Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images.
This year’s MVP Award is about as open-and-shut as it gets. It’s not so much a ‘race’ as it is an ordaining, with LeBron James securing the second of what should be many MVP honors with another absolutely dominant season. Other names are thrown around to artificially generate some conversation where there should be none, and as something of a consolation prize to every NBA superstar not named LeBron.
As far as individual accolades go, that’s what these guys have to play for: second place, runner-up, honorable mention. James has reached such a stellar level of individual production that claiming to be his equal is as foolish as it is false, and thus the highest individual honor another player can receive is simply to have a place at his table.
That’s essentially what the MVP “conversation” has devolved to this season, and in the name of giving Dirk Nowitzki his due among the next tier of stars, I’ll simply point you toward Dirk’s body of work this season.
|Player||PER||adj +/-||win shares||WARP
Nowitzki is truly elite. His numbers compare favorably to even the best in the league. However, while the metrics are fairly kind to Dirk, there is yet another divide that exists between Nowitzki and some of his contemporaries. At the absolute pinnacle of the game is James, who should start clearing out a shelf or six in his trophy case. On the second tier are Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, and Kevin Durant, three spectacular talents that are somehow only getting better. Below them sits Nowitzki, as well as Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, and Deron Williams, as well as a few other stars that either aren’t performing quite up to their usual levels of excellence or haven’t experienced enough team success to be considered viable MVP candidates.
Dirk lies at the impressive intersection of those criteria, and his individual ability to impact a basketball game is obviously directly related to the Mavs’ 54-win mark. He is Dallas’ unquestioned offensive anchor, and though Jason Kidd also has a profound influence on how Dallas operates on that end, this is Dirk’s show. His ability to operate out of the high post is unmatched, and he’s a far more accomplished low post scorer than many are willing to admit. He’s ultimately a more productive player than Nash (which is partially attributable to their different roles), both more productive and more efficient than Williams, and posted a better overall season than Bryant.
I would argue that Nowitzki warrants prime placement on MVP ballots among that third group of stars. I’ve always interpreted the MVP as an award for the player with the most outstanding season, and with that as the basis for selection, I fail to see how you could choose any other third tier candidate. It’s not that Nash, Williams, or Bryant are inherently flawed choices; each is having a fine season and is near the top of their profession. Dirk has just been a bit better this year.
Steve Nash is an absolute wizard when it comes to running an offense, and he’s one of the most efficient shooters in the game. But he’s also one of the league’s worst defenders (not an exaggeration) and most of Nash’s edge in scoring efficiency can be chalked up to his notably low usage. Once that’s accounted for, Steve’s alarming turnover rate (21.3%!) starts to hedge his offensive value, if only a bit. Nowitzki, on the other hand, is positively stingy in his protection of the ball; Dirk’s turnover rate is about a third of Nash’s, despite a significantly higher usage rate. I think it would be difficult to argue that Nash was more productive this season on offense than Nowitzki to begin with, but Dirk’s added scoring volume, defensive edge (Nowitzki may not be great, but he’s still far better than Nash), and rebounding push him well over the top.
The nature of Dirk’s comparison to Deron Williams is quite similar, though with a few exceptions: Nash is a far more efficient scorer than Deron and a slightly more prolific passer, but Williams is a significantly better defender and less prone to turn the ball over. The net result of a comparison between Dirk and Deron is thus more of the same: Nowitzki’s impressive combination of high volume and high efficiency (despite his high usage) just makes too convincing of a case.
As for Kobe Bryant, I’m going to put this in a way that’s sure to inspire some reactionary commenters: where is it exactly that Kobe is supposed to have the advantage over Dirk? Bryant’s points per minute edge over Nowitzki is negligible. Kobe doesn’t get to the free throw line more often, he too turns the ball over more than Nowitzki, and faces a sizable deficit in shooting percentage (despite having superior teammates, a legendary offensive system, and a masterful coach). He creates for his teammates more often than Dirk does, but not to a particularly dominant degree (23.8 assist rate vs. 12.8). The only significant advantage that Bryant has over Nowitzki is his defense, but he also has a few things working against him:
- The Lakers are struggling badly, and team leaders — like Bryant — are held accountable for those struggles. There’s no excuse for L.A. not to put fear in the hearts of men, and yet they only seem particularly intimidating on paper. Los Angeles is still the favorite to win the West, as they should be, but the fact that their conference supremacy is even slightly in question is a blemish.
