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Michael Finley was a great player before he was an executive

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Remembering the great Michael Finley as a player

Fox Sports Films And Magnify Host “They Fight” Premiere Photo by Michael Tullberg/Getty Images

With the current lull in activity, it makes sense to look back at some of the Mavericks of the past. Dirk Nowitzki will always be the first name people think of when it comes to the 2000s Dallas Mavericks. Dirk absolutely deserves all of the recognition and credit possible, but he was not the only member of those teams.

Following the Rolando Blackman, Derek Harper and Mark Aguirre teams of the 1980s success, the Mavericks went through a rough stretch. From 1990-1991 through 1996-1997, the Mavericks went a combined 160-414. Even potentially special moments, like the drafting of future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd to combine with Jamal Mashburn and Jimmy Jackson to form the “Three Js” quickly fell into turmoil. But during the 1997 season, the Mavericks made one of the initial moves that began a turnaround.

Jason Kidd, Tony Duman and Loren Meyer were traded to the Phoenix Suns for A.C. Green, Sam Cassell and Michael Finley. Finley played the final 56 games of the season with the Mavericks averaging 16 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. Due to a quirk in scheduling he actually played 83 games between the Suns and Mavericks.

In his first full season with the team, Finley averaged 21.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.6 steals per game. The points, assists and steals were team highs. He averaged a league high 41.4 minutes per game while playing every game. The durability this showed would prove to be his defining trait.

From Finley’s rookie season of 1996 through 2001, Finely never missed a game. In a 4 season stretch from 1998 to 2001, he averaged 41.7 minutes per game while taking the court every single night. This insanely heavy usage began to take its toll in the 2002 season with Finley missing the first games of his career. He missed 13 games while still playing 39.9 minutes per game. It was the last season he averaged 20 points per game with a 20.6 points per game average.

Upon finally making the playoffs in 2001, Finley continued to bear an insanely heavy load. In the first round against Utah, he was the Mavericks best player in the first series win in over a decade. He averaged 23.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists and shot 43.3 percent from the floor and 44.8 percent from 3-point range while playing 45.8 minutes per game.

Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash and Juwan Howard also averaged over 40 minutes per game as the Mavericks decided to rely heavily on their starters. This series culminated in a Game 5 win with Michael Finley playing all 48 minutes, scoring 33 of the teams 84 points on 13-of-24 shooting. Finley also had the biggest play of the game, drawing a double team and getting the ball to Calvin Booth for a layup to win the game and the series.

The following season Finley continued to absorb an insane workload during the playoffs. He averaged 24.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists while playing 46.1 minutes per game on 50 percent from the field, 50 percent from 3-point range and 93.3 percent from the free throw line in a sweep of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

In the second round he averaged 46.7 minutes per game and averaged 24.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game while his shooting splits fell to 44.7 percent from the field, 32.0 percent from 3-point range and 88.6 percent from the free throw line.

By the time the team was at its best and Dirk was truly ready to lead a contender, the huge minutes load had taken a toll on Finley. The once elite athlete had lost a little bit of agility. He maintained an elite vertical and was always a threat to dunk on anyone if given the ability to elevate off of two feet.

He had one last great moment up his sleeve in the 2005 playoffs versus old friend Steve Nash. In Game 1 of the second round series the Steve Nash/Amar’e Stoudemire pick and roll torched Dallas as Stoudemire exploded for 40 points and 16 rebounds. With Erick Dampier struggling with Stoudemire’s quickness, coach Avery Johnson went to a strange solution.

He placed his small forward, Finley on the Suns center, Stoudemire and lived with the result. Finley in no way locked up Stoudemire but he did contain him, holding Stoudemire to 30 points on 9-of-20 shooting. Finley scored 31 points on 12-of-18 shooting including 5-of-6 from 3-point range. It was one last example of Finley doing his absolute best of what was asked of him, no matter how difficult.

In the summer of 2005 he was waived using the amnesty provision in order to prevent luxury tax penalties. He chose to sign with the San Antonio Spurs and won a title as a bench player. He was more than just a bit part as he averaged double figures in scoring in each of the first three rounds. He hung on through the 2010 season, which he finished up with Boston.

Finley will not make the hall of fame, but he was an incredibly fun player to root for. He did absolutely everything right. Teammates and fans could count on him to show up every night and do anything asked of him to the best of his ability. If he can help the Mavericks find players like himself, he will be a fantastic executive.

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