Nellie Revisited

It’s only been about two months since Don Nelson stepped down as Maverick coach and retired.  At the time, I had wanted to go through his long and interesting career.  The hassles of everyday life prevented me from really going through Nellie’s career at the time but I have regrouped am ready to go.  It isn’t necessarily timely to be doing this now, with the playoffs raging and Nellie already fading into the background but a career as interesting as Nelson’s is really something worth examining at any time.  With that said, let’s review Nelson’s coaching/GM career:

Nelson Was a Player?

If you don’t know too much about the NBA of the 1960s and 1970s, it might surprise you to know that Nelson wasn’t always this guy with the big gut you see today.   He was not only a pro player but a had a long and solid career.  But Nellie’s pro career wasn’t one of those foregone conclusions either.  Nelson had a nice career at college for Iowa but then found himself coming out of college in 1962 with little chance of continuing his pro career. 

Nelson was able to make the Chicago Zephyrs in 1962-63, an one-year old expansion team, a terrible team that featured Walt BellamyTerry Dischinger, and little else.  Nelson actually played okay for the Zephyrs (6.8 ppg and 4.5 rpg) but was let go at the end of the year.  Nelson hooked up with the Lakers for the next two seasons.  Nellie’s first year in L.A. was also solid (5.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg in 17 mpg) but his minutes plummeted in 1964-65 (238 minutes in only 39 games).  Nelson was then cut by the Lakers in training camp in 1965.  While some will say that Nellie had shown little before leaving the Lakers, Elgin Baylor claimed otherwise.  In “Dynasty’s End,” by Thomas Whalen, Laker star Elgin Baylor was quoted as saying: “I never could understand why we let Don go.  We used to play a lot of one-on-one basketball in practice and Nelson always gave me as much trouble as anybody.  I know this: he never had a full opportunity with the Lakers.  There were always two or three forwards ahead of him with more experience.”

This seemed like it could be the end of Nellie’s career but Red Auerbach snatched him up for the world champ Celtics and Nelson immediately became a contributor.  From 1965-66 through 1975-76, Nelson was either a starter or a key bench member of the Celts.  In those years, Nellie averaged over 11 ppg and 6 rpg, maxing out at 15.4 ppg and 7.3 rpg in 1969-70.  He also helped bridge the Bill Russell champs of the 1960s with the Dave Cownes’ champs of the 1970s.  His most memorable playing moment occurred in the final moments of Game 7 of the 1968-69 Finals, when his jump shot hit the back of the rim, bounced straight up in the air about 10-15 feet and fell straight through to help the Celts clinch the title and beat the Lakers for Russell’s final title.  In 1975-76 at age 35,Nellie’s numbers fell to 6.4 ppg and 2.4 rpg and he retired.

Nellie’s First Stop: Milwaukee 1976-87: (540-344, .611%)

With his playing career winding down, Nelson landed on his feet in the Bucks organization as an assistant coach in 1976-77.  He was brought in by his ex-Celtic teammate and then Bucks GM, Wayne Embry.  The Bucks were in flux at that time.  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had forced a trade in 1975 and the team had a little talent but the team was struggling.  Incumbent coach Larry Costello was axed when the Bucks started the year 3-15 and Nelson was made head coach, despite only having two months of training.  The team improved a bit under Nellie, going 27-37 and the Bucks slowly built up from there with the draft. 

After the season, the Bucks had the first, third, and eleventh picks overall in the draft.  The Bucks didn’t exactly hit on the picks: they took Kent Benson first, Marques Johnson third, and Ernie Grunfeld eleventh.   Benson and Grunfeld were solid pro regulars but had no star potential.  Johnson ended up being quite good (though the Bucks passed on Bernard King, Jack Sikma, and Walter Davis to get him).  And in 1979, the Bucks nabbed Sidney Moncrief with the fourth pick overall.  Thanks to Johnson and a couple of incumbent vets (Junior Bridgeman and Brian Winters who were obtained for Kareem), the Bucks went from a .500 to a 49-win team by 1979-80. 