- Clutch play, typically regarded as a Bryant strength, is actually advantage: Dirk. And this is one of Kobe’s most impressive clutch seasons ever.
- Efficiency matters. It really, really does. Basketball isn’t so much a game of how much you score but how you go about doing it, and the fact that Nowitzki can nearly match Bryant’s scoring production by using less of his teams possessions means quite a bit.
Just take a little glance up at the chart that’s posted above. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Even looking at the metrics where defense is accounted for (adjusted +/-, win shares, wins above replacement player), Bryant claims no advantage. His biggest victory among those four measures is a +0.6 edge in APM, while Dirk’s win shares are notably higher and his PER marginally higher.
It’s likely that if you consider Bryant to be an All-NBA defender, he makes your hypothetical MVP ballot. I don’t. He’s a good defender and a great one when he’s interested, but the Lakers’ troubles this season didn’t exclude Kobe and they weren’t solely restricted to the offensive end of the floor. The lack of focus and effort applied to Bryant as well. I’m sure part of that was natural letdown, part of it frustration, part of it having Ron Artest around to lock down on the perimeter, and plenty of it injury. All understandable, but they don’t reconcile the drop-off even if they do excuse it.
If you ask me who is the better player between the two, I’ll tell you it’s Kobe. If you ask me which of the two has had a better season, I’ll tell you it’s Dirk. The MVP rewards a player for having the most outstanding season, not necessarily for being the best player. That’s why things like games missed due to injury and consistency aren’t just arbitrary criteria. They legitimately matter because the award goes to the player with the greatest performance rather than the greatest potential to perform.
That player is LeBron James. But a few pegs down is Dirk Nowitzki, and he’s not too bad, either.
For kicks, my MVP ballot, if you haven’t discerned it already:
- LeBron James
- Dwight Howard
- Dwyane Wade
- Kevin Durant
- Dirk Nowitzki
Thanks to Basketball-Reference, Basketball Prospectus, and Basketball Value for stats and metrics used for this post.
- Doug Smith of the Toronto Star’s Raptors Blog: “Because of a bit of miscommunication, got to the media availability about 90 minutes early Saturday morning and was lucky – and by lucky I mean doomed – to get there in time for some fashion show on the practice court at the Jam Session. And that’s when we saw the sight that kind of made the day. After guys like Robert Horry and Bruce Bowen went, along with a couple of “real” models, here comes the last guy: The Hump! For real. Sporting a rather nifty fedora, this thin tie and sweater combo and looking entirely jaunty as a matter of fact. And when you go to a basketball practice and find a fashion show and get to see Kris Humphries in it, you’ve had a good day.”
- Dirk, Shakira. Shakira, Dirk.
- If somehow you missed out on The Basketball Jones’ All-Star coverage, you should probably get out of here and go watch. Now. Seriously, beat it, kid. Dirk steals the show in two of their vids, but even without Nowitzki it’s quality entertainment.
- Per Mark Followill (@mfollowill), Caron Butler will wear #4, Brendan Haywood will wear #33, and DeShawn Stevenson will wear #92.
- Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com: “The media and the Mavs are so caught up in Jason Terry’s team-first generosity – he graciously volunteered to sacrifice his starting 2-guard spot for newcomer Caron Butler before he could be asked to do so – that ignored in the excitement of the three-player package coming to Dallas from Washington is the likely replacement of another fixture in the Mavs’ starting lineup. Or have you forgotten about Erick Dampier? ‘You mean have I spoken to Damp about this?’ Carlisle said to me when I posed the question of the ‘other’ starter who might be benched. …’Well. …’ Carlisle continued after Monday’s practice, which introduced not only starting candidate Butler to his new team but also center Brendan Haywood, already tabbed by Mavs owner Mark Cuban as a ‘top-five center’ in the NBA. ‘Um. … you mean, have I spoken to Damp in the same way (that he’s spoken to Jet)? Well. … that’s a question that represents something we keep within the team. So I’m not going to answer that question.’ I think, though, that Rick just answered the question.”
- How cute. (via Steve Nash, @the_real_nash)
- On Ben & Skin, Josh Howard says he’s already looking forward to playing the Mavs in Dallas, and has an opportunity to say goodbye to ESPN Dallas “hater” Tim MacMahon.
