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Exclusive With Mavs GM Donnie Nelson: ‘A Fireman’s Existence' At The NBA Trade Deadline

As the NBA's trade deadline steadily approaches, it's been fairly quiet around the league when it comes to trade buzz, but the Mavs' Donnie Nelson, via our exclusive visit, knows that can change in a hurry.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire...

Year-after-year, season-after-season, that is the phrase many people, including myself, use in an attempt to make sense of NBA trade rumors.

Whether it’s our own Mike Fisher following up his summer scoop with an update that the Dallas Mavericks haven’t budged on their trade offer to the Memphis Grizzlies for Andre Iguodala (although we think the Mavs should consider taking the Warriors second-rounder off the table at this point), or The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reporting that Dallas has already made multiple unsuccessful offers to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Robert Covington (O’Connor also notes Mavs’ interest in OKC’s Danilo Gallanari as well) — all of that can be considered smoke to a potential trade-deadline fire.

However, even though we can make educated, informed guesses and can visualize these scenarios coming to fruition, the truth of the matter is that we’ll never be able to know exactly what’s going to go down at any given trade deadline. It's simply just too unpredictable.

“You know, it’s funny,” Mavs GM Donnie Nelson told us on the Mavs Step Back Podcast recently. “Obviously, before the draft, before the trade deadline, things pick up. ... There’s really no ebb-and-flow. It’s like it’s a fireman’s existence. You can go for a period where the bell doesn’t ring for a month, and then it rings three times in three minutes.”

(Our latest DBcom Mavs StepBack Pod is here.)

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Nelson has relationships with all of the other 29 front offices in the league, but it can be harder to work out trades with some of them than others — like say, perhaps Minnesota’s President of Basketball Operations, Gersson Rosas, who was hired by the Mavs in 2013 to be the general manager, but stepped down after just three months on the job because he wanted more power than the Mavs were willing to give him. So, maybe these reported 'declined trade proposals' for Covington have a little more behind them than just the Mavs' offers not having enough pieces.

"Because we're a small 30-person fraternity, there's a lot of kinship, because we go through the same ups-and-downs, and rebuilds, and hot streaks, so it's really kind of a support system," said Nelson. "Like any neighborhood, some you've got great relationships with, some a little bit more competitive relationships, but for the most part, there's constant communication throughout the year."

Maybe Dallas is willing to sweat it out with Minnesota all the way up until the deadline before making another attempt to land Covington, who not only would fit in perfectly with the Mavs, but is also under contract on a team-friendly deal though the 2021-2022 season. Or perhaps the Grizzlies will come calling as the clock winds down, being that we believe it's unlikely that they'll receive an offer for Iguodala that will beat what the Mavs put on the table over the summer ... and if it is indeed Memphis' best offer, maybe Dallas could get away with trading a future second-round pick instead of the Warriors second rounder that currently projects to be in the high-30s. After all, deadlines do make deals. 

Or heck, maybe Nelson's 'fireman's existence' concept will come into the fold sometime in the next six days. We've already seen it as recently as last week, with the Mavs acquiring Willie Cauley-Stein (Q-and-A here) from the Golden State Warriors in a deal that pretty much came out of nowhere. The Kristaps Porzingis trade was the same way last season, too, so there's no reason to believe it can't happen again.

The Mavs have been quiet so far, for the most part - except for that screaming you hear as a result of Luka Doncic's ankle injury - but when you have smart, opportunistic people like Donnie Nelson, Rick Carlisle and Mark Cuban ("The Triangle of Trust'') running your front office, you know to 'never say never' and prepare yourself for something that you may not have thought of yet.

"(We're) never 'patient,'" said Nelson. "Because we want to be as good as we can be... yesterday. ... We're always working phones, looking for every angle. ... It's 'turn over every rock,' and then turn it over three more times just to make sure."

Sure enough, the Mavs have done their due diligence up to this point. Now, they're just waiting for that firehouse bell to ring.