In mid 1979-80, the Bucks went for the brass ring and obtained Bob Lanier, who was aging but still pretty good.  The Bucks played well but lost a tough seven-game series to the defending champ Sonics.  In 1980-81, the Bucks were starting to hit on all cylinders.  Moncrief was starting to play well and Lanier, Johnson, and Bridgeman were all good.  The Bucks won 60 games and won the Central Divsion.  But 60 wins wasn’t enough to earn homecourt.  This indirectly reveals the biggest problems that the Bucks had–the Sixers and the Celtics.  The Bucks were very good but never enough to beat both these teams in the same year.  Take a look at the Nellie’s Bucks from the 1980s and their playoff runs:

Year         W-L   Playoff Results

1980-81    60-22     Lost to Philly 4-3 in the second round

1981-82    55-27     Lost to Philly 4-2 in the second round

1982-83    51-31     Lost to Philly 4-1 in the Conference Finals 

1983-84    50-32     Lost to Boston 4-1 in the second round

1984-85    59-23     Lost to Philly 4-0 in the second round

1985-86    57-25     Lost to Boston 4-0 in the Conference Finals 

1986-87    50-32     Lost to Boston 4-3 in the second round

After losing to the Julius Erving Sixers for three straight years, the Bucks then ran into the problem that Larry Bird and the Celts were starting to peak.  The Bucks were good but they just couldn’t match up with these two All-Time teams.  By the time the Celts were losing a little steam, the Bucks were also aging and the Pistons would also pop up.  Thus despite the fact that the Bucks were winning about 55 games a year they got as far as the Conference Finals only twice and they won a total of one game in those two series.

How Good Were the Nellie Bucks?

It’s pretty clear that the Bucks, for all their wins, were not in the class of the Celts or Sixers.  Let’s take a look at the key players from each team (starting lineups chosen from the each team’s best season):

PG:Dennis JohnsonMaurice CheeksCraig Hodges
SG:Danny AingeAndrew ToneySidney Moncrief
SF:Larry BirdJulius ErvingPaul Pressey
PF:Kevin McHaleBobby JonesTerry Cummings
C:Robert ParishMoses MaloneAlton Lister

Forget any other indicator but the Sixers have two clear Hall of Famers, the Celtics have three, and the Bucks have maybe one (Moncrief or Cummings).  When you combine that with the fact that the Bucks routinely had holes at the point and center, it makes you think that the Bucks could be beatable.  But what about the other also-rans, the good teams that couldn’t get over the championship hump?  The truth is there aren’t many other teams in the 1980s that were winning 50 games over even a three-year period and also not winning championships.  A couple of teams had nice two or three year stretches (San Antonio and Phoenix in the early 1980s).  The only team that falls in that category are the late 1980s Hawks, who won fifty games four years in row with Mike Fratello, but they never even made the Conference Finals. 

Since no one in the 1980s quite fits as a comp to the Bucks, let’s take any franchise with a nice three to five-year run over the last 25 years and see how this group stacks up.  In choosing these squads, we look for a run of at least three 50-win seasons and at least two Conference Finals appearances (but no titles).  Here are the teams I came up with:

New York Knicks 1991-1997

Indiana Pacers 1993-2000

Utah Jazz 1991-1998

Phoenix Suns 1989-1995

Portland Trailblazers 1989-1992

Portland Trailblazers 1998-2001

Seattle SuperSonics 1992-1998

First off, this definition surely excludes a few teams that are very good and arguably better than these squads (Kings 2000-2004, Heat 1996-2000, Magic 1994-1996).  But in an effort to compare the Bucks with teams of similar accomplishments, we’ll stick with the above-mentioned criteria.  I see the Bucks as worse than most, if not all of these teams.  Each of these teams were tougher in the front court (with the possible exception of the early 1990s Blazers) and all these teams have at least one Hall of Famer.  The Bucks are not much worse but they are at the bottom of this list.

Nellie v. Embry

The juiciest thing to come out of Milwaukee was that Nelson and Embry, the friend who brought him into the Bucks, are now estranged.  In fact, Embry wrote in his autobiography, “The Inside Game” that Nelson was a racist and that he forced Embry out of Milwaukee.  Nelson denied both of these charges and stated that Embry was upset that Nelson didn’t offer him a job after Embry was let go by the Cavs in the late 1990s.  Specifically, Embry stated that their relationship became strained over whether to sign Dave Cowens in 1982.  Embry also said by 1984 Nelson had usurped total control of personnel decisions when he overruled Emby to draft Kenny Fields.  Finally, Embry stated that Nelson fabricated stories that Embry was abusing expense accounts. 

