Closing in on the top trade...
The Dallas Mavericks do not have what many would call a "storied history"; having joined the NBA in 1980 they remain one of the younger franchises in professional basketball, and so a list such as this may not require going too far in the Wayback machine. However, through the years the Mavericks have been one of the league's most active teams on the trade market, a tradition Mark Cuban has proudly continued, if not brought to crescendo. Some trades have been dubious, others hilarious, but these are the five we are calling "the best", under whatever arbitrary criteria so followed.
Find what checks in at #2 after The Jump:
February 21, 2002: The Dallas Mavericks trade Tim Hardaway, Donnell Harvey, Juwan Howard and cash to the Denver Nuggets for Nick Van Exel, Raef LaFrantez, Avery Johnson, Tariq Abdul-Wahad, and a first round pick.
This one might be a little controversial. Why is this trade better than the ones that brought Steve Nash and Tyson Chandler to Dallas? Hear me out.
This is(was?) a classic Mark Cuban trade. Much like what the Josh Howard trade would have been, if Caron Butler hadn't hurt himself and Brendan Haywood hadn't developed "can'tmakefreethrow-itis". By taking on extra salary(i.e the bad contract of Abdul-Wahad) and throwing in cash as a sweetener, Cuban was able to create an enormous disparity in talent-exchange. I mean, look at the players Dallas sent out: the corpse of Tim Hardaway, two 20-something first round picks in Harvey and the '02 first rounder(used on the disappointing Frank Williams), and the decent but hardly exceptional Juwan Howard, with career 13 point 6 rebound averages.
What Dallas got back requires in-depth explanation.
Entering 2002, Dallas was a young, upstart franchise, having made their first playoff appearance in 13 years the season before. But they entered the fray at a time when Western Conference dominance was at perhaps an All-Time high, with not just good, but legendary teams, like the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, the Duncan/Robinson Spurs, and perhaps one of the best teams ever to not win a title, the early-aught Kings.
Against these teams, Dallas was clearly outmatched, being dismantled by the Spurs in 2001, and suffering similar defeat at the hands of the Kings in 2002. Dirk Nowitzki, a rising star in the NBA, was still young, and for the Dallas franchise, hanging with the likes of the NBA's elite was nearly unimaginable.
Enter Nick Van Exel. A nine-year veteran, Van Exel was used to winning from his days in L.A, and after publicly asking for a trade from the lowly Denver Nuggets, was shipped to Dallas almost as an afterthought, as the supposed real catch was multi-talented center Raef LaFrentz(Don Nelson really liked tall guys that could shoot). While LaFrentz was a valuable rotation player, it was Van Exel who would ultimately make the biggest impact, and I would argue changed the course of Dallas Mavericks history. Even Dirk Nowitzki has remarked that it was Van Exel who made believers out of the young, inexperienced bunch of kids in the Mavericks locker room, as Van Exel would seem to always rise to the occasion and loved taking the big shot in the big moment.
If you're looking for the guy who paved the way for Jason Terry as a Maverick, it was Van Exel, who came off the bench and would look to shoot early and often, and often right in his man's face.
In the 2003 Western Conference Semifinals, against the rival Kings, Van Exel put on one of the greatest playoff runs in Mavericks history, scoring 76 points in back-to-back wins, both wild affairs that had final scores reminiscent of NBA track meets of the 1980's(Dallas scored over 130 points in back to back playoff games, including a wild 141-136 double OT game, which was the first time a team had done so in the playoffs in over 15 years). The Mavericks would beat the Kings, at the time unthinkable, and advance to only their second Western Conference Finals in franchise history.
That series, sadly, would end in defeat, as an injury to Dirk Nowitzki left the Mavericks one man short, but it took the erasing of a 13-point fourth quarter lead by the Spurs(and Steve Kerr) for San Antonio to keep Van Exel and the Mavs from forcing a decisive game seven. Even despite the loss, the young Maverick team and Dirk Nowitzki had overcome yet another obstacle in their quest toward an NBA championship. Though Van Exel and LaFrentz would be shipped off the following year, the dividends paid by this trade would not end, as throw-in Avery Johnson would develop a relationship with the players during his time as a Mav, prompting him to resign with Dallas before retirement, and eventually replace Don Nelson as Head Coach.
Johnson's time with the team has come under attack by some in recent years, but for all his faults, it was Johnson who turned the attacking, run-and-gun Mavs into a defensive-minded squad, and who helped turn Dirk into a more well-rounded offensive weapon by working him consistently in the high-post to take advantage of his height and shooting skill. These changes would lay the groundwork for not just the first Maverick FInals appearance(where Johnson's Mavs would lose), but the next one, and hopefully the third soon to come.
Other Top Trades in Dallas Mavericks History: