The signs of improvement by the Mavericks under Nelson can be seen during his tenure in Dallas. When Don Nelson arrived, the team won 19 games in a shortened season which would have equated to 32 in a full year. Then during the 1999-2000 campaign, Nelson led the Mavericks to a 40-42 record which included a 9-1 April which was the best month in team history.
The great turnaround continued during 2000-2001 as the Mavericks became one of the best teams in the NBA. Nelson led the Mavericks to just their third 50-win season in franchise history, their first playoff appearance in 11 years, their first winning season in 11 years and the best road record in franchise history. The team has posted a winning record in each month for the first time in 13 years.
That postseason was just as successful for the Nelson-led Mavericks as he guided Dallas to a first round victory over Utah. While accomplishing that the team became just the sixth in NBA history to overcome a 2-0 deficit to win a five-game series.
For his efforts during the 2000-2001 season, Don Nelson finished third in the league's Coach of the Year voting. The team has continued to grow as it won a franchise-high 57 games in 2001-02.
Don Nelson is the third-winningest coach in NBA history with a record of 1036-806 (.562). He and Pat Riley are the only coaches ever to be named Coach of the Year three times (1983, 1985 and 1992). He was chosen one of the Top 10 Coaches in NBA History by a panel of former coaches, players and media selected by the NBA in commemoration of the NBA at 50 celebration. He coached Dream Team II to a gold medal at the 1994 World Championships in Toronto. The front-office architect of the Milwaukee Bucks' seven consecutive division title teams from 1979-1986, as well as the force behind the revival of the Golden State Warriors into a perennial playoff team in the late '80s and early '90s, Nelson has established himself as one of the NBA's premier basketball executives over the last three decades.
As a general manager, Nelson's drafting credits include the selection of all-stars Marques Johnson (using a pick Nelson had acquired from Buffalo in exchange for Swen Nater), Sidney Moncrief, Mitch Richmond, Tim Hardaway, Tyrone Hill, Chris Gatling, Latrell Sprewell and Chris Webber. In addition to those stars, Nelson has also shown an eye for finding role players who would eventually blossom in the NBA on winning teams, including John Starks (who would go on to make an all-star appearance), Sarunas Marciulionis, Mario Elie and Vincent Askew.
Taking over the duties of executive vice president for Golden State in 1987-88, Nelson built the club from a 20-62 squad that first season into a 55-27 club by 1991-92. Nelson took on the dual roles of head coach and general manager in 1988-89. Despite being plagued with injuries during his tenure at Golden State, the Warriors would go on to post two 50-win seasons and four playoff appearances in his seven-and-a-half seasons in the Bay Area. By comparison, Golden State had failed to make the playoffs in nine-of-10 years prior to Nelson's arrival and have not been back to the postseason since his departure.
One of Nelson's keys to success during this span was his ability to take lower first-round draft picks and turn them into players who in time would prove they should have been taken higher. From 1989-92, without a pick higher than 11th overall, Nelson chose four future all-stars (Hardaway, Hill, Gatling and Sprewell). Out of eight overall first-round picks from 1988 through 1993, the Warriors selected six future all-stars (Richmond, Tim Hardaway, Hill, Gatling, Sprewell and Anfernee Hardaway).
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