Both Granik and Thomas insist they don't want the developmental league to be a haven for high school kids who come out early but fail to make an NBA roster. "As an Afro-American I feel I have an obligation to show some responsibility," Thomas says. "I could never say to these kids, 'C'mon, play basketball. Forget about being educated.' "
But could Granik ban high school kids from the new league? To be determined. Would someone like Pacers forward Jonathan Bender, who has potential but can't crack Indiana's lineup, be welcome in the league, Russ? Don't know. And one more thing: If this is all happening next year, why haven't Stern & Co. discussed it with the players' union, which has no interest in allowing its members to be farmed out at the whim of management?
"Sooner or later they'd have to come to us, because we'd have to sign off on it," says union executive director Billy Hunter. "But we're not buying into anything right now. Our position is clear: If young players don't have the talent to be [in the NBA], then don't draft them."
Don Nelson Moves On
The Son Won't Rise in Dallas
As the Mavericks count down the last days of 1999-00, so does general manager and coach Don Nelson, who will leave the bench at the end of the season. "I'm tired of losing," Nelson says. "If I were coaching a 50-win team, maybe it would be different."
He will head to the front office with a small measure of vindication. Since coming to the Mavericks in 1997, he has been vilified for everything from his costly acquisition of Shawn Bradley (he gave up Sam Cassell, among others) to his declaring forward Dirk Nowitzki "the best 20-year-old in the game." Bradley never blossomed, but Nowitzki is on course to be a major star. "[Fourth-year point guard] Steve Nash will be the next one," Nelson vows. "He's had some injuries, but he's playing really well now. He'll prove to be what we projected, too."
Although Dallas will miss the playoffs for the 10th straight season, suddenly it has an intriguing nucleus in Nowitzki, All-Star guard Michael Finley and power forward Gary Trent, who has missed most of this season with a strained left groin. But as happy as Nelson is with the team's prospects, he is saddened by those of his top assistant, his son, Donn, who was supposed to succeed him on the bench. "The plan," says Nellie, "was for me to get the team through the hard years, then have Donnie reap the benefits."
New owner Mark Cuban has nixed that plan. He has also rejected moving Nelson's longtime friend Del Harris, who has been serving the Mavs as a defensive consultant, into the big chair. "Mark wants somebody younger [than Del]," Don Nelson says. "I think he's intrigued with the idea of finding a bright, energetic guy with new ideas."
Donn Nelson, a former assistant with the Suns, is a bright, energetic guy, but shots aimed at his father have damaged Donn's credibility. "That's the only thing that I wish I could change," Don says. "I didn't do Donnie justice by bringing him on. I think he's a little down."
Nellie says Cuban "has recharged my batteries" with his enthusiasm and willingness to gamble. Asked about the perception that Cuban is too chummy with his players, Nelson says, "If I thought it was causing problems with the team, you bet I'd say something to him about it. But it's had exactly the opposite effect. There's nothing phony about Mark."