I don’t what’s true on this subject but it does raise an interesting question of which of these men deserves credit for building the Bucks of the 1980s.  In his book, Embry takes credit for most of the smart moves and implies that Nelson didn’t quite know what was going on some of the moves.  In assessing this point, it’s tough because both Embry and Nelson have nice track records outside of Milwaukee.  All we learn from this is that time can strain even the best of relationships.

Nellie’s Second Stop: Golden State 1988-1995 (277-260, .516%)

After the 1986-87 season, Nellie left Milwaukee to become the GM of the previously mediocre-to-bad Golden State Warriors.  After one season as GM, Nelson jumped back into coaching to start the 1988-89 season.  The Warriors jumped from 20-62 to 43-39 in that season.  Nelson was helped by the emergence of Chris Mullin, who went from good player to great player that year (26.5 ppg), and rookie of the year Mitch Richmond.  The Warriors even upset the Jazz in the first-round of the playoffs.  The seven seed Warriors began to amass a bunch of talented offensive players over the next few years (Sarunas Marciulionis, Tim Hardaway, Chris Gatling).  In 1990-91, the Warriors again scored an upset as a seven seed, beating the David Robinson-led Spurs with their high scoring guard-oriented offense, nicknamed Run TMC (referring to Tim Hardaway (22.9 ppg), Mitch Richmond (23.9 ppg), and Chris Mullin (25.7 ppg)). 

So entering 1991-92, the Nellie Warriors had been a team with some scoring talent that had tepid regular seasons but two nice upsets.  This time, the Warrior fans expected the team to put it all together if they could get some front court help.  Nelson then made one of the more controversial moves of his career trading Richmond for rookie forward Billy Owens.  Nellie’s rationale was that the team had a glut of two guards (Marciulionis and Mario Elie) so losing Richmond would be okay if the forward was worth it.  In fact, Marciulonis played very well (18.9 ppg and .538%) while Owens was solid (14.3 ppg and 8.0 rpg).  The Warriors went 55-27 and had the second best record in the west behind the Blazers.  As luck would have at, the Warriors great regular season was coupled with a playoff fizzle and the Warriors lost 3-1 to the Sonics in the first-round.  It wasn’t quite the upset it seemed because the Sonics did have Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp but it was clearly a bitter end for the Warriors most winning season since 1975-76.

After 1991-92, things gut funky for Nellie.  The Warriors crashed to 34-48 in 1992-93 as Mullin, Marciulionis, and Owens all missed over half the season with injuries.  The Warriors were able to parlay this bad season into a nice draft pick of Chris Webber in the 1993 Draft.  So coming into the 1993-94 season, the Warriors had an exciting potential lineup with young athletic players like Hardaway, Latrell Sprewell, Mullin, Owens, and Webber.  Unfortunately, the Warriors never quite got to see the whole lineup together because Hardaway blew out his knee.  The rest of the squad went ahead and won 50 games with Webber winning Rookie of the Year but were swept out of the playoffs by the Suns.

And then things fell apart for Nellie and the Warriors in Shakespearean fashion.  The source of the problem was Nelson’s relationship with Webber.  Apparently Webber had been Nelson’s whipping boy for the 1993-94 season and Webber didn’t appreciate it.  Webber probably wasn’t the only rookie to get the rough treatment from and Old School coach but Webber had some unusual leverage.  Prior to 1995, there was no rookie wage scale.  Thus, a draft pick could get pretty much any contract he could negotiate.  Webber’s deal was a bit unusual as it allowed him to be a restricted free agent after only one season.  Webber decided to use his free agent status to demand either a trade or Nelson’s firing.

The situation became a real soap opera where people debated whether Nelson was out of touch with the younger players and whether Webber was being petulant or reasonable in his tactics.  Nelson had earned high status to Warrior fans so he was able to win the short-term battle and ownership sided with him.  Webber was traded to the Bullets for Tom Gugliotta.  But the controversy wasn’t over.  The Warriors got off to a hot start (7-1) but then problems emerged.  Some players, notably Sprewell, rebelled and it appeared that the team wasn’t even trying and collapsed to 19-55.  Nellie did not survive the collapse, he was fired after the team fell to 14-31.  Thus, ended the Nellie Era in Golden State.