- Is Dirk really a great NBA defender? One metric says so, but Bradford Doolittle admits it’s not “any sort of end-all/be-all of individual defensive metrics.” It probably should go without saying at this point, but I’m sure someone would take Basketball Prospectus’ list as definitive rankings.
- Rick Carlisle on Erick Dampier’s availability for tonight (via Eddie Sefko): “We’ll hold our breath.”
Photo by P.A. Molumby/NBAE via Getty Images.
Box Score — Play-By-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
“To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; credible we must be truthful.”
-Edward R. Murrow
For the purposes of this recap, the fact that the Mavericks lost is almost certainly a good thing.
I find it a bit difficult to rail on a team for winning. The explicit goal of playing in the NBA is to win games, and though there are millions of ways to accomplish that feat, the end result reads the same in the standings. All wins are obviously not created equal, but in a game where the Mavs are the victors, their weaknesses and limitations are easily disguised. The shoddy defense, the offensive impotence, the poor rebounding, the lack of consistent execution — all shoved into boxes in the corner of the garage, covered with a sheet, and forgotten.
Until a night like tonight. The defense we’ve come to expect from the Mavs’ strong start has been nonexistent in their last two contests, and any offensive momentum the Mavs have built in the past week was exhausted in the first three quarters against the Phoenix Suns. By the time the fourth came around, Dallas’ offense could do little other than sputter.
I have no intention of denying the Suns their due. They were relentless in their activity and ball movement, and were a huge part of the Mavs’ offensive collapse in the final quarter. They held the Mavs to just 16 points in the fourth on 6-21 shooting. Grant Hill (seven points, five rebounds) played terrific defense on Dirk (19 points, 5-11 FG, five rebounds) throughout, but of course he didn’t do it alone. The Suns’ ability to deny Dirk the ball late in the fourth quarter was absolutely tremendous, and that’s a team-wide effort. That’s Channing Frye cheating over a bit to help in the post. That’s Jared Dudley denying a pass. That’s Steve Nash (yes, that Steve Nash) making the entry pass just a little bit more difficult. This is how you phase your opponent’s best player out of the game, and the result speaks for itself.
Of course it didn’t exactly help matters that Phoenix was getting to the basket at will. The Suns had 22 attempts at the rim compared to the Mavs’ 12, mostly due to poor rotations in the paint; Erick Dampier’s (12 points, four rebounds) minutes and mobility were limited and Drew Gooden (eight points, three rebounds) looked suspiciously like Drew Gooden. And on the perimeter? The Mavs were lost, doubling Amar’e Stoudemire (22 points, one rebound, five turnovers) in the post at the wrong moments and scrambling to account for Steve Nash (19 points, 11 assists). The mayhem left plenty of shooters open from behind the arc, where the Suns’ collection of marksmen nailed nine of their 15 attempts. 38 of Phoenix’s 73 attempts came from highly efficient spots on the floor, and they added 31 free throw attempts just for the hell of it. That’s three very efficient ways of scoring for the Suns, contributing a total of 82 points on 51 estimated possessions.
Needless to say, that’s not exactly championship caliber defense. And the offense that scored just eight points in the final seven minutes? Well, that’s not even quasi-contender quality. The Mavs are past the point where they “need to figure these things out,” and on to “they really should have figured these things out by now.” Things should be getting easier on the offensive end, and the defensive game plan should be second nature. That hasn’t happened. And though it seems like centuries between now and the playoffs, the post-All-Star stretch will fly by. The Mavs are far from a lost cause, but if they’re to peak at the right time, they should probably get started with their marked improvement relatively soon.
- Jason Terry (21 points, 8-15 FG, five assists) looks to be in an offensive rhythm. One can only hope that this is more than a mirage, and that the productive, efficient JET is here to stay.
- Josh Howard’s (seven points, 3-10 FG, six rebounds, two turnovers) presence on the court was pretty damning. I so badly want to defend Josh’s play because I think he’s putting in the effort, but his performance is hardly worthy of significant floor time. He’s losing his man on defense, he can’t convert on jumpers or in the lane, and he’s stopping the ball. Rick Carlisle’s in a tough place in managing Howard’s ego, playing time, and trade value, but something has to give.
- The Mavs looked great working against the zone, as they moved the ball to the open area of the floor, drew in the D, and kicked it out. The Suns tried their hand at zoning up for just two possessions early in the game, and two Jason Kidd jumpers later (one two-pointer and one three-pointer), they were back to man-to-man.
