Friday, July 17, 2015

Is Donnie Nelson the problem in Dallas?

I had an interesting talk with a guy who thinks Donnie Nelson is the problem with Mavs.  I think Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle are far more deserving candidates.  I hope to make the case here.

His belief is based on the fact that Dallas has almost no young talent and has almost nothing to show from the drafts in the Nelson era. The assumption is Nelson doesn't know talent/can't draft.
(He also thinks if Donnie Nelson were fired no one would hire him to be their GM ---a statement that almost demands its own post, but for now I will dismiss it as "overstated" with this explanation.   Any GM who has won a title in the last decade in addition to overseeing several years of 50 win teams is going to get job offers.  That Nelson is easy to get along with and has quietly done his job with a sometimes meddling owner only improves his reputation in the league. )

Let's just deal with the idea that Donnie Nelson cannot scout.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Donnie Nelson found Dirk and it is on record that he talked Don Nelson into acquiring Steve Nash from Pheonix.  (Donnie Nelson was an assistant coach in Pheonix in Nash's rookie year.) That is 3 years of league MVPs and - by far - the best players Dallas has ever had.

But the job is a "what have you done for me lately?" position.  I get that. Let's look strictly at the draft since he took over as GM.

Two factors should be weighed to some degree in evaluating his record.  I leave it up to you how heavily you weigh them.

The Kidd trade

Mark Cuban gutted the team of almost all of it's young talent when he reopened trade talks with New Jersey (after GM Donnie Nelson walked away) in order to reacquire a Cuban man-crush, the washed up Jason Kidd. 

Now everyone has an opinion on that trade/ the merits of re-acquiring Kidd.  As I watched a very slow and lethargic Kidd passively run the Mavs for the next few years I could not help to think back to the comments made by NJ President Rod Thorne the day the trade was made.

“It just wasn’t going to work,” Thorn said of the recent relationship between Kidd and the Nets. “I know Jason probably as well as anybody and, over the course of time, it became very evident that his heart wasn’t in it. With him and with the type of player he is, if his heart isn’t in it, then he’s not the same player.
“It became evident to me that his heart wasn’t in it anymore.”  "

Some people look at it emotionally.  Many of those who were heartbroken when their favorite young dynamic player was traded, consider the trade a cosmic correction as Kidd did play a role in Dallas's lone title.

Others (in my opinion) correctly point out that the trade gutted a mavs team that was at contention level.   As Tom Ziller brilliantly wrote:

"...But had Dallas not made the trade, they very well could have made the 2008 Finals and 2009 Finals and 2010 Finals. Had the Mavericks not brilliantly flipped Erick Dampier's unguaranteed contract for Tyson Chandler, Dallas might not be on pace to earn a trip to the 2011 Finals. Had Harris not been injured in 2009, perhaps the Nets wouldn't have threatened all NBA futility marks.

The facts of today don't change the fact that in 2008, the Mavericks traded a young, brilliant point guard for an aging, brilliant point guard ... and paid two picks and $11 million for the opportunity.....To say the Mavericks won the Kidd-Harris trade isn't revisiting history, it's revising history. The Mavericks are winners today, and that's all that matter. That success is a factor in how the trade should be judged. But, in the full consideration of everything that went in and came out of the trade, the Mavericks didn't win the deal. They just made the most of the aftermath."

The trade robbed them of depth that matched up well vs. the rival Spurs and of almost all youth on the roster.  It also took two valueable first round picks away that has lead to the current dearth of young talent on this roster. 

Finally it downgraded their roster.  If the Wizard trade hadn't come along to restock the depth, it is highly doubtful the Mavs would have won that title.  (Consider how important DeShawn Stevenson alone was to that title run.)

Plan Powder

Following the title run in 2011, Cuban realized that when Dirk retired, there could be no face of the Mavericks for several years.  To protect his investment's value, "plan powder" was born. ("Powder" referring to the phrase "keeping your powder dry"--- a phrase used over an over by Dallas for 4 years as the team kept cap flexibility every year to try to sign a free agent star.)

Rather than protecting the nucleus of that title team, he made the conscious decision to allow players to leave to free up cap space.  Cuban had seen several major stars (Karl Malone and Kevin Garnett top the list) pass on signing in Dallas over the years, but hoped to beat the odds and convincing a superstar to sign with Dallas.  He hoped to use the idea of pairing with an old superstar in Dirk as a lure.  (Again, a position that was counter to what we have seen as NBA free agent stars tend to look for young stars to play with.) 

