DALLAS _ Donnie Nelson likes the way forward Dirk Nowitzki and guard Jason Terry have put their personal stamps on the Dallas Mavericks franchise. Especially since Mavs fans originally didn't want either player.
In the days leading up to the 1998 NBA Draft, Mavs fans were drooling at the prospect of the team selecting Kansas All-American Paul Pierce with the No. 6 overall pick in the draft. But when it came time to make that pick and Pierce was indeed available, the Mavs traded the pick to the Milwaukee Bucks – they swapped first-round picks with the Bucks – and slid down to the No. 9 spot.
The Bucks invariably drafted Nowitzki while the Mavs drafted Robert “Tractor’ Traylor, which upset Mavs fans. And even when it was announced shortly thereafter that the Mavs had traded Traylor to the Bucks for Nowitzki, Mavs fans still weren’t satisfied.
Mavs fans wanted Pierce – he was drafted 10th by Boston -- and they wanted him bad. Most of them had never heard of Nowitzki.
“We had both of those guys ranked in the top three from that draft, and it was just ironic that they were both sitting there at number nine,’’ said Nelson, the Mavs’ general manager. “It blew us away.’’
Ryan Blake, the co-director of NBA Scouting, said he was aware of Nowitzki, who was tearing up the hardwood in his native Germany.
"Donnie was the guy that knew about him, and we knew about him,'' Blake said. "He played in the Nike Hoop Summit game that year – a game for 17- and 18-year olds -- and he played extremely well.
"Donnie was really doing a lot of international stuff at the time and really had his head to the ground over there.''
Terry, meanwhile, joined the Mavs via a conventional trade from the Atlanta Hawks on Aug. 3, 2004. But even that was met with trepidation by Mavs fans.
That’s because one month previously, the Mavs refused to agree with contract demands from one of the most popular players in team history –- point guard Steve Nash. And when the Mavs rolled out Terry as Nash’s replacement, not even the mayor of Dallas was ready to throw a parade.
However, while Nash went on to capture back-to-back Most Valuable Player honors after he signed with the Phoenix Suns, Terry became the first point guard to lead the Mavs to the NBA Finals -- in 2006 – when they lost to Miami in six games. That season, Terry and the Mavs beat Nash and the Suns in the Western Conference Finals for the trip to the NBA Finals.
“Jason came in a lot like Dirk,’’ Nelson said. “Initially when they first got to town there was a little bit of an air-out-of-the-sails factor with some of the fans.
“And just like Dirk, Jason put his own signature on that (point guard) position and shortly thereafter became one of our most popular players. But he had to slug it out through hard times.’’
Those hard times ended on June 12 when the Mavs captured their first NBA title.
While Nowitzki has developed into a 10-time All-Star and also won the MVP of this year’s Finals, Terry re-invented himself and became the NBA’s Sixth Man Award winner in 2009.
“You’re looking at one of the all-time great fourth quarter clutch performers in the history of our game (in Terry), and it came as a result of losing Stevie,’’ Nelson said. “Like both (Nowitzki and Terry), the rest of the guys in that locker room needed to earn the respect and appreciation from our fans.’’
-- Dwain Price
Follow me on Twitter