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‘We’re in the upgrade business’: Mavericks GM Donnie Nelson on the process of the NBA trade deadline

‘We’re in the upgrade business’: Mavericks GM Donnie Nelson on the process of the NBA trade deadline


It’s the first week of February.

Your phone rings.

Nothing abnormal about that, right? Well, depends who you are.

If you’re Dallas Mavericks General Manager Donnie Nelson, that phone call may be a little different. But, who exactly is on the other end of the call?

“Obviously, we all know each other. This neighborhood has 30 households. We know all the heads of the families, the lieutenants, and everything in-between.”

I guess if Mark Cuban is the head of the Mavs family then that would make Donnie Nelson the lieutenant? Nevertheless, the NBA trade deadline is upon us.

For the Mavericks, they currently find themselves stuck in a revolving door, going back-and-forth between the 5th and 6th seed in the Western Conference. You can argue that making a move at the deadline for Dallas wouldn’t put them over the hump or place them in the same conversation as say the Lakers or Clippers in the West, which is completely valid.

But for Donnie Nelson, it may not be about searching the trade market for another piece more than it’s just as simple as the Mavericks brass may be reluctant to break up their young core.

“It depends on the situation. Every year is different. You’re in constant communication with your other neighbors and counterparts. I think this year is an interesting one for us because we really like the young group that we’ve assembled. We want to give it a chance to grow together,” Nelson said. “You’re also measuring yourself against the rest of the West and the playoffs is not guaranteed so if we think there’s something out there that can increase our chances, you certainly have to look at it but the core and the positive steps that the franchise has taken, we want to give those seeds a chance to grow together.”

It’s an internal battle that you can imagine all contending playoff teams juggle with; if we make this move at the deadline, will we be championship contenders? By the looks of it, the trade front is relatively quiet compared to years past. As ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has stated, the deadline may be “sluggish and slow” as for big trades involving All-Star caliber players go.

For Dallas, if a potential rental is what you’re after, a trade involving Courtney Lee’s expiring attached with Golden State’s second round pick can suffice. But, the Mavs just simply aren’t in that tier of teams who can necessarily trade young assets, which make up one of the deepest teams in the league, for a rental if said rental won’t A) turn you into a contender or B) sign long-term.

But at the end of the day, anything can happen when you clinch a spot in the dance and Nelson knows that almost better than anyone.

“Some teams just aren’t a fit. Maybe their apples don’t meet your oranges. It really starts with you looking at your hand, what do you need, and is there a fit,” Nelson said. “We really like our young core and we’ve had success and want to give them the chance to grow together. But, we’re in the upgrade business and that’s the reality. You’re always having conversations, you’re always looking at who’s nipping at your heels behind you so that’s the state of where we’re at.”

The upgrade business – that’s exactly what the NBA is. And when you’re a playoff team, an upgrade come February, whether by trade or buyout, can be instrumental to your success come playoff time. For the Mavericks, the trade market has typically been where they leave their mark, as we all know free agency has left a lasting bitter taste in their mouth summer after summer over the last decade or so.

Though whether it be free agency or trade market, the Mavericks’ decision makers are typically always on the same page. And that same page is to find Coach Carlisle some ammunition.

“I don’t think to memory ever being a situation where we don’t put our heads together. Obviously, we know who owns the franchise but the triad of Rick, myself, and Mark has really worked well for a long period of time,” Nelson stated. “It’s constant communication. Look, we do have differences. There’s time where we have to spend more time to understand what kind of ammunition Rick is looking for, what the price of that ammunition is, and how far that ammunition can get us punched in the endzone or up the hill.”

Ammunition – a perfect analogy for said potential acquisition. With that said, what kind of ammunition should Rick Carlisle be looking for? With the arrival of Willie Cauley-Stein to fill the void left behind by Dwight Powell, you can argue that the big man spot is secure, for now. But, there’s two things that all playoff teams are looking for; 3&D wings and a playmaker off the bench. You can never have enough long, elite perimeter defenders as well as a guy who can go get you a bucket whenever their name is called.

But, no matter if fellow Western Conference playoff contenders make a move at the deadline, that won’t force the Mavericks’ hand to make a panic move or spark a sense of urgency.

“No, the fire is lit 24/7. The burn from within after you’ve waited for three decades to win a championship and you win one and you want to get back there as quickly as possible, there isn’t a person on the planet earth who wants to win a championship more than Mark Cuban followed by Rick Carlisle followed by our team so that’s kind of a self-imposed fire that really kind of never goes away.”

Donnie is right; maybe other teams apples don’t meet your oranges. But if the Mavericks can package an orange or two and upgrade to a pineapple by Thursday, you can bet your bottom dollar that Donnie Nelson is making that call.

Managing Editor for Dallas Sports Fanatic | Lead Editor covering the Dallas Mavericks | UNT Alum | Twitter: @TheMulf

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