Cuban decided not to give Tyson Chandler the deal he wanted and the Mav's title game caliber nucleus was again shattered.  Cuban and the Mavs would trade for Lamar Odom, but Odom would never escape Coach Rick Carlisle's doghouse.  The emotionally soft Odom crumbled in Dallas under Carlisle's "my way or the highway" rules (some might call them mindgames).

Since then a lot of free agency and draft decisions have had cap implications.  Sometimes Dallas has wanted to shed cap space or add cheap rookies to fill spots.  It has varied from year to year, but those decisions have played major roles in Dallas's draft yield.

Anyone seeking to honestly evaluate the draft work of a GM should consider those points.

With no further ado, the picks.

My belief is that if you are a GM that knows talent,  a top 10 pick should yield a solid to good starter, an 11 to 20 pick should be a contributor, a 21 to 40 or 45 pick should be a 50/50 prospect ---either a contributor or not --- and from 46 on to the end of the draft you shouldn't expect a thing.

Here are Dallas's picks in the time Donnie Nelson has run the show.

Year Rd Pick  Name Nationality  College/HS/Club
2006 2 50 Vassilis Spanoulis  Greece Maroussi BC (Greece)
- This was a crazy good pick, but I have no idea if Nelson made the pick and sold it to Houston for 300K and Luis Flores (2/55 --- Just a dude.) or if this was prearranged and Houston picked him.  Spanoulis clashed with coaches in the NBA but would go on to be a 6 time all-Euro League player and a one-time Euroleague MVP.  If you can play at that level, you could contribute in the NBA, but are likely making more in Europe. That is a great value at 50, but I cannot say if Nelson gets credit for that.

2006 1 28 Maurice Ager  US Michigan State University - Looked like a decent gamble late first round guard.  Good defense and athleticism. Never really found a spot to blossom on any of his NBA teams.  I'd say an appropriate, decent gamble at this spot, but ultimately a bust pick.

2006 2 58 J. R. Pinnock  US Panama George Washington University - End of 2nd round players usually don't make it, this guy did have a cup of tea with the Lakers but didn't make it in the NBA. You could say, "it didn't work out" or even it was a blown pick.  Just keep in mind, it was pick 58.

2007 2 34 Nick Fazekas  US University of Nevada, Reno - To me this is the range where you either gamble on athletes, work ethic, or skill making in hoping a flawed player makes it.   Fazekas had the skills (shooting, rebounding) to play in the NBA, but he proved to be too bad of a defender.  To me, that may be a failed pick, but it wasn't a bad one at that spot.

2007 2 50 Renaldas Seibutis  Lithuania Olympiacos B.C. (Greece) --- End of 2nd round players usually don't make it,  this guy had had 2 chances in summer league, but in the spotlight he sucked.  Blown pick.

2007 2 60 Milovan Raković  Serbia Mega Basket (Serbia) --- End of 2nd round players usually don't make it, but Dallas traded him ---with cash! --- to the Miami Heat.  I don't really get it.  Probably some cap management thing.

2008 1    Traded by Cuban in Kidd re-acquistion

2008 2 51 Shan Foster  US Vanderbilt University - End of 2nd round players usually don't make it, but who, after seeing this guy in college, didn't think he had a great shot of far exceeding his draft position.  Great gamble at this spot, but didn't make it.

2009 1 24 Byron Mullens  US United Kingdom Ohio State University - Drafted for OKC. Cannot be evaluated as a Donnie Nelson pick.  Traded for 1/25 Roddy Beaubois and a future 2nd round pick.  Beaubois was drafted to play PG and defense with his top notch athleticism, but exploded in the playoffs a few years later as a freakish scorer.  Rather than covert him into an undersized two guard replacing Jet Terry, Rick Carlisle (and the rest of the Mavs braintrust) continued to try to hammer him into becoming a point guard.  Eventually bad coaching/development destroyed his game and he was out of the league.  But for a moment there he was one of the most valuable trade assets in the league --- pursued by every team out there --- That was a good pick.

2009 2 56 Ahmad Nivins  US Saint Joseph's University -  Kid has been a Euroleague stash his whole career.  Former POY in A-10 as a senior.  End of 2nd round players usually don't make it anyway.  traded to NY as part of the Tyson Chandler departure in 2011.

2010 1    Traded by Cuban in Kidd re-acquistion.

2010 2 50 Solomon Alabi  Nigeria Florida State University - Dallas sold this pick to Toronto.  Likely they picked for them. Probably not a Nelson pick. End of 2nd round players usually don't make it anyway.

