Ancient History

Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 24, 2009 under Commentary, News | 8 Comments to Read

The Mark Cuban-Don Nelson Chronicles are water under the bridge.  Though that water may never flood, it looks like raw sewage and smells like something that’s passed through the system of a sick old woman.  No matter how much we try to ignore those past events and continue on our way, the stench that lingers around the franchise is undeniable.

After all, the rift between Nelson and Cuban influenced more than a few personnel decisions, the direction of the franchise, and a certain 2007 first round playoff exit by our fair Mavs.  Gulp.

There’s no real point in boiling things down to a personal level; this is more a disagreement between two gents than it is a true basketball headline.  But deep within the court transcripts are testimonies of events from both perspectives.  It’s a glimpse into the machinery that once powered the Dallas Mavs, and though it’s undoubtedly skewed by the parties involved, at the very we flesh out some of the details.

You can view the entire transcript here thanks to the Dallas Morning News, and they’ve chopped down two sections of interest (the story behind Steve Nash’s departure and Don Nelson’s exile) for your reading pleasure.  If you take the time to read the entire thing, some sections certainly come off as petty.  There will be more than a few arched eyebrows.  But when you’ve got a personal, working relationship between two guys that has been utterly destroyed by millions in “blood money” owed, harsh words on both sides, and possibly some hexes, curses, or voodoo dolls involved, things are going to get a little emotional.  Things get to be a little…much. (Hat tip on the DMN link to Tom Ziller at FanHouse.)

But for those of you that don’t enjoy cramming in 800 pages of legal testimony over your weekend, I’ve pulled a few things that I found interesting:

Nellie expounds on the beginning of the end of his relationship with Mark Cuban (p 131-134):

Nelson: …I think it was in game three in the playoff series, we are in the finals for the West.  We had our best team, and I had a really legitimate chance to beat them.  And it was game three, I believe, and it was in our place.  And Nowitzki dislocated his kneecap in a very dangerous injury…you dislocate your kneecap, it’s a very difficult injury…I had that particular injury, Elgin Baylor had it when I played with the Lakers the year that I was there, and so I am familiar with the injury.  And so had a practice day, he couldn’t practice, he had some swelling.  And we played the next day, and there was no way that I could see him playing in that next game.  And he wanted to play, and he was out shooting on the court.  He could stand there and shoot, you know, shots; but if you asked him, which I did, I went down to the court and asked him to run and move, he couldn’t do it.  Well, basketball is a pretty fast game…Mark came into the – into my office and wanted him to play.  And I said, I just couldn’t play him.  There is just no way he could play in a playoff game or an NBA game.  And he argued his point and sent the doctor in.

The doctor said it would be okay to play him.  He couldn’t hurt it any more, and it would be okay to try him in the game.  And I told the doc that I couldn’t play him.  You know, I was here to look after Nowitzki.  His dad when we signed him as a rookie told me that I was his American father and to look after him.  And so I didn’t want to jeopardize this great young player’s career for a basketball game, no matter how important it seemed at the time…I never thought [our relationship] was the same after that.

Nellie was apparently miserable his last year in Dallas.  According to Nelson, he had no say in the signing of free agent center Erick Dampier (though that’s the kind of signing anyone would try to wipe their hands clean of) and wasn’t the biggest fan of Damp as a player (p 144):

Nelson: I let [Avery Johnson] coach a few games while I sat next to him and helped, and then he took over for me when I missed some games because of surgeries.  And that was the enjoyable part of the season.  Nothing else was enjoyable.  We – we didn’t have Nash.  We had kind of a new team.  We had players that I didn’t really identify very well with, Eric Dampier, for example, the money that – even more money than they were going to pay Nash, I think Dampier signed for more than we were even talking about Steve Nash.  And I considered him to be a very doggy player that they totally overpaid.

Perhaps the most alarming testimony to fans of the franchise is the indication that Donnie Nelson intended to take Pavel Podkolzin, everyone’s favorite oversized Russian and NBA irrelevant, with the fifth overall pick in the 2004 draft.  Nelson (the elder) claims that he personally talked Donnie out of picking Pavel at 5, even after being wronged by Mark Cuban and the franchise as a whole (147-148):

Nelson: …And the following year, I assumed I was in charge of the draft.  Little did I know, no one told me that changes had been made, and I went into the draft and my son was in charge, and I didn’t know that.
So I was conducting my normal business, talking to my scouts, and Donnie was there.  And Donnie wanted to draft this big Russian, I forgot his name.  He’s a seven six guy from Russia.  We had the fifth pick, and Donnie wanted to take him number 5.  And I watched a lot of film of this kid, and [blacked out].

Donnie wanted to draft this guy number five.  And we had just lost Steve Nash.  We needed a point guard.  We had Jason Terry, but – coming in, I think, but he wasn’t a point guard.  So it was clear.  There were three good point guards in the draft.

