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.