Monday, March 21, 2005

New Dallas Sports Page Column

I must be living in a parallel universe. Because in my world, when a coach who has had a huge hand in building everything in front of him quits as his creation rounds turn 4 and heads down the home stretch, I think it is somewhere between shocking and ridiculous. But, when it happened in Dallas on Saturday, as Don Nelson decided on March 19th that he had enough, everyone treated it like it was a roast for a hero returning home from his finest conquest.

I read the newspapers, and they tell me this was the perfect time. They tell me Nelson made the right move at the right time. They tell me that Nelson was burned out and really could not offer his team anything more.

****STOP!**** This is the point of the column where I must stop and qualify the premise of my scribbling. If there is a major health concern in his family that is not being publicized that has caused him to realize there is more important things that demand his attention, then I wish Nelson the very, very best and hope everything works out well.

Now, back to the column.

I am not against the switch. Heck, in this very space, I suggested it was time for this last summer. I thought that we had pretty much played this thing out, and it was time to head in a different direction. I also was very suspicious when the company line from the Mavericks headquarters was “Nelson has promised to reemphasize defense in 2004-05”. And if you want the honest truth, I was all for that different direction when Mark Cuban bought the team in the first place.

But, since I wield very little power over there, they carried on with The Don.

And they did with an impressive amount of success. But, as I heard how he was going to reemphasize defense, I watched Avery Johnson run EVERY practice I saw this season. By most reports, he ran almost every practice. Does anyone think that would fly elsewhere? Try hearing this from your radio: “Bill Parcells was not at practice today as the Cowboys prepared for their crucial match-up with Philadelphia. Mike Zimmer ran the defensive practice while Sean Payton ran the offense.” Right. I am sure that would go over well.

And while I am at it, how exactly does one reemphasize anything if they are not present. But all the while, the media acted like it was normal. Nothing was out of place. It makes perfect sense that the head coach is not running practice.

Living in my parallel universe is fun.

So now, with fewer than 20 games to go, the Mavericks are handed over to a guy who tried to make this team in training camp! Not saying that Avery Johnson isn’t the right man for the job, because I think he is. But how crazy is it that a guy who was signed on the last day of September as an option at point guard is now the man in complete charge of this contending team? And again, the media all agree that this is a fine move.
Sometimes, when you have an opinion that no one shares, you stop yourself and wonder if you are the one voice of dissention then perhaps you are off base. I did. And I am not.

This is crazy! If you felt that Avery was the best man to succeed Nelson, could we at least do it at a time when the team was healthy and at full strength? With all of the injuries, your rookie coach will have about 5 minutes to prepare this team for the playoffs. You tell me, isn’t this a job for someone with 28 years of coaching experience?

If Nelson felt that he was done coaching or that he has lost his passion for it, then couldn’t he have made that decision in a month? Or last summer? If you heart isn’t in it, and you leave your team at the proverbial alter, shouldn’t at least one media person think it is insane?

If you can sign a player in September, and by March you are convinced he is a better coach then the guy you are paying $5 million a year to coach your team, shouldn’t at least one media person think it is ridiculous?

If a coach suggests “a little bit of him died when Steve Nash left”, wouldn’t we normally tell him to suck it up and do his job? I am not trying to be harsh here, but would this fly with Dave Campo?

Again, I am not against this move in theory. The new coach will seem to focus on defense more, minutes for Keith Van Horn will be properly small, and the nucleus of this young team will have a voice that they hear every day in their ear. But I cannot tell you how amazed I am that this is being passed through the papers and airwaves as if this unordinary event was incredibly ordinary. The move might be great, but the timing was certainly not.

I swear, as I read the local scribes assure me everything is normal and perfect, and as I hear Nelson tell me that he would still be coaching if he were going to have to walk away from $5 million bucks, I cannot tell you how absurdly these things are being treated in my parallel universe.


Sam said...


I really disagree with you on this one. I have said since the All-Star break that Nellie looked tired, and I really do think this is for the best. I loved Nellie more than anyone, but this thing, as you said, had run its course. I am actually glad this happened before the playoffs, becuase I think we have a better chance to win in the playoffs with Avery, and it will give Avery a much needed year of playoff coaching experience under his belt, which will help doen the road (Lets not forget that this is a young team still). We all know that Avery will emphasize defense more, but now we will also get to see minute distrbution that many have been whining for for years:

1) A true center. Dampier, when healthy, will now play long stretches and the Mavs will force people to guard their size, not the other way around. Avery has already shown he wants a true center on the floor as often as possible, playing Bradley fairly heavy the last two games.

2) Less Finley. It was no suprise that Finley was so upset by the swicth. He has the most to lose. Several times with Avery at the helm, Finley sat down the crucial final stretches of games for either Stack or Daniels. Nellie wouldn't do this. I think this makes us a better team, unless we are down 10+ and need Finley's 3-pt shooting.

3) The youth movement. Most of all Devin Harris. Harris needs to get on the floor. Avery has shown he will play him. Like I said before, this is still a young team (Dirk is 26, remember), so the young guys need their minutes to grow. I think Avery will have an eye towards the future where Nellie might not have.

Just my two cents.


Chris Roberts said...

It is very wacky that the other Sturminators in D/FW were so complacent in their coverage of the switch? If it weren't Nellie? The real story is in what Nellie and Cuban have said during ther Ticket interviews. Each one was pretty much taking shots at the other. That's the real reason why Nellie is out. There will come some point during the remainder of the season/playoffs when this will bite the Mavs square in the arse.

Pantsless Bob said...


While I agree, in principle, with most of your comments concerning Nellie's "retirement," I disagree with your statement of this is turning the team over to a point guard that was trying to make the team.

I never, for one moment, believed that Avery Johnson was brought here to be a player - I firmly believe he was brought back to the Mavs for what has transpired - he was brought in for the sole reason of replacing Nelson.

I also believe there was/and always has been friction between Nelson and Cuban (although both are professional enough to get past this in public).

While the jury is still out on whether this was the right move/right time - I do think that Avery is well respected around the league as a player that would make the leap to a successful coaching career.

He does seem to have the team listening to him... so far.