  <Cuban's plan powder impacts drafting>

2011 1 26 Jordan Hamilton  US University of Texas at Austin - Both 1/26 and 2/57 were dealt to Portland prior to the draft for Rudy Fernandez (and the rights to Petteri Koponen, a former first rounder 1/30 2007 and Euro-stash 6-5 PG).  Fernandez was acquired to reinforce the troubling shooting guard spot on the championship team. At the time, Dallas still hoped that Tyson Chandler might come back on a homey hookup deal to allow a future run at Deron Williams or Chandler's potential replacement, Dwight Howard.  When that unlikely pipedream did not occur,  the merits of this move were lost.  Fernandez would never play for the Mavs.  He was traded with Corey Brewer to the Nuggets for a second round pick in the aftermath of the Lamar Odom trade.  Fernandez would injure his back and quit the NBA after that, returning to Euroball.

2011 2 57 Tanguy Ngombo[f]  Republic of the Congo Qatar Al Rayyan Basketball Team (Qatar) - This was not a Nelson pick. End of 2nd round players usually don't make it anyway.

2012 1 17 Tyler Zeller  US University of North Carolina - Zeller was not the Mavs pick, he was Boston's. Draft day trade.  Tasked with finding guys for the NBA's oldest roster who can fill roster depth cheaply in support of plan powder, Zeller was traded for 3 picks that Donnie Nelson turned into an under-aged prospect Jared Cunningham, an older rookie in senior Bernard James, and a senior Jae Crowder.  If developing Cunningham was a firm goal, that would be a very solid return.

2012 2 55 Darius Johnson-Odom  US Marquette University - End of 2nd round players usually don't make it. Immediate trade to Lakers.  Looks like an asset dump.  Likely the Mavs picked him for Lakers and this is not a Nelson pick anyway.

2013 1 13 Kelly Olynyk  Canada Gonzaga University - This was the highest pick the Mavs have had on draft day in ages as they win 50 games a year.  As covered previously, Nelson wanted to draft Giannis Antetokounmpo, a player who has been credited as being the second best player in this draft.  Chad Ford says Cuban squashed that.  Cuban likely instructed Nelson to trade down for cap relief and the thought may have been that trading down to 16 might accomplish both goals.  If the kid was still there at 16, Nelson would take him there.  Dallas picked up two future second round picks in the deal. Milwaukee took Antetokounmpo at 1(15).  Dallas would then trade down again (likely to ensure hitting the cap space goal) dumping the slow developing Cunningham and the pick in order to take the most NBA ready point they saw left in Larkin to fill a need.  Larkin is nothing special, but has been a contributor at the NBA level.

2013 2 44 Mike Muscala  US Bucknell University - pick traded in cap dump/young talent liquidation with Cunningham and 1(16) in support of plan powder.

2014 1 21 traded to LA Lakers to acquire Lamar Odom

2014 2 34 traded to NY Knicks to reacquire Tyson Chandler

2014 2 51 traded to NY Knicks to reacquire Tyson Chandler

2015 1 21 Justin Anderson  US University of Virginia - Possible day 1 starter picked at 21. Looks like a contributor.

2015 2 52 Satnam Singh Bhamara  India IMG Academy (Bradenton, Florida)  - slow and huge developmental pick I like a lot.  Good rebounder, great 3 point shooter with size.  Scheduled to play with Legends for the forseeable future as they work on his footwork.

Draw your own conclusions.

These are mine.

Dallas has 11 picks in after 45.  I write those off as unimportant longshots, but Spanoulis is a nice home run (if you credit Nelson).  I think Singh and Foster were great swings for the fences.  To me that is at least average work.

Dallas has had 7 picks from 21-44.  Fazekis, Beaubois, Cunningham, Ager, Anderson, Larkin, and Muscala. Beaubois was a homerun who's career injuries and mind numbing stupidity killed.  Larkin was a reach to fill a need cheaply, but got a fair bit of PT last year. Muscala was a trade casualty. Ager and Cunningham can be called flops, but no one was questioning where they were picked.  Anderson looks like a good pick. Again, to me, that is at least average work.

Dallas has had 2 picks in the 11-17 range.  They gave up one (17) for 3 players who could fill roster holes immediately to satisfy team needs.  They gave up the other (13) to get a cheaper player instead of drafting a guy considered the second best player in the draft who Nelson desperately wanted to pick.  And passing on the 13th pick was documented to be the owner's call.

Dallas has had no top 10 picks under Nelson.

I invite you to compare the results vs. other teams' GMs.

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