- Amar’e Stoudemire had a weird game. He grabbed just one rebound in 27 minutes. He sat out the entire fourth quarter. He floated. He scored .0.84 points per minute. He could get moved, and after the game he was all smiles. If you can make any sense of those events, then by all means.
- Dirk Nowitzki’s last field goal attempt came with 6:15 left in the fourth quarter. Yikes. To steal a line from Hedo Turkoglu on what could have helped Dirk contribute more down the stretch: Ball.
- I’m convinced that Jared Dudley may be the perfect role player. He works hard, he rebounds, and he completely overcomes his limitations by playing smart defense, limiting his shots to where’s he’s most effective, and moving without the ball.
- Goran Dragic (13 points, 4-6 FG) isn’t a “completely different player” from last year, but he’s skipped a step in his evolutionary process and become an instant contributor. He was much more of a scorer than a playmaker last night, but Dragic is capable of doing both playing either guard position. He continues to find ways to make himself more and more useful.
- Obligatory mention to Louis Amundson (12 points, 5-7 FG, two blocks), whose play kept Amar’e off the floor.
- The Mavs shot .500 from the field, Marion chipped in 15 points and 8 rebounds, Dampier added 12 points, Jason Kidd notched 13 points and six assists and J.J. Barea scored eight points on just five shots to go along with four assists. Combined with Terry’s production, that’s about all you can ask from the supporting cast. Makes you wonder what could have been offensively if the Mavs hadn’t completely fallen apart in the fourth quarter, doesn’t it?
- Black eye on Shawn Marion’s game: Marion missed a fairly basic look from short range with the Mavs down three and under a minute remaining. Dallas then gives up a layup to Steve Nash (not Marion’s fault), and is forced to go into fouling mode (only kind of Marion’s fault).
- Just for fun, look at the contrast between this picture from Tuesday and this picture from last night.
Shot distribution data courtesy of HoopData.
The ESPNDallas crew put together a list of the top 10 Mavericks of the decade, and here are their rankings:
- Dirk Nowitzki
- Steve Nash
- Michael Finley
- Jason Terry
- Josh Howard
- Nick Van Exel
- Jason Kidd
- Devin Harris
- Jerry Stackhouse
- Erick Dampier
I’m a bit lost as to the criteria used, though. If it’s the out-and-out best players (talent and production-wise) to play for the Mavs in the 2000s, Jason Kidd seems slighted. If it’s based on production in a Maverick uniform this decade, Jason Terry may not be getting the respect he deserves. And if it’s based on…well, whatever metric puts Nick Van Exel (who make no mistake is one of my personal favorites in team history) ahead of Jason Kidd, Devin Harris, and Erick Dampier, then that explains that. This just seems like an exercise where you need to take talent, production, and Maverick tenure all into account, and with that in mind the order seems a bit scrambled.
It’s not an easy list to compile. We can all agree that Dirk stands at the top of the list, with Steve Nash a perfectly acceptable second fiddle. But where do you go from there? Michael Finley is the best scorer of the bunch, Jason Terry kept the Mavs afloat sans Nash and has a Finals appearance under his belt, and Jason Kidd is probably the best of the remaining crop despite his short tenure. After that, you’ve got some combination of Josh Howard, Devin Harris, and Erick Dampier, three Mavs that were absolutely instrumental to the team’s success during the most successful stretch this decade, and each contributing in unique ways that only sometimes show up on the stat sheet (scoring balance, change-of-pace potential, interior defense). Only then do I get to Jerry Stackhouse and Nick Van Exel, but with DeSagana Diop, Antawn Jamison, and MARQUIS DANIELS getting some consideration.
Sound off in the comments, because I’m curious to hear everyone’s take on this. What’s the best way to go about ranking the decade’s Mavs? And given those criteria, who’veyagot?
The first all-star balloting returns are in, and there’s plenty of good news for the Mavs. Here are the Western Conference tallies by position:
|Steve Nash||272, 135
|Chris Paul||248, 049
|Jason Kidd ||207, 247
|Jason Terry||131, 422
Vote counts via NBA.com.
Shawn Marion actually ranks 7th among forwards, not that it matters all that much. But the strong showings by Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, and Jason Terry are indicative of not only the Mavs’ solid start, but the nice voting bump given to players of the hometown team. Not that Dirk and Kidd don’t deserve their respective places in the polls, but the precedent just isn’t there to expect such fan support for Terry or Marion.