A Closer Look at the Richmond Trade

Trading Richmond was one of the more controversial moves of Nellie’s career.  Richmond was a young player at his peak and he was devastated about the deal.  The trade for Owens, however, was questioned because Owens ended up having quite a mediocre career and Richmond would be an All-Star for about seven or eight more years.  As mentioned above, the Warriors were loaded with guards (Marciulionis, Elie, and Sprewell).  So, trading Richmond made some sense but the problem was the booty gotten in return.  But trading for Owens was a flawed plan.  This isn’t a second-guess on Owens in particular (he had a decent career) as much as it is a recognition that another small forward was not what the Warriors needed.  Ironically, the player drafted one pick after Owens was exactly what the defensively challenged Warriors need—Dikembe Mutombo.

Some Reflection on Webber and Nelson

Nellie’s tenure in Golden State was ultimately knocked off by his conflict with Webber.  As much as Webber came off as a immature jerk in that scenario, it’s clear that it was handled wrong.  Webber was a talent that shouldn’t be given up on unless you can get value in return.  Gugs was a good player but not quite in Webber’s league.  Moral of the story, keep your superstars if you can.

Nellie’s Brief Stop in the Big Apple: New York 1995-96 (34-25, .576%)

Nelson next ended up in New York and this just didn’t work.  The Knicks were a bruising half court team, programmed with a tough mentality by Pat Riley.  Nelson sought to rewire the Knicks into his image of a more offensively varied team.  It was a decent idea in theory but the player’s weren’t having any of this.  In particular, Nelson’s idea was to take touches away from Patrick Ewing and put the ball in Anthony Mason’s hands (Mason was a good passer in the post).  He also benched popular John Starks for Hubert Davis (and even tried to trade Starks for Vinny Del Negro).  Finally, Nelson kept playing Charlie Ward in the low block because he was convinced that Ward was a good rebounder for a guard.

This radical change did not go over well with the players.  The Knicks started 17-6 but then slumped to 17-19 over the next games.  At this time the Knicks defense eroded, highlighted by a 17-point home loss to the lowly Clippers.  The team completely quit on Nelson and he was fired a few days later (even though his last game as Knicks coach was a win at Toronto). 

I have no doubt that Nelson could’ve have eventually turned the Knicks into one of his “teams.”  But the problem was the Knicks were still a pretty good team with some good vet players.  The more prudent idea would’ve been to try to win with Ewing as centerpiece until the time when Ewing was no longer a Hall of Fame-type player (that would happen in about two years).  The stay revealed Nelson’s worst side, his need to win his own way.  Some more adaptive coaches would’ve maintained the status quo until it was untenable.  Instead, Nellie tried to radically reshape the Knicks to quickly.  Granted, the Knicks were resistant to his changes but with a little flexibility in tact, New York could’ve been a much better experience for Nelson.

Nellie’s Fourth Stop: Dallas 1997-2005 (297-229, .565%)*

Nelson came to Dallas at the nadir of his career.  The quick and successive failures of the Webber Affair and then in New York had forced him into declaring retirement (on the Knicks’ dime).  But Nelson would get some luck.  The Mavericks had been slowly stinking for about six years when new owner Ross Perot, Jr. hired Nelson as GM.  At that time the Mavs had been trying to rebuild around a young perimeter-oriented team of Jason Kidd, Jimmy Jackson, and Jamal Mashburn.  This didn’t work to well because the frontline was abysmal (Lorenzo Williams, Loren Meyer, and Cherokee Parks) and the “Three Js” had been fighting over shots and had health issues.  Kidd had broken ribs in a car accident, Jackson had ankle issues, and Mashburn had knee problems. 

Nelson came in a decided to dump them and start over.  One common misconception was that Nelson traded Kidd to Phoenix (for Michael Finley, A.C. Green, and Sam Cassell).  In fact, the incumbent coach Jim Cleamons had authorized that maneuver.  Nelson came in in mid 1996-97 and immediately dumped Mashburn (for Kurt Thomas and Sasha Danilovic) and Jackson (as part of a big deal with Cassell and Gatling for Shawn Bradley and Robert Pack).  Neither traded turned out very well and, in fact, some speculated that Nelson had made the deals to ensure that Cleamons’ squad so that  Nelson could fire him and take over as coach too.  In fact that is exactly what happened.  Nelson took command of the team.  His reputation was now even lower in the gutter too because both Mashburn and Jackson deals looked bad and I recall Sport Illustrated writing an article likening Nelson to a mad scientist. 

