9 Dallas Mavericks Will fancy chairs and stereo systems transform this club into a playoff team? Well, it's a start

October 30, 2000

The new era begins in full: eight coaches, specially designed
ergonomic chairs on the bench and a stereophonic sound system in
every locker. No expense has been spared by new owner Mark Cuban
to bring out the best in his Mavericks. The least they could do
in return would be to end the league's longest postseason drought
by making the playoffs for the first time since 1990.

"It's going to be hard, because a lot of teams have helped
themselves," general manager and coach Don Nelson says of his
rivals in the West. "But this franchise is finally starting to
turn around, and I'm excited."

Nellie, as always, is refusing to go by the book. In Cuban, the
42-year-old Internet billionaire who spent $280 million to buy
the Mavericks last January, Nelson has found the perfect
unconventional ally. They stole power forward Christian Laettner
out of the hands of the Lakers (offering a more palatable deal
to Detroit just when Laettner appeared headed to Los Angeles as
part of a four-team trade that included Patrick Ewing), then
declared their intentions to start their new acquisition at
center, which seems, at first glance, as if they'll be throwing
Christian to the 7-foot lions in the low-post-heavy West.

"I'm going to use his skill to be an outside guy," says Nellie,
who, apart from his brief appointment with Ewing's Knicks in the
mid-'90s, has not had a dominant center since Bob Lanier retired
from Milwaukee in 1984. "If somebody tries to play a small guy on
Christian, I think we will punish that. If we can get centers to
go out and play him, that's going to be an easy time offensively
for him. We'll put the ball in his hands a lot, and I think he'll
know how to use it."

Power forward Gary Trent, sidelined for all but 11 games last
season with hamstring and groin injuries, spent his summer
pumping lighter weights. "I like him the way he is now--lean and
mean and not bulky," says Nelson. The coach has also moved 6'11"
Dirk Nowitzki from power forward to small forward. Nowitzki will
need some time to adjust to the more tenacious defense he'll face
on the perimeter, but he has the offensive skills to be a force
at the three spot.

In keeping with Cuban's plan to steal attention from the
neighboring Cowboys of the NFL, the Mavs have their own
quarterback controversy, between returning point guard Steve Nash
and newcomer Howard Eisley. Eisley, who arrived in a trade from
Utah, made up ground over the summer by spending three weeks
working out with Mavs director of player development Kiki
Vandeweghe. Nelson says that Nash can help his case by continuing
to look for his own shot, as he did over the final weeks of last
season, when Dallas won nine of its last 10 games. Nash followed
up with a splendid performance at the Sydney Olympics, where he
led Canada to the top of its preliminary group, ahead of more
highly regarded teams from Yugoslavia, Russia and Australia.

Nelson wants both point guards to feel needed. "The starter may
not even be the one who is best," he says. "It may come down to
who I feel is best coming off the bench. They're both going to

The Mavs have upgraded their supporting cast at every position,
prompting Nelson to go with a 10-man rotation rather than the
usual eight. Dallas will keep 15 players, including three on the
injured list. That's what all those extra coaches are for--to
develop the four rookies acquired on Cuban's first draft day
(most notably Fresno State guard Courtney Alexander and Syracuse
power forward Etan Thomas) as well as those players who will get
limited minutes.

That work won't pay off for another year or two. For the time
being, aside from a return to the playoffs, the validity of the
Mavs' resurgence will be judged according to what happens with
free-agent-to-be Michael Finley, by far their best player.
Finley has played more minutes than any other player over the
last two years (despite a painful case of plantar fasciitis
early last season). Based on last summer's market, Finley can
expect to be signed by somebody for the maximum after this
season. If he decides it's Dallas, that will serve as promising
news that the Mavs are moving in the right direction.


COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO MAVERICK MOVE The unorthodox Nelson will use Laettner, a power forward by trade, at center to create mismatches. COLOR PHOTO: GARY DINEEN/NBA ENTERTAINMENT DO IT NOW Finley, the team's top talent and a free agent at season's end, may walk if the Mavs don't end their playoff drought.

In Fact

If A.C. Green remains unsigned, Michael Finley will become the
NBA's active iron man with 379 straight games played. Even with
Finley, though, Dallas's total of 332 games missed due to injury
and illness were the league's most last season. (The Jazz had the
fewest, with 11.)

Projected Lineup


SF Dirk Nowitzki 17.5 ppg 6.5 rpg 2.5 apg 46.1 FG% 37.9 3FG%

PF Gary Trent 13.7 ppg 4.7 rpg 2.0 apg 49.3 FG% 52.4 FT%

C Christian Laettner[1]12.2 ppg 6.7 rpg 2.3 apg 1.01 spg 47.3 FG%

SG Michael Finley 22.6 ppg 6.3 rpg 5.3 apg 1.33 spg 40.1 3FG%

PG Steve Nash 8.6 ppg 4.9 apg 2.2 rpg 47.7 FG% 40.3 3FG%


G Howard Eisley[1] 8.6 ppg 4.2 apg 2.1 rpg 41.8 FG% 36.8 3FG%

G Hubert Davis 7.4 ppg 1.7 rpg 1.8 apg 46.8 FG% 49.1 3FG%

C Shawn Bradley 8.4 ppg 6.5 rpg 2.47 bpg 0.92 spg 47.9 FG%

G Courtney Alexander(R)24.8 ppg 4.7 rpg 3.5 apg 1.42 spg 44.7 FG%
204 [1]

F-C Etan Thomas(R)[1] 13.6 ppg 9.3 rpg 3.69 bpg 60.2 FG% 67.8 FT%

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 113)

an opposing team's scout sizes up the Mavericks

"You're always going to get something from Don Nelson that's
either crazy or clever, depending on your point of view. You
have to wonder if they'd be better off just doing the things
they do well and not trying to outsmart people so much....
Howard Eisley is a good pickup for them. He's a low-mistake
player who must have been taking notes on how to run the
pick-and-roll when he was in Utah with John Stockton.... Dirk
Nowitzki is a very tough matchup because of his combination of
skills and size. He's on his way to being a terrific offensive
player, but he's definitely the guy you want to go at when he's
on defense. He doesn't react well, and he can be beaten off the
dribble.... Michael Finley doesn't get noticed as much as he
should. He can create his own shot, he can hit the spot-up
jumper, and he's strong enough to post up. If there's one thing
a defender should try to take away from Finley, it's his little
move to the middle, where he likes to shoot a runner in the lane."