Tracy McGrady, who hasn’t played a NBA game since the early 1800s, is the big surprise. And the good news is that supposing the voters come to their senses (as they typically do by the second or third returns), Jason Kidd has a legit shot at a reserve spot. Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul figure to be the starters when all is said and done, and Steve Nash is well-deserving of a reserve selection. But aside from those three, which guard is more deserving than Kidd? The other elite guards of the West have struggled in one way or another, and though there’s a solid list of candidates (Ginobili, Williams, Roy, Parker), there’s no clear front-runner. Kidd’s Dallas affiliation would also win him a bit of favor as a reserve selection, as the coaches tend to do the hometown players a solid (a la David West in New Orleans). If that’s the case, it would be the first time the Mavs have had two players in the All-Star Game since 2007, when Josh Howard was chosen by the coaches.
Steve Nash was able to accomplish plenty with the Mavs, but it wasn’t until he landed in Phoenix that his particular talents were in full effect. The Seven Seconds or Less system is as much Nash’s as it is Mike D’Antoni’s, and though Pringles is coaching in the Garden these days (where the grass isn’t quite greener), Alvin Gentry has made it his mission to return the Suns to their roots. Watching Phoenix this season has been a treat, and even though having a competitive Suns team isn’t great news for the Mavs in terms of the playoff race, it’s terrific that Dallas again has another foil. Beyond that, it’s simply brilliant that the most energizing and mesmerizing offensive system of recent history has found its rightful home. This is Phoenix Suns basketball in its purest form, which is not only a brilliant display on the hardwood, but the truest equivalent of life itself in the NBA:
Mike D’Antoni may not have been a prophet, but he was certainly a philosopher. The trademark of D’Antoni’s Suns was always their mortality, and I think that legacy has lived on through this current team. The Seven Seconds or Less squads wear (or wore) their vulnerabilities on their sleeve, but their mortality comes as much from leading a particularly vulnerable existence as it does from finding exuberance in it. These teams, in all of their fast-breaking splendor and glory, know how to live. They know how to play a bit, too, but the defining legacy of the Mike D’Antoni era in Phoenix (which lives on today) should be the Suns’ artful display of basketball as life.
Maybe the hustle and the bustle of the Suns doesn’t quite fit your living style, but who could possibly claim that the exaggerated in-game highs and lows of the Suns — the 20-point lead built and swallowed by a 5-25 run, the 3-point barrages followed by defensive letdowns — aren’t basketball’s most fitting equivalent of life on the outside? It’s not about the 9-5 grind, and it’s not necessarily about winning all the time; the Suns’ existence is predicated on winning more than you lose, embracing who you are, playing by your own rules, learning to live through the ups and downs, and remembering that the line between work and play doesn’t have to be crystal clear. They work hard, they score points, and they play basketball like it’s a game worth playing. They may not have the talent of the Lakers or the convention of the Spurs, but this is a team of hard workers and ball players with a plan. I don’t know if that plan means anything in the Western Conference playoff picture this season, and in the grand scheme of things I’m not sure it matters all that much. If there were ever a solid case to be made against the championship being the end-all of athletic conquests, it would have to be the Suns, who may have discovered along the way to 60-win seasons and the Conference Finals that the journey is perhaps the worthier part.
Follow the yellow brick road over to Hardwood Paroxysm to read my whole piece on the Suns vis a vis life.
Tip-off in Dallas at 7:30 CST.
- Interbasket.net sat down with Nathan Jawai for a little Q&A, and Jawai proved to be quite the brown-noser when asked about his favorite players: Ibn: Who are your favorite players? “Well, a range of players for their specific fundamentals they bring to the game. Dwight Howard’s aggressiveness at the post and his D. Now going back to the old-timers in Australian NBL, Andrew Gaze commitment and leadership. Though mostly the biggest influence on me has to be, (Dirk) Nowitzki. His current leadership and hints to me have totally influenced me on how to improve my game in every way. Oh, he’s gonna like that…”
- Shawn Marion suggests that the Mavericks may exist on a plane where ‘position’ is merely passing fancy.
- Spotted: what we can only assume is a Mavs fan donning the jersey of one of the franchise’s most beloved role players. EDDIE!