Unsurprisingly then, the Mavs struggled in Nellie’s first few years.  In 1996-97, the Mavs went 24-58 with Cleamons as coach.  Nelson took over and went 20-62 the next year.  But 1998-99 would mark a turning point.  Prior to that season, Nelson drafted Dirk Nowtizki and traded for Steve Nash, two moves that paid huge dividends.  The Mavs slowly improved the next two years until 2000-01 when they broke through and won 53 games and upset the Utah Jazz in the playoffs.  Since then the Mavs have been on the fringes of championship contention, a very good team but not quite championship level.  Finally in late 2004-05, Nelson retired as coach and that leaves us where we are today.

The Nash/ Nowitzki Gambits

As good as the acquisition of Nash and Nowitzki moves looks now, back in 1998-99 they were not as well-received.  Nash was a backup guard for the Suns (behind Kidd and Kevin Johnson) and though the Suns thought he’d be good he had not definitively shown that he was starter material.  Despite this, Nelson gave up a high draft pick for Nash (the pick ended up being Shawn Marion) and immediately gave Nash a six-year, $36 million contract extension.  This was not a great idea given that Nah had a lot to prove.  In fact, Nash’s first two years in Dallas were not great:

Year        MPG    PPG    APG

1998-99    31.7      7.9       5.5

1999-00    27.4      8.6       4.9

Everyone had inkling that Nash was a good player but he didn’t hit an All-Star level until 2000-01 and people were actually starting to run out of patience with him that he put up 15.6 ppg, 7.3 apg, and shot .487%.  Nash was a four-year college grad and it still took him four more years to merit a starting job.  Just goes to show you that every player develops differently and the notion that college or pro experience work differently with each individual player.

As for Nowitzki, I don’t think people quite remember the controversy surrounding his drafting.  At the 1998 draft, Nowitzki was a wild card from Germany.  His entire reputation was based upon one game where he dominated a group an 18-year old American team and there was only a few snippets of grainy film available to watch of him.  Nelson nabbed Dirk with the ninth overall pick and it only took him a year to develop into a good pro and the rest is history, averaging 17.5 ppg in his second season at age 21. 

Finally, there is also a misconception that the Mav ripped off the Bucks because technically the Mavs traded their sixth overall pick (Robert Traylor) to Milwaukee, who drafted Dirk Nowitzki for the ninth pick.  But this wasn’t a bona fide trade.  The Mavs purposely let Dirk slip to ninth and then made a pre-arranged trade with the Bucks to draft him at cheaper salary slot.  So, the Bucks had no real shot to draft Dirk and it can’t be characterized as a true blunder.

*excludes Nelson’s 2004-05 record because it isn’t clear which games are credited to Nelson or Avery Johnson

Nelson And Projected Won-Loss

Nelson has been a very good coach and, with the exception of New York, he has rebuilt teams into competitive franchises and he has found good talents in all these places that others could not.  Interestingly, Nelson’s teams have underperformed their projected won-loss record:

On Milwaukee


On Golden State


On New York


On Dallas


Over the course of his career, Nelson’s teams have played 23 games worse than their projected record, including 1985-86 when the Bucks went 57-25 but based upon the points for/against the Bucks were projected to have a 65-17 record.  I don’t know if this is a fluke or not but it is interesting to see that Nelson underperformed the projections.  I suspect it may be a fluke because after leaving Milwaukee, the differential between actual and projected wins narrowed greatly.

Nellie’s Best Team?

This is an interesting question and it really comes down to two or three teams.  Nellie has won 60 games twice, once with the 1980-81 Bucks and again 20 years later with the 2002-03 Mavs.  We can also throw in the 1985-86 Bucks who won 57 games but actually were projected to win 65 and the 59-win 1984-85 Bucksa.  Let’s again look at the line ups and see the squads:

1980-81 Bucks

PG:   Quinn Buckner (13.3 ppg, 4.7 apg)

SG:   Sidney Moncrief (14.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg)

SF:    Junior Bridgeman (16.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.0 apg)

PF:    Marques Johnson (20.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 4.6 apg)

C:      Bob Lanier (14.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg)

1984-85 Bucks

PG:    Craig Hodges (10.6 ppg, 4.3 apg)

SG:    Sidney Moncrief (21.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 5.2 apg)

SG:    Paul Pressey (16.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 6.8 apg)

PF:    Terry Cummings (23.6 ppg, 9.1 rpg)

