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Chad Ford's "Daily Dish" with Donnie Nelson

ESPN's Chad Ford has a podcast where he interviews execs from around the league. Donnie Nelson was the guest last week, although Chad Ford didn't do this interview. There wasn't anything shocking said, but Donnie is constantly overshadowed by the peronalities of Mark Cuban and Avery Johnson so it's always interesting to see what he has to say.

As great as Dirk was coming out of Germany, can you evaluate the ability of somebody to eventually develop into a player who is more concerned about his teammates and winning than just his prolific scoring?

It's been an evolution. It's tough to be a leader of an NBA team to begin with. You have to a certain skill set. You have to have a certain rapport and respect. You have to be in the NBA a certain number of years and be consistent in that time. It's even more difficult if you were born in a different country. That's the amazing thing about Dirk. He was a quite, soft-spoken, almost introverted guy when he came over here. The start was a rocky one. I think people in the league and in the locker room saw how he handled himself through those really tough times and he let his play do the talking. As soon as he got over those up-and-down trouble years he really started coming into his own. He leads by example. He's always been a by example guy. Most recently he's kind grabbed the leadership baton and run with it. I don't think it's natural to he but he sees it as a necessity for us to go where he want to go. Off the court he's just one of those guys who is camera shy and would prefer to be with his friends and teammates rather than do interviews. It is something that's not natural to him but he'll do it because it's in the best interest of the Mavericks.

I don't know if you've heard this comment, but Cedric Maxwell, who played with Larry Bird, has mentioned numerous times the comparisons between Dirk and Larry Bird. On the surface, some of the comparisons are superficial, but I think it's interesting that in his opinion Dirk is better than Larry Bird. What's your opinion?

Well there is a huge difference. Larry has won multiple championships and we haven't won any here. I think Dirk understands that and understands the pressure that comes with that. That's what we're focused on right now. When I first got Dirk everyone made the comparisons. They're both tall. They can both shoot. They're both blonde, but that's about where it ends. Larry is a guy who set the standard for his position and did it with championship caliber teams in Boston. That's what we are building toward and hoping to become. Hopefully when Dirk looks back on his career he'll have a couple of those brass rings on his mantle as well.

In 2003 you guys selected Josh Howard with the 29th pick. As much as you liked him, did you see him becoming a borderline All-Star in the West?

No. We liked Josh for his length, athleticism, and heart. It was a strange draft. For whatever reason there he was with all his accolades, two time ACC player of the year, and we really liked the way he played - his heart, his rebounding ability, his ability to play multiple positions. We saw upside, potential, and growth, but I think it was a combination of a bunch of different things that allowed him to fall to 19th in that draft. At that point there was a number of interesting overseas prospects and bunch of younger players coming out. Problem is when you are projecting those kinds of players a lot of them don't pan out. With Josh Howard you had a guy who stayed in school four years, and had the maturity to hit the ground running as soon as he played in the league. Nelly threw him right into a significant role and he ran with it like no other. We were just lucky that he fell to us.

When I watch Devin Harris play, who you took fifth overall, I see someone who has the physical skills that can really excel in today's game. But I think I also see things late in the game that you wouldn't expect from a player that's been in the NBA a couple of years. Where do you think Devin is with his development at this point?

I think he's right on target. I think the third year is really the year you've got sit down, take a hard look, and make those evaluations. His first two years he was thrust into the starting lineup and pulled out in his first year. Last year he was thrown into the Finals. Any young player that's thrown into that kind of forum it's tough. We don't win the Spurs series without him. In the Finals, I don't care if you're a ten year veteran, it's a different environment to function in. We all learned a lot of difficult lessons during that Miami series. But he came out a year early, and early entries generally take a little longer to develop. In his third year he's really taken his game to a different level. Consistency is something we've want him to work on and he's answered the bell. Now we are using that two point guard backcourt with he and JT, and I don't know of another backcourt that has as much of a one-two punch. We're really hard to match up with so he's right on schedule.

Avery Johnson seems to have that personality where he can balance on that fine line between nitpicking and motivating. Here's a team with the best record in the NBA and he's able to keep them sharp without annoying them. I think how he relates with his players is his greatest asset.

He's got a great skill set. It's amazing. He comes from humble beginnings and he's never forgotten that. His morals are off the charts. The way he carries himself. The way he's had to overcome all obstacles, not being drafted and being under six feet. Here's a guy who couldn't shoot and could only drive left but carved out a 16 year career and was the starting point guard on a championship team. There aren't many people in basketball uniforms who do that. The things that carried him through his career have been extremely valuable to his coaching. They call him `The General' for his leadership and ability to connect with players because he knows what buttons to push. Superstars have to be treated differently than role players and he's got a real understanding of that. There are certain things that non-negotiable for him and that's on the defensive side. He's really tough on the guys, but they know he cares about them not just as players but as people. We knew he was going to be good, but we didn't know he would be this good, this fast. He took a team to the Finals in his first year which is extraordinary. He's never looked back and we're hoping to make another run this year.

How does this team compare to last years?

We're a little bit different. It's no mistake that during free agency we made it a point to target players that had been deep into the playoffs. Three of the four players we signed had been to the Finals. We wanted guys that were more seasoned and defense oriented. Team oriented. We're big fans of integrity, people that are team players. We don't take chances on many bad folks or questionable characters. We've had our Dennis Rodman moments.

Big trade between Golden State and Indiana. How much is it about finances and how much is it about tow franchises that want to change their culture?

It benefits both teams. They both wanted to change things up. If you look at the West it's really difficult top to bottom, and this was something I think Nelly felt he had to pull the trigger on.

Is there any part of you thinks back to game three of the Finals and think that what happened will make winning that much sweeter, or does it still make you sick to your stomach?

You never get over that. To almost be able to wrap your arms around the trophy then to have it yanked away is nothing you completely get over. We see it as our first time in that forum. We learned a lot. We gained very valuable experience, valuable lessons. If you see us get back there we'll react differently. I think most great teams went through those hard knocks. I think it makes tougher and more humble, and I think all those things are important elements of championship teams.