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Art Garcia

Donnie Nelson has been the man behind the scenes in Dallas' rejuvination this season.
Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

Mavs' attention-avoiding Nelson worthy of top exec honor

Posted Apr 13 2010 12:17PM

DALLAS -- Donnie Nelson wanted no part of the conversation, almost pleading not to be the subject. Decked out in a John Deere cap, western button down, Wranglers and cowboy boots, the general manager of the Dallas Mavericks doesn't wear recognition well.

You'd be hard pressed to find a suit and tie in his closet. So if Nelson is named Executive of the Year in a few weeks, that's probably where he'll stash the award.

"I really don't want it," Nelson groused. "I shun that. I don't like credit. I'm allergic to it. The worst part of my job besides cutting players is microphones and cameras."

Nelson, 47, has spent the last dozen years in Dallas largely out of the spotlight, rising from the ranks of assistant coach to president of basketball operations/general manager. He's been in on every critical personnel decision during that time, as the Mavericks have risen from laughingstock to only the fourth NBA franchise to ever post 10 consecutive 50-win seasons.

"Donnie has built something and continues to enhance it in a fashion that everybody looks to," Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti said. "They continually do it year after year in creative ways. They've done a job that I think everyone looks at Donnie as one of the best in the league."

Nelson's competition for Executive of the Year figures to be stiff, with the likely contenders being Presti, John Hammond (Milwaukee), Kevin O'Connor (Utah) and Danny Ferry (Cleveland). Denver's Mark Warkentien won it last season. The award, which debuted in 1973, is sponsored by the Sporting News and recognized by the NBA. All 30 teams vote and ballots are due Thursday.

This season may be Nelson's finest work. The Mavs appeared to be stuck in a rut after last season, a sixth seed in the Western Conference that was getting older and not better. Dirk Nowitzki was still at the top of his game, but there were plenty of questions on the roster.

Nelson had the charge from owner Mark Cuban to keep the nucleus intact, while adding athleticism and depth. The first order of business was re-signing free agent Jason Kidd for three years at $25 million. From there it gets interesting.

Nelson used Jerry Stackhouse's expiring contract, along with several fringe veterans, to secure Shawn Marion in a four-team trade. The four-time All-Star forward, signed for five years for $39 million, has emerged as Dallas' defensive stopper, especially against the league's elite scorers.

The most exciting addition to the roster may be rookie guard Roddy Beaubois, a late first-round pick acquired in a pre-arranged deal with the Thunder that also netted a future second-round pick. The native of Guadeloupe has become a sensation in Dallas and is on the verge of being the first rookie to shoot at least 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from 3-point range and 80 percent from the free-throw line.

"Roddy is all Donnie," Cuban said. "He found him, he buried him, he promised him and he got him. It's all Donnie."

As much as those moves kept Dallas competitive, the big bang came during the All-Star break. Nelson and the Mavericks were able to move disgruntled forward Josh Howard in a blockbuster deal that landed All-Star swingman Caron Butler and center Brendan Haywood.

Shortly after the trade, Dallas won 13 straight and heads into the final night of the season with the inside track on the No. 2 seed in the West. Nelson also re-acquired former fan favorite Eduardo Najera in a deal with New Jersey that saved the team $4.7 million.

Cuban admitted to nearly blowing up the team, which was struggling throughout January, before the Butler trade. But the Mavericks stayed the course, much as they've done for the past decade. Cuban said Nelson's greatest move is probably trading for Jason Terry in 2004 after Steve Nash left via free agency.

History may disagree from a strictly basketball perspective. As an assistant in the late 1990s, Donnie Nelson helped engineer the deal that brought a relatively unknown German (Nowitzki) and unheralded Canadian (Nash) to Dallas.

Nelson does have plenty of assets to work with -- namely Cuban's wallet -- but building a winner isn't just about money.

"Donnie's work ethic is at the top of the list," said Chicago assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff, a former general manager and longtime front-office executive. "That's what you've got to do, you've got to work hard. You've got to continue to strive to put the pieces together. You've got to do your due diligence. They have courage, and I think that's important, and they have that core to fit pieces around.

"They're winning basketball games. That's the barometer."

Cuban admits that the secret to success starts with the "big ole double-Ds -- Donnie and Dirk. I write the checks, but it's a team process. Donnie finds them." Nelson, naturally, would rather talk about the work done by Cuban, Carlisle and the front office.

"Donnie is not one to take credit," Cuban said. "No one here does anything for individual awards. We've been doing this long enough, and everybody has gotten their share, it doesn't really matter."

Nelson doesn't argue.

"This is really a result of a lot of people," Nelson said. "I don't think any one guy should get credit for what the entire staff works on. We made more right decisions than not, but we've also been extremely fortunate. Ultimately, Mark signs off on everything we do or decide not to do. I take things to him and they get approved or don't get approved. In a lot of respects, I'm a basketball custodian."

In cowboy boots.

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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