And I said, Donnie, I cannot take that Russian five.  And he asked me if I would go in the men’s room.  I went in the men’s room with him and he informed me that I wasn’t in charge of the draft.  And I said, oh, really?  Well, who is?  He said, I am.  And I said, well, it’s nice of somebody to tell me.

And I said, well, if that’s the case, then as your father I’m asking you don’t draft [blacked out] and Donnie didn’t.  He took Devin Harris, and then he got another pick and took this big Russian.

The very idea that the man currently at the Maverick helm once dreamed of squandering the return value of the Antawn Jamison trade (much less the potential drafting of Devin Harris) on Pavel Podkolzin is equally shocking and distressing.  Saying that Pavel was a non-factor is putting it nicely.  Not.  Good.

And finally, one completely out of left field: Golden State Warrior Kelenna Azubuike was apparently on the track to becoming a Mav, until some shady dealings described by Mark Cuban pushed him the Warriors’ way.  I’m not sure if these dealings are actually dealings or if they’re even shady to begin with, but the picture is definitely painted in a way that would implicate Don Nelson as some sort of prospect thief (p 179):

Cuban: During that season Donnie had helped, and I think Nellie may have participated as well, Sydney Moncrief get a job as the D-league coach for our D-league affiliate.  And Donnie had come to me and said, look, there’s kid that we’re going to put in the D-league to help get some experience named Kelenna Azubuke, and we really like this kid.  You know, we think he can contributed, maybe not be a starter, but be a second team player, second unit player, and – at the minimum, but let’s see how he plays in Fort Worth.  And we did that.  And Nellie had a better relationship than we did with Mr. Moncrief, I guess, and Mr. Azubuke went to play for the Warriors.

  • Cynthia

    Just wondering my these transcripts are just now being talked about when (apparently) they were available to the media 2 yrs ago. That being said, yes some of it looks pretty damning on Donnie….especially that Pavel thing. BUT the MAVS DIDN’T draft Pavel at #5 so the point is pretty moot, dontcha think? It kinda looks like Nellie is not only trying to throw Cuban under the bus, but HIS son also. To me, THAT fact looks just as bad if not worse than Donnie wanted to draft Pavel at #5.
    This Cuban-Nellie relationship apparently had gotten sooo damn bad they were nitpicking at who hugged who one time when they had a meeting. BOTH of these guys are and were acting like spoiled children. This is over and done with now and when the appeal is over Nellie will get his money (which imop IS ALL that really matters to Nellie) and it’ll all be water under the bridge. As far as Donnie and the Devin-Pavel draft thing, what GM hasn’t f’d up and picked the wrong guy before? Example…who was the genius that drafted Kwame Brown 1st? Or Eddie Curry in the top 5 or 10? Or Joe Smith who was drafted 1st? Or Sam Bowie…1st also while Michael Jordon was drafted AFTER Bowie? Juwan Howard in the top 10? Danny Ferry…another top 10 who DID NOTHING. I could go ON and ON. Be glad Pavel wasn’t another mistake and MOVE ON. What’s done is done.

  • benway37

    Funny you mentioned Jordan/Bowie.
    It was Jordan who drafted Kwame Brown in Washington.

    • Rob Mahoney

      @Cynthia: But see, all draft busts are not created equal. For the record, Bowie was taken 2nd, and Jordan 3rd. He was also a good player, just one that was completely decimated by injury. Bad luck and a bad injury history more than anything, which is hardly incriminating considering it was 1984. Factor in the fact that they already had Clyde Drexler, one of the best shooting guards of all time, and I think Portland gets a bad rap for some pretty unfortunate circumstances. But no matter how you slice it with Bowie, with Curry, with Kwame, Joe Smith, Darko, whoever: those were all NBA players. Curry was slightly productive in Chicago and even a bit in New York, until his weight and attitude got out of control. Kwame’s still in the NBA, if for no other reason than he’s a decent post defender. Joe Smith and Juwan Howard have both had pretty lengthy NBA careers as average players. Sure they were all relative busts for their draft position, but they’re good enough to stay in the NBA. Podkolzin couldn’t even do that much, as his lack of mobility made him absolutely useless as a NBA center. That’s the kind of thing that usually shows up in even the most basic of film analyses, and that you’d like your GM to pick up on.

      Also, I’m fairly certain that most of those respective general managers were fired. Not retired, not left on amicable terms, not parted ways, but fired. I’m not at all sure about Portland’s GM, though.

      Obviously since it didn’t happen (and hell, like you mentioned, Cynthia, we can’t even test the accuracy of Nellie’s testimony), we can’t hold Donnie accountable. That would be ridiculous. But supposing that the testimony is true, this particular incident would put another blemish on Donnie’s draft and management record. It’s far from spotless, and that’s really the only reason this is pertinent; such an accusation bears little when standing alone, but coupled with the rest of Donnie’s slip-ups during his time with the team, and one starts to get a little worried. I’m not even looking at the panic button yet, but I’ve reminded myself that it exists.

