What Could Have Been: If Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki Were Still Teammates
Watching Steve Nash direct the Suns offense is a thing of beauty.
The way he maneuvers between defenders reminds me of a skilled touring car driver swerving in and out of traffic, interchangeably switching his dribble from left to right so as to keep the defense unsure of his next move.
His head is constantly on a swivel, hair wildly fluttering about, as he surveys the entire floor for the open man.
He is seemingly calculating the outcomes of every possible decision before he actually takes action, and not coincidentally, he usually chooses the single smartest option available to him.
He reminds me of Peyton Manning in the way he commands the flow of the offense, orchestrating every play with absolute confidence and control.
When he entered the league in 1996 with the Phoenix Suns as the 15th overall draft pick, fans were understandably skeptical. He was a relatively unknown player out of a small, private college amid a powerhouse draft class consisting of big names like Allen Iverson, Marcus Camby, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, and Stephon Marbury.
Nash was traded to Dallas in 1998 when his long-time friend Donnie Nelson convinced his father, Dallas GM and coach Don Nelson, that he was being underutilized in Phoenix.
It was in Dallas that Nash was paired with the young German prodigy, Dirk Nowitzki. The two almost immediately became close friends, and despite some early struggles in the strike-shortened season, they gave Dallas fans reason to believe there was hope.
When Mark Cuban bought the Mavericks from Ross Perot Jr. in 1999, he instantly changed the culture in Dallas and created an environment that would allow Nash and Nowitzki to thrive.
Before the 1999-2000 season, Don Nelson decided he could better capitalize on Nowitzki's unique talents by utilizing him more within the flow of the offense as a "point forward."
This allowed Nowitzki to move away from the traditional power forward mold, a role in which he had struggled the year before, and almost as soon as this change was made, Nowitzki began to blossom.
Nowitzki's combination of size, mobility, and raw scoring ability proved to be almost impossible to stop, and with the steadily improving Nash at the point, the Mavericks became an elite Western Conference team within two years of being together.
From 2000-2003, the Mavericks posted at least 50 wins in each season, and qualified for the playoffs in consecutive years in an extremely tough Western Conference.
They won a franchise-best 60 games during the 2002-2003 season, where they made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals before ultimately being beaten in six games by a Spurs team that would go on to win the NBA championship.
Before the 2003-2004 season, the Dallas Mavericks acquired forwards Antawn Jamison and Antoine Walker to add more versatility and firepower on the wing.
This is where this Mavericks team on the cusp of greatness began to go south. In acquiring Antoine Walker from the Celtics, Dallas traded away their starting center Raef LaFrentz, leaving a glaring hole in the middle that could not be filled by aging center Shawn Bradley.
As a result, Dirk was often expected to man the center position, and for the first time in his career, his numbers declined. The Mavericks would qualify for the playoffs that year, but would again fall short, losing in the first round to a potent Sacramento Kings team.
It was after this disappointing season, that Mark Cuban decided to take the Mavericks in a different direction. Not wanting to sign an aging Nash to a long-term deal, Cuban allowed Nash to explore the free agency market, where he would eventually land a lucrative deal with the Phoenix Suns.
By allowing Nash to leave, Cuban demonstrated his full-fledged commitment to Dirk as his franchise player.
Since the dispersal of this promising Mavericks team, both Nash and Nowitzki have gone on to win the league MVP award. Nash won it twice (2004-2005 and 2005-2006) and Nowitzki won it once (2006-2007).
I realize that we live in a world of salary caps and luxury taxes, and sometimes tough decisions have to be made in order to remain financially sustainable, but the success these two players have had since parting ways begs the question about what could have been.
What could have been if Nash hadn't been allowed to leave in free agency? What could have been if Antawn Jamison would have never been traded to the Wizards? What could have been if the Mavericks still drafted the same players but didn't trade Devin Harris to the Nets?
Can you even begin to imagine a lineup with Steve Nash at the point, Josh Howard at the two, Antawn Jamison at the three, Dirk at the four, and Shawn Marion, Devin Harris, and Jason Terry coming off the bench?
It almost sounds too good to be true, and in all reality it probably is. I'm sure that the salaries are impossible to fit together. I'm sure that under different circumstances, different outcomes are almost assured, and that every previous decision impacts each personnel decision moving forward making this massive compilation of talent nearly impossible.
I realize this. But, it sure is fun to think about how good they could have been.
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