Happy Donnie-versary! Dirk, Nash & The Greatest GM Day In NBA History
DALLAS - I annually refer it June 24, 1998, as the greatest single transactional day for any GM in NBA, and how could it not be? One many-cogged transaction, really, brought to the Dallas Mavericks a pair of players who between them would mean a championship, three MVP titles and two Hall of Fame berths.
As Mavs fans know all too well, this was a hapless franchise circa 1998, with Don and son Donnie Nelson laboring to turn things around. An opportunity was grasped on NBA Draft Night, when Donnie was key to the engineering of a swap that would first exchange with Milwaukee the rights to Dallas' No. 6 overall selection for the Bucks' No. 9, along with the Mavs getting veteran big man Pat Garrity. ... and then would send Garrity to Phoenix.
That No. 6 selection would be Michigan forward Robert "Tractor'' Traylor. Dallas picked him for Milwaukee. That No. 9 selection would be Dirk Nowitzki. Milwaukee picked him for Dallas.
Maybe Dirk would've been a legend in Milwaukee. Or maybe the sales job the Nelsons did on the reluctant teenager from Germany wouldn't have been matched elsewhere. We'll never know. What we do know is that after some growing pains, Dirk, with the guidance of the Nelsons, developed into an all-time legend.
And what about that other Garrity-related leg of the transaction? Donnie shipped Garrity to Phoenix for a struggling young third-string point guard named Steve Nash.
And again, the games of "What If?'' If Dirk is never paired with Nash, does Dirk become Dirk? Does the Mavs franchise ever get turned around? If Nash doesn't leave Dallas, does he ever develop into a two-time MVP? If Nash doesn't leave Dallas, does Dirk ever blossom into a two-time NBA Finals standout, an NBA Finals MVP and a league MVP?
Of course, there is a more haunting question: How great might the Mavs have been if Dirk and Nash spend a career together?
But regardless ... what a Draft Day! Raef LaFrenz when third that year, Antawn Jamison fourth, and Vince Carter fifth - and Donnie Nelson would eventually bring all three of them to Dallas, too. One day ... and the Dallas Mavericks acquire two players who accomplish almost everything two players can accomplish, with Nash already in the Hall of Fame and Dirk on his way.
Don and Donnie (who was technically an assistant coach at the time) have never worried too much about titles. And Donnie has never worried too much about credit (try finding a photo of Donnie with his two discoveries). But it's important to note how instrumental both of them were in all of this. Don was the boss. But Donnie was the scouting mind with the burgeoning overseas relationships and the rolled-up sleeves who knew more about this teenager from Wurzburg than almost anybody, and who had a vision for what Nash could be as well.
"I don’t think any of us had any idea that we’d be talking about picking up two MVPs in the same transaction,'' Don Nelson has said. "I don’t think that’s ever been done before.''
Nope. And that's why June 24 is a Dallas Mavericks "Happy Donnie-versary.''