  • Cynthia

    While I understand the thought of “reminding yourself the panic button exists”, what are you gonna do about it? There IS nothing we can do about it. As long as Donnie is GM we just have to hope that he does the very best job possible for the MAVS. Obviously Cuban sees something in Donnie. Because if he didn’t, why would he keep Nellie’s son on as GM? And while I’m not saying Donnie is the best GM in league you could certainly get a helluva lot worse….Mike Dunleavy comes to mind. He’s screwed up the Clippers for YEARS, yet he’s still there as COACH AND GM to wreck havoc. I actually feel sorry for Blake Griffin having to deal with that MESS in LA. The Clips have a sorry COACH, GM and OWNER. See?? Things could be worse….a helluva lot worse.

  • rhett

    I suppose my concern is having an owner who tells the coach who to play, who let’s Nash walk and who signs damp without consulting his GM.Generally you hire folks with specialized skills and let them work. Its hard to imagine this happening in S.A.
    I am a big fan of Cuban. His commitment to winning is one of the best things about being a mavs fan. You do tend to wonder about just how sharp the double edge on that sword is though.You would hate to think that maybe Donnie is simply a better ‘yes man’ than his father and a poor evaluator of talent. You would hate to think it, but perhaps the case could be made.

  • benway37

    The whole Pavel at 5 thing is only pertinent to the matters at hand, like was Mavs brass over-estimating the potential Gortat presented.
    In other words, maybe not getting him is a blessing in disguise. Not to condone the owner interfering with his GM on basketball related issues, but letting Nash go really was a sound basketball move. Replacing him with Damp? Not so much, but for all his accolades, Nash has not taken any of the loaded PHX teams any farther than he could go with Dallas. Or conversely, it was precisely a loaded PHX team that Dallas went through to get to the Finals in 06.
    I have honestly never had any beef with the decision to let Nash go. He is such a soft defender that he gives up almost as much as he gets you.
    Just an opinion, but one that is supported by all sorts of evidence.

  • dude

    Nellie strikes me as a kind of employee who is taking the dollars and doing as little as possible to earn it. He was every bit the “dog” that he accuses Dampier of being. He didn’t speak up enough to dissuade the front office from signing dampier because he had checked out and was cashing his paychecks.

    On hindsight he just couldn’t do anything about it. Hmmm even though he thought he was till in charge of the draft the next year, he couldn’t effect the signing of dampier.

    And his revisionist history on Nashie is telling. Nellie was the biggest person out there talking about how he was breaking down and couldn’t stay healthy. He also agreed that Phoenix overpaid…

    Cubes can be pretty disingenuous but it seems like all of his warts are out there, but nellie manages to gloss over his responsibilities (or lack thereof).

  • dgatorr

    i will put my 2 cents in here, a little late but here it is. i also am not upset about losin Nash. as i remember his play the last couple years, was as a slacker. his play had slipped away and the Mavs lost the agressiveness of the run and gun of Nellie, the last couple years. i dont even believe it was all Cubans doing to let him go, but more Nash’s sliding around to get better money than he knew he would get from Cuban. you have to rememeber he made the deal with Phoenix even before Cuban had a chance to talk about resigning him. in my estimation, Nash backstabbed the Mavs, for whatever reason, it was his doing to go to Phoenix, not so much Cubans !

    this business with Devin Harris, is also another spot that some of the fans are wrong in. we still cant forget the Harris for Kidd trade in which i believe was a very good trade. Harris was NOT going to take the Mavs to a Championship. and before you ask what has Kidd done in a year and a half, ask yourself how far do you think any team can go with a 3 man team ?(Kidd, Jet, Dirk)as you seen this year Harris and his team didnt even get to the play offs. YES, he was named to the all stars but why ? remember he is in the eastern conferance now, which is nothing compared to the west ! and JKidd is a more all around player even in his elder years than Harris is today. Kidd has better defense, which is vertually non existent in Harris. Kidd is a better play maker than Harris. Kidd is a better distributor than Harris, Kidd is a better rebounder, and generally a better disruptor of the oppositions floor games, just because you just never know where he will show up defensively. Kidd is a scrambler and a very intense player with above average drive and skill, which Harris will never have.

    Damp, i have to agree was a Big mistake in paying him as much as they did. His play is not even close to his pay, but he is like everyone else. is it HIS fault the money was offered ? you and i both would have taken it and you know it ! and being contract year, look for exceptional play this year ! lol

    i have a much better helping of opptimism for the 09-10 season this year with the addition of the Matrix, along with the others. my only question now is, is there enough time for all these players to meld together and make it work ? and will JHo come to camp healthy and ready to get back to his playing abilities of 06-07 ? i do believe a team of veterans can have the desire to win the whole thing, over young, or rookie players. remember Boston 08-09 ? GOOOOOOOO MAVS !