Donnie Nelson: "When you put something like this together, you gotta know your coach"
Although you’re assistant coach and president of basketball operations, you’ve taken on much of the GM’s role with this team. Was this your first big test?
Donnie Nelson: I cringed a little bit when [Don Nelson] said that stuff. We do everything by committee here. Listen: No deal gets done without [owner Mark Cuban’s] approval. Mark is making a commitment. There are a lot of guys around the league who put together trades that get chopped off on the budget cutting board. When you put something like this together, you gotta know your coach and how he uses guys. Being around Nellie for a couple years, I know that he's a versatile coach and these are versatile players. I don’t really see it as my first deal because I’ve been integrally involved with all the deals -- as have Nellie and Mark since he’s been here.
But any of you could have said no to any deal?
DN: If Mark says no, it definitely does not get done. If Nellie says no, why acquire those pieces if he’s not going to use them? And I’m kind of the guy in the middle who tries to piece ’em together.
Were you under pressure to keep up with your opponents in the Western Conference?
DN: Obviously, I’m not blind. I see other teams are doing things to improve themselves. But what I was not willing to do was make a knee-jerk reaction to public pressure and bring in a 30-something center on his last legs who will cost one of our young pieces. I would rather have gone to war with what we had last year and let the chips fall where they may.
What sort of players were you looking for?
DN: We knew in the frontcourt that we had to add some bulk, some physicality, and better the rebounding. We were in on all the names (Alonzo Mourning, Brad Miller, Karl Malone) you guys read about. We thought a couple of ’em were done. And for whatever reason, they took different directions. That’s just the price of poker. Here, we do it in a different way. We do it with versatility, which is Nellie’s strong suit. We do it with great guys. Young guys. Guys that I think will fit great in that locker room. And you know how important chemistry is to us.
How long have you been working on this deal?
DN: The initial conversations started about a year ago and then it percolated a little bit around draft time and got pretty close the last couple of weeks. When I was in Lithuania (working with the national team) it got real hot and then came to a head around Thursday or Friday. Conducting a trade in the NBA is a lot like fishing. You’ve gotta put yourself in the right spot and then just be patient and when it strikes, you’re gonna be ready.
DN: They’re both equally proficient down there, in different ways. Antawn’s a quick hit guy. The thing with Antawn, he catches it and boom! He’s (shooting). If he misses it, he’s right back up there. He’s got a really good, quick, second jump. And Dirk’s really a more conventional, backing-down, look-at-your-options, draw-the-double-team type of player. He’s getting a lot better passing out of it. Hey, as far as forwards go, who in the West has a one-two punch like that?
You said Jiri Welsch could be a point-forward type. Would you make him a backup option at point guard?
DN: You know, if we started the season today, we’d have to get creative like that. And eventually he may do some of that, yes. He’s not ready to now, but in the future.
We were very interested in him in the draft a year ago. In fact, we tried to trade up to get him. With Jiri, [the Warriors] were very reluctant to put him in the deal. And we would not have done the deal without Jiri in it. So I think that speaks for the kind of respect we have for his game. He can put the ball down; he can shoot it; we think he has potential at three-point range. He’s one of those versatile guys who can play two, maybe three positions.
Would you be more likely to sign a free agent point guard at this stage than seek a trade?
DN: We’d like to. That would be our preference.
Chris Mills did not attend the press conference. Are you planning to trade him?
DN: Absolutely not. If something presented itself, would we weigh it? Yes. But he’s a guy who can back up Mike Finley at the two; he can play some three. He’s very tough, a mid-range scorer and a guy who’s got some playoff experience. No, we’re not just gonna kick a guy like that to the curb. As this team positions itself for the playoffs, he can help us.
You’ve brought Danny Fortson in to provide rebounding help. Are you concerned with his history of injuries and bad behavior?
DN: It was a traumatic year for him. He started out the season with the loss of his father. Then he missed training camp. We feel like if we pick him up, dust him off, he can really give us some solid minutes and be a player for us. I think it’s like in the case of Nick. There’s a perception there that I don’t think is accurate.
Van Exel also came to Dallas with a poor reputation, but left as a hero of the 2003 playoffs.
DN: When he was here, he was so good, so mature. The light goes on at different times for different people. We feel like we’re better, we feel like we’re younger. This deal not only makes sense in the short term, but also in the long term. Nick was fabulous for us. We owe him and those other four guys a great deal because without them, we would not have achieved the success that we did last year. But this was an opportunity for us to get better in the short run. It was really too much to pass up.Ken Turetzky lives in Texas and writes about the NBA for numerous publications