What if Don Nelson stayed with the Dallas Mavericks?

By Derek Ayala

One of the greatest coaches of all time, Don Nelson, is finally part of the Basketball Hall of Fame. He has coached in the NBA since 1976 and has coached four teams the Milwaukee Bucks, Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks and the Dallas Mavericks. He coached the Mavericks from 1997-2005 taking the Mavs to a laughing stock of the 90’s to a championship contending team in the early 2000’s. He coached Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash and Michael Finley to what they are today. Nash is a two time MVP winner, Finley went on to win a NBA Title with the San Antonio Spurs and Nowitzki is a former MVP and recently won a NBA Championship back in 2011.

It got me thinking. What if Don Nelson never resigned as head coach of the Mavericks and was still coach today? Would the Mavericks have ever won a Western Conference Title as well as a NBA Championship? Would the Mavs have ever developed a defensive end if Nelly stayed?

Let say Don Nelson was still coaching for the Mavericks and never resigned back in 2005. The Mavericks were 42-22 when Nellie resigned and then Avery Johnson coached them to finish that 2004-05 season with a 16-2 record. We know that Johnson was a defensive first coach and Nellie was a run and gun type coach. However, the Mavericks did make it to the Western Conference Finals back in 2003 when they went up against the Spurs. Nowitzki got injured in Game 3 of those Western Finals and did not return. The Mavs were tied 1-1 in that series, but if Nowitzki didn’t get hurt then who knows what would have happened and maybe the Mavs would have advanced to the NBA Finals. Which would have been Nelson’s first appearance to the Finals in his coaching career.

That following season the Mavericks went 52-30 losing to the Sacramento Kings in the First Round of the post-season. The season after that’s when Nelson resigned in 2005. Honestly, I believe eventually the Mavericks would have gone to the NBA Finals under Don Nelson, but it may not have been the same Finals appearance the Mavs made in 2006. You would have to think with Nowitzki that Nellie would have made it to the Finals at least once. Of course Nash was long gone after the 2003-04 season when he left for the Phoenix Suns and the Mavs acquired Jason Terry from the Hawks for the following season.

I believe that Jason Terry would have dominated if Don Nelson would have stayed as coach. I believe that with the run and gun game that Nellie ran that Terry would have been real comfortable in receiving the ball in transition and would have post up more threes than he actually did when he was with the Mavericks from 2004-2012.

Remember the Mavericks got Devin Harris in the 2004 NBA Draft, but when Nellie resigned during Harris’ rookie year he never built up under Avery Johnson’s system. The Mavericks drafted him to take over the reigns of Nash. Harris was brought in to be a fast offensive player and not a defensive player that’s why he was traded to the New Jersey Nets in 2008 for Jason Kidd.

When Steve Nash left the Mavericks for Phoenix he used what he learned from Nellie and he won back-to-back MVP Awards the first two years back with the Suns. I believe that Don Nelson would have eventually develop Harris into a “Steve Nash” type of guard.

If Nellie would have stayed then Harris could have been the next “Steve Nash” for the Mavericks. The Mavericks could have built up a new “big three” with Harris, Terry and Nowitzki. Then who knows what could have happened during that time. If the Mavs had the same result in the 2005-06 season maybe the Mavs would have beaten the Miami Heat in the 2006 NBA Finals. The Mavs run and gun system with Jason Terry, Devin Harris and Dirk Nowitzki would have worked under Nelson and then Nelson would have his first NBA Championship ring.

What about now? What Rick Carlisle has built up in the past few years with the Mavericks was both a defensive and offensive team. He built a team that could do both. That’s why they won a NBA Championship in 2011 against the Heat. If Nellie was still here I believe that the Mavs would have not made it far in the post-season in 2011. The time when Nellie ran the team everybody was still young and still in their prime. Now everybody has aged and their legs have worn down, so there is no way that the run and gun offense that Nellie had placed for the Mavs would have not worked.

If Nelson would have stayed with the Mavericks then would Dirk still be labeled “soft”? He may be called “soft” by a lot of non-Mavs fans around the NBA Nation, but in Mavs Nation that title was taken off of Nowitzki after the Mavs won a Game 7 in San Antonio to advance to the Western Conference Finals in 2006 when Nowitzki took the ball to the basket for a three point play that sent the game into over time where the Mavs eliminated the Spurs.

One thing about Avery Johnson is that he helped Nowitzki get that title of being “soft” away. If Don Nelson was still coaching then Nowitzki would probably be a player that stayed back and hit those jump shots and would have never been a player that takes the basketball to the paint. If Nelson would have stayed then once he would have retired then nobody would have been able to develop Nowitzki into a decent defensive player since I highly doubt that Carlisle would have ever been brought in after Don Nelson. That means that the Mavericks would have never won that title in 2011.

I believe that eventually Nellie would have retired as head coach of the Mavericks instead of returning to the Warriors in 2006 if the Mavericks would have won at least one NBA Title under Don Nelson that he would have ended his coaching career with the Mavericks. What if Don Nelson would have stayed? What if Don Nelson would have been apart of that 2006 NBA Finals? Would we have won? or still have lost? You can only ask yourself “what if?”

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