- Hey, remember that time Russell Westbrook lit the Mavs up for a five-point play? Yeah…good…times…
- SLAM Online’s Joey Whelan names the addition of Marion as the Southwest’s Best Long-Term Move: “This one may come a as a surprise pick for some given that the UNLV grad is coming off a significant down year statistically, but Marion has landed in a perfect situation to get back to being a major force. This addition gives Dallas a slew of offensive weapons to surround aging point guard Jason Kidd with for what should be the final three years of his career. While this may not suddenly thrust the Mavs into the race for Western Conference supremacy, it does put them right on the heels of the Lakers and the Spurs in regards to the pecking order.”
- This time, a Ball Don’t Lie two-fer: Donnie ranks among the top GMs, and the top two point guards…well, isn’t it obvious?
- Marc Stein is all over the news that Dirk won’t be playing for the German national team, and managed to nab several quotes that every Mavs fan should read. From the top, Dirk’s take on the whole situationt: “”I’m not mad at Cubes at all,” Nowitzki said in a phone interview. “He’s been great to me these last 10, 11 years. He always let me chase my dream. And we always agreed that if I made the Olympics, it would be [time] to take a break…This time he basically told me, ‘I’d prefer if you not play.’ He kind of left it up to me. I think if I would have really kept harping on it, then he wouldn’t have tried to stop me. But I think it’s the right decision…I’m happy I’m keeping my word to him, because he kept his word to me for the last 10, 11 years.”
- Stein notes the following on the goings-on of pro basketball: The NBA’s agreement with FIBA — basketball’s international governing body — stipulates that NBA teams cannot prevent their players from participating in international competition in the offseason as long as the players’ respective national federations can afford the requisite insurance. The exception to that rule is when a player is injured or still recovering from a documented injury, as evidenced earlier this week when the Mavericks did invoke their right to prevent reserve guard J.J. Barea from joining Puerto Rico’s national team because Barea is still recovering from shoulder surgery in late May.”
- Dirk, on the acquisition of Shawn Marion et al this summer: “I like where we’re at. I think we made some good moves this summer. Now we’ve just got to give it some time so we can grow together.”
- Mark Cuban, on if this issue has strained his relationship with Dirk: “Dirk and I are good with everything.”
Marc Stein, ladies and gentlemen.
- Our friend Marcin Gortat has reportedly injured his back while playing for the Polish national team, the third injury to a notable NBA player (Tony Parker, Pau Gasol) that has happened overseas this summer. It looks like Dirk picked the right summer to sit out. (via mavsnews)
- Drew Gooden is a strange dude. (via ShareBro Wyn)
- Art Garcia talks shop with Shawn Marion, and there’s one particular item of note aside from the “guy on a new team” pleasantries: “Touches shouldn’t be a problem in Big D, where Marion is reunited with point guard Jason Kidd, whom he played with during his first two seasons in Phoenix. Coach Rick Carlisle has already promised that the Mavs will run as never before this season and added that Marion, more than anyone else, is the reason, likening the addition to ‘putting methane in the gas tank.’”
- An good, honest debate among ball folk on who is better at this stage in their careers: Steve Nash or Jason Kidd? (via Fish at DallasBasketball.com)
- Could Drew Gooden’s contract be more valuable (trade-wise) than we were led to believe?
- Charles Barkley was asked once again about the playoff hullabaloo surrounding Dirk and his “praise” for the Nuggets’ defenders, and he’s still missing the boat (via Sports Radio Interviews): “If a guy was sleeping and thought he could stop me, I’d go over to his house in the middle of the night and slap the hell out of him. If he even was dreaming about the fact that he could stop me, I would go to his house, and I’d just walk in his room and slap the hell out of him, and say, ‘Wake up. Don’t even think you can guard me.’ That’s the mentality you have to have if you’re gonna be a superstar in this league.” This. Will. Not. Die.
- A recount of the fateful 2004 summer that brought Steve Nash’s departure and the acquisition of Erick Dampier. I’m not sure it’s entirely fair from the Mavs’ side of things, but the point is made: Damp is no Nash.
- Von Wafer and Glen Davis, two recent residents in the Mavs’ rumor mill, have signed with Olympiakos and the Celtics, respectively. For what it’s worth, Davis ended up signing for far less than the potentially gaudy contract that haunted my nightmares. Logic prevails!
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.