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News » Mavericks a lesson in history

Mavericks a lesson in history

Mavericks a lesson in history
The Thunder keeps adding young, blue-chip potential. Kevin Durant with the No. 2 overall draft pick and Jeff Green at No. 5 in 2007. Russell Westbrook at No. 4 in 2008. James Harden at No. 3 two weeks ago.

That kind of talent would seem to be a sure way to build an NBA winner. Other teams age, your team matures and at some point, your fast-moving train passes the engines starting to go chug-chug-chug.

A good way, yes. A sure way, no.

The Thunder's neighbors to the south, the Dallas Mavericks, offer a great history lesson in what can go wrong with young studs.

The Mavs actually have had two periods in their history when they drafted enough talent to take on all comers. One era worked out well, though fell short of a title. The other era wrecked as massively as any franchise ever has left the tracks.

The Mavs' first season was 1980-81. Their second draft, in 1981, produced Mark Aguirre, Rolando Blackman and Jay Vincent.

In 1983, the Mavs drafted Dale Ellis and Derek Harper. In 1984, they drafted Sam Perkins. In 1985, Detlef Schrempf. In 1986, Roy Tarpley.

That's an amazing collection of draft picks who could play. In a six-year span, the Mavs picked four eventual all-stars (Blackman, Aguirre, Schrempf and Ellis); a franchise point guard (Harper); two solid, long-time players (Perkins and Vincent); and Tarpley, who might have been better than any of them had he not sniffed his way out of Basketball.

That's the kind of talent collection the Thunder hopes is happening in Oklahoma City.

And it worked wonders in Dallas, where the Mavs' win totals kept rising, from 15 to 28 to 38, 43, 44, 44, 55, 53. They made the Western Conference Finals in 1988 and took the Showtime Lakers to seven games.

It's no crime that those Mavs never won the championship. The NBA title is hard to come by. Only 16 of the league's 30 franchises have a title. The Lakers and Celtics have combined for 32 of the 61 NBA championships.

Those '80s Mavericks teams did all a fan could hope for: consistently contend. They just didn't do it long enough. By 1990-91, Dallas was 28-54 and back in rebuilding mode.

Which is a great lesson for the Thunder . Acquisition of great talent isn't enough. You've got to cultivate that talent, and you can't let knuckleheads sink you.

Those Mavs made two trades that stunted their stamina.

Ellis played three years in Dallas as a role player, then was traded to Seattle for Al Wood. Wood was out of the league a year later; Ellis averaged 25.6 points a game his first four years as a Sonic sharpshooter.

Schrempf played 3 1/2 years in Dallas as a role player, starting just 22 games. Then he was traded to Indiana for Herb Williams, a 30-year-old power forward. Williams became a journeyman; Schrempf became a three-time all-star.

So drafting high isn't enough. Everyone knows Durant can play. But the Thunder must recognize the talent on the roster and not waste it with trades for 21st-century versions of Herb Williams and Al Wood.

And of course, Tarpley sank the franchise. His cocaine addiction wrecked the Mavs' future. They were building around Tarpley, a 6-foot-11 power forward who had all-star skills. But Tarpley didn't stay clean; he played in only 69 games the three years after Dallas' Western Conference Finals appearance and finally was released.

That's why Thunder general manager Sam Presti has preached character since he took the job. You can't set sail with guys you can't count on. Too much money at stake. Too much time invested.

If you're the Lakers or the Celtics, with a bunch of proven stars and veterans, sure, take a flier on Ron Artest or Stephon Marbury. But when you're building, bad seeds will wreck you.

Just go to the 1990s Mavs for proof. In 1992, Dallas drafted Jimmy Jackson fourth overall. In 1993, the Mavs got Jamal Mashburn with the No. 4 pick. In 1994, Dallas got Jason Kidd with the No. 2 pick.

That's a trio eerily similar in draft status to the Durant/Green/Westbrook trio. That's a load of talent.

All three were players. All three were stars. And the Mavericks disappeared into the abyss.

For reasons ranging from romance to ball possession, the Mavs' trio never meshed. Dallas was 22-60 the season before Jackson's arrival. The Mavericks went 11-71 in Jackson's rookie year, 13-69 in Mashburn's and a respectable 36-46 in Kidd's maiden voyage.

But the chemistry failed. The stars bickered, Dallas fell to 26-56 in 1995-96 and finally, after a 9-16 start the next year, the Mavs blew up the roster.

They traded Kidd to Phoenix on Dec. 26 and at least got Michael Finley in return. They traded Mashburn to Miami on Valentine's Day for a box of chocolates. Then they traded Jackson, the first man on board and the last man standing, to New Jersey on Feb. 17, basically for Shawn Bradley.

An absolute mess. The Mavericks spent a full decade in the wilderness, emerging only when Dirk Nowitzki turned into a superstar.

When Presti and the Thunder talk about putting pieces together, about good fits and character and solid citizens, that's what they mean. You can't just throw any three great prospects together and a winning team blooms.

Doesn't work that way. Just check out Mavericks history.

Berry Tramel: 405-760-8080; Berry Tramel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: July 15, 2009


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