C:      Alton Lister (9.9 ppg, 8.0 rpg)

1985-86 Bucks

PG:    Craig Hodges (10.8 ppg, 3.5 apg)

SG:    Sidney Moncrief (20.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.9 apg)

SG:    Paul Pressey (14.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 7.8 apg)

PF:    Terry Cummings (19.8 pph, 8.5 rpg)

C:      Alton Lister (9.8 pg, 7.3 rpg)

2002-03 Mavericks

PG:   Steve Nash (17.7 ppg, 7.3 apg, .465%)

SG:   Nick Van Exel (12.5 ppg, 4.3 apg)

SF:    Michael Finley (19.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.0 apg)     

PF:`   Dirk Nowitzki (25.1 ppg, 9.9 rpg, .463%)

C:      Raef LaFrentz (9.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg)/Shawn Bradley (6.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg)

Let’s first deal with the Bucks teams.  I tend to think that the latter two Bucks teams are superior to the 1980-81 model.  The 1980-81 was very well-balanced really didn’t have a power forward (Johnson was a small forward) and Moncrief wasn’t at his peak yet.  The 1984-85 team has Cummings and Moncrief’s peak but playoff-wise they weren’t great (swept out of the second-round).  The 1985-86 team made the furthest but they were also swept out of the playoffs.  Given all this information, there really isn’t a satisfying answer to the best Buck team of the three.  My preference is the 1985-86 team because they won a lot, had a true power forward, a peaking Moncrief, AND had the furthest playoff run but I recognize that the difference in the three is academic.  In fact, I think all three teams are probably slightly worse than the 2002-03 Mavs who featured Nowitzki (the best player Nellie ever coached) and Nash.

The All-Nellie Team

Nelson has coached a ton of All-Star talent so finding an “All-Nelson” Team is quite a challenge.  Let’s see what we have:

PG:    Tim Hardaway:    Right off the bat we have a really tough decision. Nelson couldn’t find a good classic point guard on Milwaukee but he made up for that with Steve Nash and Tim Hardaway.  Each player had about four All-Star years playing with Nelson but had different strengths.  Let’s take a look at their seasons under Nellie:

Nash        PPG    FG%    APG    Eff.

1998-99      7.9    .363        5.5     9.90

1999-00      8.6    .477        4.9    10.93

2000-01    15.6    .487        7.3    18.04   

2001-02    17.9    .483        7.7    19.34

2002-03    14.5    .465        7.3    19.01

2003-04    14.5    .470        8.8    18.51

Hardaway    PPG    FG%    APG    EFF.

1989-90        14.7    .471        8.7     18.89

1990-91        22.9    .476        9.7     25.30

1991-92        23.4    .461      10.0     24.33

1992-93        21.5    .447      10.6     23.47

1993-94                INJURED-DNP

1994-95        20.1    .427       9.3      20.24

Both were great players for Nelson but Hardaway seems to be the superior player.  He scored more and passed more (though he did play in a more up tempo offense).  In addition, T-Hard was actually a better defender. 

SG:    Sidney Moncrief:    This is a three-horse race between Moncrief, Michael Finley, and Mitch Richmond.  In addition, their numbers are all basically identical.  All three were great all-around guards.  So how do we differentiate them?  I think we can eliminate Richmond because he played the fewest seasons with Nellie (three seasons) while Moncrief (eight seasons) and Finley (eight seasons) both played with Nelson a long time.  Now things get dicey.  Their stats are very similar and both were great players.  I’ll give a slight edge to Moncrief if only because there were points when he was arguably the best player on a very good team while Finley was complementary to Nash and Nowitzki.

SF:    Chris Mullin:    As much as I liked Paul Pressey as a player who could do everything on the court, Mullin is clearly a better player.  Marques Johnson was also quite good but but Mullin scored over 25 ppg in five straight years and was a very good all around player (better than people remember). 

PF:    Terry Cummings: See below.

C:      Dirk Nowitzki:    Dirk is a power forward and he’s the best player that Nelson has ever had.  We place him at center because in true Nelly fashion, he would’ve surrendered a pivot man for the ability to go small with Cummings and Nowitzki starting together.  Finally we note that Patrick Ewing and Chris Webber each might be the true best player Nelson ever coached but their brief time with Nelson and the fact that Nellie didn’t really like themmust cause us to disqualify both of them from the Nellie Team.