Storyline: Mavericks Front Office

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They have worked so close together over the years that Donnie Nelson has all the confidence in the world that Michael Finley is going to bring home the top prize for the Dallas Mavericks when the NBA holds its annual Draft Lottery on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. CT from the Palmer House Hilton hotel in Chicago. Nelson is the president of basketball operations for the Mavs, and he has been grooming Finley – the Mavs’ vice-president of basketball operations – to one day take his place. For now, though, since Finley will be representing the Mavs at the Draft Lottery, Nelson will be at home cheering on his protégé to win the league’s annual extravagant ping-pong event for the first time in franchise history.

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The international squad Nowitzki would join — which also featured future N.B.A. players Luis Scola (Argentina), Darius Songaila (Lithuania) and Dan Gadzuric (Holland) — was already practicing in Dallas by the time he arrived. [….] What the two Germans didn’t realize going into their adventure is that the bulk of the international team’s practices were scheduled to take place in the Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center, where the Mavericks practiced in the days before they had their own practice facility. They also didn’t know that a key member of the Mavericks’ brain trust — Donnie Nelson — was scheduled to serve as an assistant coach with Nike’s international invitees that week. Such an arrangement, of course, wouldn’t even be allowed in the modern N.B.A. But the league’s rules on scouting matters weren’t as restrictive 20 years ago, enabling Nelson to have a hands-on role throughout the early years of the Hoop Summit, starting when he was still working for the Phoenix Suns. As a result, Dallas was able to start building a relationship with Geschwindner — and thus Nowitzki — before the wunderkind even took the floor in San Antonio.

It was left to Donnie Nelson to remind his dad that the Mavericks had committed to drafting Nowitzki. All these years later, for his part, Nowitzki remains convinced that sneaking away to Texas in the spring of “98 was the crucial catalyst for it all. “At first I actually told Holger that I didn’t want to go [to the NBA the season after being drafted],” Nowitzki said. “I was not happy with the idea of leaving my team. But if I didn’t play in that game, I’m not sure what my path to the N.B.A. would have been. Maybe I would have played in Spain or Italy first. Maybe I would have gone to college first. All the options were still on the table back then.” In a phone interview last week, Geschwindner said from Germany: “It was a pretty big gamble and we got really beaten up for that — I was ‘misleading’ a youngster and he was ‘selfish.’ Right now it’s easy to talk about, but back then our butts were on fire.”

Melissa Weishaupt: I am using my name because I am convinced that Cuban still doesn’t recognize the culture he’s helped create or the plight of the women who still work for him. From where I sit, Mark’s response was to rush in like some white knight in a T-shirt and jeans and yell, Don’t worry, ladies of the Mavs, I will help you with paid counseling and a hotline you can call! Now you want to help? We are not fragile flowers. We don’t long for counseling. (As for that hotline: I’ve spoken with a dozen current and former team employees; we have no idea what this is or how to find it.) We want equitable pay. We need to be treated with respect. When deserved, we ought to be given the same promotions as our male counterparts.

Melissa Weishaupt: I’m using my name because I know that the human resources department is not always a safe haven. At the Mavericks—and I’m sure elsewhere—HR was there to protect management, not employees. Many workers, especially middle-class and minority workers do not have a voice or an advocate at their jobs. They should chronicle what happens around them, find a support group outside of work. But they should be cautious in dealing with HR. Yes, I was harassed while I worked for the Mavericks. But I am using my name now because I will never say that I am a victim. I am tougher. I am wiser. I am my own advocate.

As for the Greek Freak: Who made final call to pass him up, and why? “It was me,” Cuban said. “Donnie [Nelson] was like, ‘OK, I’m putting my you-know-whats on the table.’ He was doing the Sam Cassell, Nick Van Exel dance. … It’s all in. And I’m like, ‘Donnie, we have this plan.’ Because even as good as the Greek Freak has turned out to be, he was still three years away, and we wanted to try to get somebody who could help get us to the top right there and then. Didn’t turn out that way, it is what it is, that happens.”

Making an appearance on the ESPN telecast of the Mavs’ Las Vegas Summer League game against Phoenix on Sunday, Cuban said things would different if his team — coming off its first losing season since he took over in 2000 — were in the Eastern Conference. “We’re rebuilding, there’s no question about it,” said Cuban, who made headlines in May when he admitted the Mavericks tanked after being eliminated from playoff contention. “If we were in the East, we would not be rebuilding. We’d be handling things completely different.”

But with the Mavs eager to retool this summer in order to build a championship contender, Nowitzki says he’s ready to work with team owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson to help with the reconstruction of the roster. “You know, if you go on with a team like I have for so long, if that’s what it takes, I guess that’s what it takes. I did that decision last summer when I decided to sign on,” Nowitzki explained after completing the first season of a reported two-year deal worth $50 million. “I obviously knew there was a possibility (of rebuilding), and at the end of the day I just can’t imagine myself in a different uniform, so that’s why I made that decision. Whatever comes, if we’re rebuilding, then I’m the face of that. If we’re (competing) for a championship, then I’m here for that.”

“Unfortunately, since there’s no playoffs, we’ve got plenty of time now,” Nowitzki candidly said. “I’ll be around for a while, and I’m sure we’ll meet with Mark and with Donnie. You know, [Mavs coach Rick Carlisle] will be here and even [leading scorer Harrison Barnes], and we’ll just see how we can help and how we can make this better. Maybe I’ll be in the draft room this year, if that’s what it takes. … I think we’ve got plenty of time over the next few weeks to set a plan, execute the plan on draft day hopefully and maybe in free agency, and we’ll go from there.”

From Cuban’s perspective, having a top-notch coach is just as critical to success as finding a top-notch player. And when it comes to Carlisle, Cuban believes he’s one of the top three in the business. “I’ve said a million times, hiring a coach is the hardest job in professional sports,” Cuban said. “And we got lucky; we’ve got a good one.” Carlisle is the franchise’s winningest coach with 411 victories and ranks 19th on the NBA’s all-time list with 692 wins. He needs just five more victories to pass Red Holzman for 18th place on that illustrious list, and just eight more to become the 18th coach with at least 700.
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May 24, 2018 | 1:28 pm EDT Update
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Storyline: Draft Workouts