By Elaine Liner
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
And to think, grand old man A.C. Green is getting almost 23 minutes per game, and he won't even be here next season to contribute his breathtaking average 6.3 points.
And forget about Chris Anstey and Samaki Walker. Nelson has: Walker (1996's top draft pick) and Anstey (1997's No. 1) spend more time every night putting on and taking off their uniforms than they do on the hardwood. Only time will tell if their names should be added to the Mavericks' legendary roster of first-round picks: Randy White, Doug Smith, Cherokee Parks, Jim Farmer. Um, sprechen Sie bust?
Oh, yeah. And how do you spell debacle? Try: H-O-T-R-O-D-W-I-L-L-I-A-M-S. You know things are bad when one of your best, most consistent players is Shawn Bradley.
And to think, this is pretty much the same team Dallas will put on the floor next season--give or take the overachieving Gary Trent, who will likely go to a team that can pay him more than the $2.5 million Dallas can afford under league rules next year. The Mavericks need a star player. They do not have one. They might never.
During an interview with the Dallas Observer, Nelson insists A.C. Green is not getting too much playing time. He says Green's on the floor so much simply because "he's playing as well as anyone on the team," which is hardly a ringing endorsement considering this team. Indeed, last year's Star of Tomorrow, Michael Finley, has become the Disappointment of Today, posting his worst shooting percentage since coming into the NBA in 1995.
Nelson also says that he's neither frustrated nor disappointed with Nowitzki, simply that he "decided to bring him along slower." Nelson will admit that he's "surprised" Nowitzki, averaging 6 points, can't "at least" score. "We thought he'd have trouble with the physicalness and the rebounding and the defense," Nelson says, "but I never thought he would struggle shooting."
If nothing else, one more season of futility has softened the I-can-do-no-wrong arrogance in Nelson's voice. Where once he roared, insisting his way was The Right Way, Nelson now speaks in measured, thoughtful, calmer tones. Losing 21 games out of 31 (at press time)--in a lockout-shortened 50-game season, no less--will do that to a man. Discovering that the guy he predicted would be the Rookie of the Year is nothing more than a soft-in-the-middle 20-year-old will do that to a man. Finding out that the city that once embraced you, apologized for you, has finally turned on you--calling for your head every 14 minutes on sports-talk radio--will do that to a man.
There has long existed the theory among local media types that Nelson took the general manager job with Dallas in February 1997 as a lark, that he's got nothing to lose by playing mad scientist with this team. Hey, trade 1999's No. 1 draft pick for Steve Nash, a bench player with the Phoenix Suns? Sure, what the hell. Take Nowitzki in this year's draft instead of a proven commodity like Paul Pierce, who's currently averaging 32 minutes and 14 points per game with the Boston Celtics? C'mon, it'll be fun. And should it all collapse around Nelson, well, he's always got his home in Hawaii to return to and those golf dates with neighbor Willie Nelson to keep him happy.
But Nelson has a lot riding on this year--not to mention the 2000-2001 season, when son Donnie's supposed to take over. Should Junior Perot eventually get tired of losing, he could well get rid of both Nelsons--let's call 'em "Don and Donner"--long before moving the Mavericks into the American Airlines Center.
During games, the senior Nelson looks weary, tired, downright baffled. He can be seen strolling the sidelines with his eyes closed, his enormous hands rubbing his temples. There is no doubt that at the beginning of the season, he genuinely believed that he had a better team than the Mavericks' record indicates--more depth, more hustle, more hope. Between last year's highlights, including a March win over the world-champion Chicago Bulls, and this year's additions, Nelson was convinced his boys would challenge for a playoff spot.
But the dream has collapsed once more. The Mavericks stink. Again.
When asked whether he's sorry for predicting that the Mavericks would compete for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference, Nelson says, yeah, sort of. When asked whether he regrets offering Nowitzki as the pre-season favorite to take home the Rookie of the Year award, Nelson says, yup, sure am.
"I'll admit that was a mistake," he says. "I was enthusiastic about him. But I never counted on the growing pains. Yeah, I really should be more careful about what I say. I say what I feel, and it's held against me to the point that you probably shouldn't say anything at all. But I don't feel different about the team just because some people are getting frustrated. I was wrong in assessing the success of Dirk and the team. I hate losing more than anybody I know. It's hard for anybody to go through a lot of losses. But I've prepared myself for it."
Unfortunately, so have the Dallas Mavericks' fans, year in and year out. Good work, coach.