Give Donnie Nelson credit for success
No blockbusters, but patient approach brought Chandler, Stojakovic and Brewer to Mavs
DALLAS -- Stop here if this shocks you: Miami Heat godfather Pat Riley is your NBA Executive of the Year, the NBA announced Tuesday. Riles actually must share the prize with Chicago Bulls general manager Gar Forman.
Riles, of course, took the wrecking ball to that efficiency apartment of a roster and went ocean-side condo, re-signing Dwyane Wade and luring LeBron James' considerable talents to South Beach. There's that other cat, too, the tall one from Dallas via Toronto.
In a lot of respects, we've got a lot of guys that teams have given up on for whatever reason. It's almost like the island of misfit toys.” -- Donnie Nelson, Mavs president of basketball operations
Other suits on the front-office honor roll included the Bulls' John Paxson, San Antonio's R.C. Buford, Oklahoma City's Sam Presti, New Jersey's Billy King and New York's Donnie Walsh.
Donnie Nelson, anyone?
Locally, the Dallas Mavericks' president of basketball operations is at times a fan punching bag because he (and intimately involved owner Mark Cuban) have failed to put the pieces together for a championship despite 11 consecutive seasons of 50-plus wins.
Yet fresh off a sweep of the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers and awaiting an opponent in the Western Conference finals, Nelson's patience, plus several quiet but calculated yet effective moves for overlooked veteran pieces, must be counted and acknowledged.
When Caron Butler went down with a blown-out knee Jan. 1, Mavs fans instantly called for a major trade. It didn't happen. When a deadline deal for Stephen Jackson or Gerald Wallace or Tayshaun Prince failed to materialize, Mavs fans, perhaps just accustomed to a blockbuster, were appalled.
"This franchise has always been opportunistic and they've had a knack of making the big splash," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "But this time around, the subtlety with which they've moved is more significant."
Not unlike Mark Cuban's strange postseason silence. What's going on here?
"There's multiple things," Carlisle said. "There's the Tyson [Chandler] acquisition, which has been major to our level of play this year, and then [Peja] Stojakovic was a great move and it didn't compromise the future in any way in terms of flexibility."
Carlisle continued: "And the [Corey] Brewer situation. We said if that acquisition leads to a situation where it helps us win one game at the right time, it will have been more than worth it. What he did in Game 1 in L.A. was critical to our success to this point."
Ironically, the Mavs embarked on last summer's ballyhooed free-agency period wide-eyed and wielding the $13 million Erick Dampier trade chip. Cuban was flanked in L.A. to engage free agents there -- or to appear on the hit HBO show "Entourage."
Jason Kidd was said to be anchoring New York City to sweet-talk the guys there -- or actually was just headed to The Hamptons with his fiancée for July 4 fireworks.
Anyway, hopes were high that the Mavs would finally land that elusive second stud -- even if it meant Joe Johnson and not LeBron or D-Wade -- to play with Dirk Nowitzki, who, after a strange "Where's Waldo?" routine -- Germany, NYC, Dallas? -- re-signed with the franchise in which he still trusts.
With nothing doing two weeks into July, the Mavs announced they had cashed in the Dampier chip for Charlotte's injury-plagued Chandler. No one batted an eye. Nelson explained it as a move designed to counter the Los Angeles Lakers' front line in a playoff series. Media members tried not to laugh.
Now into the second week of May, the Mavs have dispatched the Lakers, and Chandler is a second-team all-defense pick and was third in defensive player of the year voting. Nelson took a chance on the injured Stojakovic, traded early in the season from New Orleans to Toronto and set free by the Raptors. Stojakovic was intrigued after Cuban and then Nelson had made earlier overtures to his agent.
"Donnie and Mark did a great job of smelling out the Stojakovic situation as one that could come to fruition quickly if they moved on it the right way," Carlisle said.
Dallas patiently held Stojakovic and his sore knee out two weeks and has gone on to reap the rewards. He first tied his playoff career high for 3-pointers during the Portland series and then surpassed it in Sunday's series-clinching 3-for-all that ousted the Lakers.
"I'm a big believer in guys that have huge hearts," Nelson said. "Peja is a guy that is one of those guys that for years has been doing it a high level. We knew that his injury was something that if treated right that we could get under control, and that that was a playoff move."
Brewer -- surprisingly released by the New York Knicks after being traded by the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of the massive Carmelo Anthony transaction -- played 8½ remarkable minutes in Game 1 in L.A. that might go down as not only saving the opener, but altering the series.
2011 NBA Finals: Champion Mavericks
Game 1: Heat 92, Mavericks 84
Game 2: Mavericks 95, Heat 93
Game 3: Heat 88, Mavericks 86
Game 4: Mavericks 86, Heat 83
Game 5: Mavericks 112, Heat 103
Game 6: Mavericks 105, Heat 95
More: Mavs Center » Mavs Blog »
Even the midseason plugging of Sasha Pavlovic into the starting lineup from off the street paid off. Pavlovic played so well over two 10-day contracts that the team gave him a standing ovation as they showed him the door in the name of roster flexibility.
Then came Peja. Then came Corey.
And Donnie -- who never wears a suit and has never been exec of the year -- never takes credit.
"We're not a perfect team," Nelson said. "In a lot of respects, we've got a lot of guys that teams have given up on for whatever reason. It's almost like the island of misfit toys. Jason Kidd was too old, Dirk was the star who really is not a star, and you go right down the line. Tyson Chandler, nobody wanted to deal with his injury situation. Peja Stojakovic is a castoff.
"It's almost like we're this band of pieces that are fitting well and it's really fun to be around."
Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.