The Mavericks paid a $12 million entry fee to join the NBA for the 1980-81 season and hired Dick Motta as their first coach. In an ominous start, their first-ever draft pick, UCLA forward Kiki Vandeweghe, refused to play and staged a holdout that lasted a month. He was eventually traded to Denver for two future draft choices (Rolando Blackman and Sam Perkins).
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After a disappointing 15-67 first season, the Mavs restocked in the 1981 draft, selecting forward Mark Aguirre with the first pick, guard Rolando Blackman with the ninth and forward Jay Vincent with the 24th. In their second season the Mavs improved to 28-54.
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After drafting Derek Harper with the 11th pick in the 1983 draft, the Mavericks went 43-49 during the 1983-84 season and made the playoffs for the first time. In the postseason the Mavs beat the Sonics in five games but lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals.
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Over the next three seasons the Mavs added Roy Tarpley, Sam Perkins and Detlef Shrempf to their roster but failed to get beyond the second round of the playoffs. Following the 1986-87 season, coach Dick Motta resigned and was replaced by ex-Suns coach John MacLeod.
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The 1989-90 season was a rough one for Dallas. Roy Tarpley was suspended for violating the league's anti-drug policy. Mark Aguirre was traded to Detroit for Adrian Dantley, but Dantley refused to report to the Mavs for eight days. Detlef Shrempf was traded, and James Donaldson went down with a ruptured patella tendon in early March. The team limped to a 38-44 record and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1982-83.
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The Mavericks of the 1990s were as bad as it gets for a franchise. For 10 years, beginning in 1991, the team never had a winning season and finished with a combined 166-458 mark. Roy Tarpley was suspended two more times for drug use, and the infighting among the Three J's (Jason Kidd, Jamal Mashburn and Jimmy Jackson) forced the team to blow up its roster.
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Feb. 14, 2000, marked a turning point for the floundering Mavs, sparked by Mark Cuban's purchase of the team for $285 million. Forward Dirk Nowitzki emerged as an offensive threat, and Nowitzki, Steve Nash and Michael Finley became one of the best trios in the NBA. In Cuban's first year, the team improved to 53-29 and secured its first playoff berth in 11 years. It advanced to the second round, where it was knocked out by San Antonio.
8 of 10Greg Nelson/SI
Over the next five seasons the Don Nelson-coached Mavericks were an offensive juggernaut and one of the most exciting teams in the league. Nelson, who was also the GM, continued to tinker with the roster, adding and subtracting such big names as Juwan Howard, Antawn Jamison, Antoine Walker, Shawn Bradley, Nick Van Exel, Danny Fortson and Avery Johnson. Unfortunately, Nelson couldn't find the right mix, and the team was only able to advance past the second round of the playoffs once (2002-03, when they lost to San Antonio in the Western Conference Finals).
9 of 10Greg Nelson/SI
Prior to the 2004-05 season, two important changes occurred. First, Dallas opted not to re-sign Steve Nash, electing to give more playing time to youngsters Josh Howard, Devin Harris and Jason Terry. Second, Don Nelson began to groom Avery Johnson as the Mavs' next coach, allowing Johnson to occasionally run practices and coach games. The move paid off when Nelson resigned in March and handed the reins to Johnson. The team finished the season 58-24 but lost in the second round of the playoffs to the Nash-led Suns.
10 of 10Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
This season the Mavericks adjusted to Johnson's defensive-minded approach and improved to 60-22. Johnson was named Coach of the Year, and the team finally shed its "soft" label. The playoffs spelled more success for the Mavs, who swept the Grizzlies, defeated the Spurs in seven games and advanced to the NBA Finals by defeating the Suns in six games.
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