Monday, March 31, 2008

How good of a GM is Donnie Nelson?

This is a long post, so take the time to read it, or just scroll down past it to read other posts from the week.

Donnie Nelson has been synonymous with the "behind the scenes" Dallas Mavericks since 2000 when Mark Cuban bought the team. Yes, he technically arrived in 1998 and was an assistant coach for awhile, but work with me here.

Donnie Nelson is given more credit than anyone in building the Mavericks from the old 14 win teams of the early years into the perennial 50-win (maybe) contender they are today. You can't lie with numbers either. Since Nelson has been involved, the Mavericks:
  • Have won 66% of their games
  • Have had 4 50-win seasons
  • Have had 2 60-win seasons, including the 67 win season of last year
  • Have made the playoffs seven consecutive seasons
  • Made the Western Conference Finals twice
  • Made the NBA Finals once
  • Won their first Division Title in 20 years
Kelly Dwyer of Sports Illustrated named Nelson the second best executive in the NBA behind R.C. Buford of San Antonio.

Nelson is given credit for building this team through shrewd free agent signings, impressive trades and draft picks. Dirk and Josh Howard via the draft. Jason Terry, Jerry Stackhouse, Erick Dampier, Jason Kidd, Antawn Jamison, Steve Nash, Nick Van Exel via trade and FA.

Make no mistake about it, Donnie Nelson is directly responsible for building this Maverick team, be it the run and gun style with his father or the "defense" oriented style with Avery.

Here's my question...is he really that great?

Let's first weigh the drafts, we'll start in 2000, when Cuban bought the team:
  • Good hits
    • Eduardo Najera (no longer with team)
    • Etan Thomas (no longer with team)
    • Josh Howard
  • Bad hits
    • Donnell Harvey
    • Courtney Alexander
    • Kenny Satterfield
    • Kyle Hill
    • Mladen Sekularac
    • Xue Yuyang
    • Vassilis Spanoulis
    • J.R. Pinnock
    • Maurice Ager
    • Milovan Rakovic
    • Renaldas Seibutis
    • Nick Fazekas
Wow.

Let's weigh the trades
  • Good
    • w/Bucks for Dirk Nowitzki (yes, this was 1998, but Nelson is given credit. Dirk is the cornerstone of the Dallas Mavericks)
    • w/Suns for Steve Nash (yes, this was 1998, but Nelson is given credit. Fan favorite, led to the Mavericks upsurge to prominence.)
    • w/Wizards for Juwon Howard, Calvin Booth, and Obinna Ekezie (new blood to a new team chemistry)
    • w/Nuggets for Raef LaFrentz, Nick Van Exel, Tariq Abdul-Wahad, and Avery Johnson (provided the run 'n gun stylings for Nellieball)
    • w/Golden State for Antawn Jamison, Danny Fortson, Jiri Welsch, and Chris Mills (added to the run 'n gun stylings for Nellieball and provided contracts to move)
    • w/Boston for Antoine Walker and Tony Delk (added to the run 'n gun stylings for Nellieball and provided contracts to move)
    • w/Golden State for Erick Dampier (he's the starting center, and he's serviceable and shows flashes of brilliance)
    • w/Atlanta for Jason Terry and Alan Henderson (Terry is a big part of this team and Henderson was a "defensive specialist"
    • w/Washington for Jerry Stackhouse and Devin Harris via a draft pick (Stackhouse is a big part of the team and Harris WAS the future)
    • w/New Orleans for Darrell Armstrong (don't underestimate what Darrell Armstrong was to this team's finals run)
    • w/Milwaukee for Keith Van Horn (a great trading chip...maybe)
    • w/Indiana for Anthony Johnson (was a "defensive specialist"...kind of)
    • w/Minnesota for Trenton Hassell (I liked Hassell and would have liked for him to stay instead of packaged to NJ)
  • Bad
    • None that are truly bad come to mind, as all trades above held value and led to positive gains for the team
  • Unrated
    • w/New Jersey for Jason Kidd, Antoine Wright and Malik Allen (kind of leaning towards the bad)
Not bad at all. His reputation as a trade wizard is well deserved.

Let's weigh the free agent signings
  • Good
    • Marquis Daniels
    • Avery Johnson
    • DeSagana Diop
    • Adrian Griffin
    • Brandon Bass
    • Jamaal Magloire
  • Bad
    • Wang Zhizhi
    • DJ Mbenga
    • Pavel Podkolzin
    • Rawle Marshall
    • Doug Christie
    • Greg Buckner
    • Devean George
    • Pops Mensah Bonsu
    • J.J. Barea
    • Eddie Jones
    • Juwan Howard
Given that some of these guys are still playing or yet to be truly rated, I'd call this one a wash.

I think that, on the whole, Donnie Nelson is a good GM. He's damn sure responsible for dragging this team out of the cellar. However, I think he's a guy who tinkers entirely too much. He's terrible at the draft, and his free agent signings are just "eh". He's a wizard at trades, but it's almost as though he drafts and signs to make trades.

I listed those trades as "good" because in retrospect, they did lead to the team advancing as a whole. Problem is, that was when this team needed to make moves to rebuild themselves into being a contender. Now this team is being compared to the Sacramento Kings of the early 00's as a team that just can't push through. I don't like trade flurries and bad drafts/signings that are made that don't address what a team truly needs to breakthrough. As the windows close and time ticks, the moves seem wasteful and pretty stupid. If Donnie Nelson is as good as the numbers advertise him, he'll do what needs to be done to cut the fat and get this team back on track.

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