Don Nelson Rumors
And when I told Don Nelson – my roommate in Boston – that he was going to take over, he said “I’m not ready to coach.” I told him, “Nellie, you’re the coach. So let’s go for it.” He grew with the team and became obviously a Hall of Fame coach. That’s the reward, when you make decisions like that and they turn out well. That’s the pleasure I get now in an advisory capacity with Toronto. I tell the team when I speak to them before the season, my greatest joy is seeing others succeed.
Dirk Nowitzki: To be standing here 19 years later and be one of the six to ever score 30,000, it’s been bizarre. It’s been surreal. It’s been a crazy ride. I’ve been fortunate, with a great owner, with a great coach in the beginning who gave me a lot of confidence in Nellie (Don Nelson), great teammates, starting with Steve (Nash) and Mike (Finley), and J-Kidd obviously helping me get the ring. Am I comfortable? It’s been a crazy ride. And I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.
Nelson’s time coaching the Mavericks also served to help. Having helped engineer the draft day trade that delivered Nowitzki to Dallas in 1999, Nelson’s stint during Nowitzki’s formative years gave him great insight into how to frustrate the league’s MVP. “It helped a ton,” says Azubuike, who was plucked out of the D-League when Richardson went down in January. “He knew Dirk’s every move pretty much, and we made him turn the ball over a ton because of that. He’d get the ball around the free-throw line, and coach would say, ‘OK, he’s about to spin,’ and he’d have us practice sending one guy over there when he turned and we’d be able to get that steal. It wasn’t just that play; there were a bunch like that. It helped us tremendously.”
Not even the man who passed up a seemingly sure thing in Kansas All-American Paul Pierce so he could secure Nowitzki. “Nobody could imagine he would be this good,” Nelson said. “I thought we were going to have an All-Star and a guy we could build the franchise with. “That’s what I thought. And he’s carried it way past that.”
“He was the most talented [teenager] that I’d ever seen besides being about 7-foot-1,” Nellie says after spending a recent day on a golf course near his home in Hawaii. “The guy was incredible, so I fell in love with him and figured if he ever played a game in [the Hoop Summit] I’d never be able to draft him. He got MVP. He had like 14 rebounds, 30-something points, amazing, and enough people still didn’t see him. “We were lucky we got him.”
“Avery came in with a little bit more conventional approach,” Donnie Nelson says. “Whereas Nellie allowed Dirk offensive freedom to pick-and-pop and shoot 3s and wreak havoc with Nash out there, we didn’t have the advantage of a Steve Nash. So Dirk had to learn how to be a more prototypical low-post threat. “I think Avery demanded a toughness. … Avery, let’s say, force fed him a little bit more developing on the low post, the low block like Tim Duncan did back in the day. I think there was a window there that some of the best basketball that Dirk ever played was kind of the in-between. Nellie gave him the freedom for him to become the player he is today. Avery kind of put the vice grip on him.”
Nowitzki was struggling mightily throughout his rookie 1998-99 season with the Dallas Mavericks when he conjured up the courage to approach Don Nelson about what he thought was a dire situation. Nelson, the Mavs’ general manager and coach at the time, remembers the conversation like it happened today. “I’ll never forget he came to me and said ‘I think I want to go home,’ ” Nelson said. “So we just had to convince him to weather the storm, it’s going to be great. “We loved him and said just don’t worry about making mistakes or whatever was bothering him. I guess he was homesick more than anything.”