dallas Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said.
Nelson, of course, is no exception. The good, and in this case the great, starts with the trade of the No. 6 pick in 1998, the late Robert "Tractor" Traylor, to Milwaukee for a floppy-haired German teenager that we've learned can hit a one-legged fadeaway jumper but can't sing.
That move will forever be the feather in the cap of Nelson, who was the engineer behind bringing Dirk Nowitzki to Dallas to play for his father Don Nelson, now a Hall of Famer.
The good also includes nabbing Josh Howard at No. 29 in 2003 and the draft-day trade that netted No. 5 pick Devin Harris in 2004. Harris was traded in 2008 to the New Jersey Nets for long-ago Mavs No. 2 overall pick Jason Kidd, a deal that ultimately paid off with a championship.
On to the bad: Would Donnie Nelson like a do-over of the 34th pick in 2007, Nick Fazekas, and instead take the 35th pick, Glen "Big Baby" Davis? Would Nelson like back the 28th pick in the 2006 draft, the Michigan State-groomed Moe Ager, and instead select the 47th pick out of Louisiana Tech, Paul Millsap? Yeah, well, he's got good company on that one.
And then there is the ugly. Remember 19-year-old Leon Smith, the last pick in the first round of the 1999 draft taken by San Antonio and traded to Dallas? If not, Google him.
The jury remains out on the 25th pick in 2009, Rodrigue Beaubois (actually selected by the Oklahoma City Thunder and traded to Dallas for the 24th pick, Byron Mullens). It's also to early too call on the 25th pick in 2010, Dominique Jones, whom the Mavs paid $3 million to the Memphis Grizzlies to get from South Florida and now sports a 2011 title tattoo on his neck.
Nelson has overseen one of the more challenging drafting assignments in the league over the past 12 seasons. Just look at the draft positions: 25, 28, 29, etc. Bad draft position is the proudly accepted sacrifice for constructing consistently good teams that have prioritized filling holes with savvy veteran free agents and in-season trades over developing draft choices.
Because for every Eduardo Najera drafted 38th in 2000, there are 100 guys like Dan Lenghi, the four-year Vanderbilt star the Mavs drafted 31st that summer and then traded to Houston to grab Najera.
"If you're picking high, those are picks that you really can't afford to miss on, your high lottery picks," Nelson said. "When you get into the middle, yes, you want to come away with something. When you're picking at the end of the first, you can take some risks and maybe you pull out a Josh Howard, and maybe it's a Moe Ager."
After a dozen years, the Mavs are back in the middle, which makes Thursday's draft so intriguing. The changing Mavs, with holes to fill at every position and needing to hit on a rotation player, are set to pick at No. 17, their highest selection since 2000 when Dallas took Etan Thomas at No. 12.
Ooh, sorry Donnie, but that one's got to go in the bad column.
Of course, the Mavs have never been legendary drafters, no matter who has been calling the shots. For every Mark Aguirre (No. 1 overall in 1981), Rolando Blackman (No. 9 in 1981), Dale Ellis (No. 9 in 1983), Derek Harper (No. 11 in '83) and Kidd (No. 2 in 1994, although his second stint has already lasted longer than his first), there is a laundry list of botched choices from Uwe Blab (No. 17 in 1985) to Cherokee Parks (No. 12 in 1995) to Doug Smith (No. 6 in 1991) to Samaki Walker (No. 9 in 1996).
Walker played 123 games for the Mavs over three failed seasons. Other choices in the '96 draft: No. 13 Kobe Bryant, No. 14 Peja Stojakovic, No. 15 Steve Nash, No. 17 Jermaine O'Neal and No. 24 Derek Fisher.
After the Mavs made Blab their third first-round pick in the '85 draft -- and their second German-born selection of the night behind Detlef Schrempf (who was taken at No. 8 with Louisiana Tech power forward Karl Malone still on the board) -- Joe Dumars went 18th, A.C. Green was picked 23rd and Terry Porter was 24th.
The year prior, 1984, was a particularly interesting draft for Dallas. After Hakeem Olajuwon, Sam Bowie and Michael Jordan led things off, the Mavs stepped up at No. 4 and took Sam Perkins, a solid pro who played 17 seasons, the first six with the Mavs.
But with the No. 5 pick, the Philadelphia 76ers took Charles Barkley. That's not all. Dallas also had the No. 15 pick and selected Terence Stansbury out of Temple. Who was the 16th pick? John Stockton.
Of course, back then Dallas was already stocked with Harper, Blackman, Aguirre and Brad Davis, so a 6-foot-1 point guard out of Gonzaga was not of immediate concern.
However, picking Stansbury, a 6-foot-5 guard, was something of a head-scratcher. A few months later, before he ever played a game for the Mavs, they traded him, along with 1982 No. 4 overall pick Bill Garnett, to Indiana for a first-round pick six years later in 1990.
By the time the '90 draft finally rolled around, the Mavs had one pick: No. 49.
They selected Phil Henderson out of Duke.
Like Barkley, Malone and Stockton, Henderson never played a game for the Dallas Mavericks.