WASHINGTON – That Dirk Nowitzki-Paul Pierce debate surfaced again Wednesday morning at the Verizon Center.
Back when the 1998 NBA Draft was occurring, Dallas Mavericks fans were certain their favorite team was going to select Kansas All-American Pierce with the sixth overall pick.
Instead, the Mavs sent shock waves across the NBA when they executed a pre-arranged trade with the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Mavs used the sixth pick to select Robert "Tractor’ Traylor (for Milwaukee), and the Bucks drafted Nowitzki (for the Mavs) with the ninth pick. Pierce surprisingly slipped all the way to 10th to the Boston Celtics, whose coach at the time, Rick Pitino, was salivating at the thought of having an opportunity to draft Nowitzki.
A relatively unknown at the time, Nowitzki had some untapped skills that a few teams like the Mavs were keenly aware of. But even he admits the Mavs gambled in arranging to secure him instead of securing Pierce.
"For the Mavs it probably would have been an easy pick – with a guy that played well in college before,’’ Nowitzki said Wednesday of Pierce. "And they decided to take a chance on me, and the gamble paid off.
"I guess looking at it now, either one would have been a decent pick.’’
The truth of the matter is, then-Mavs owner Ross Perot Jr. went to then-general manager Don Nelson wanting to find a way to move down in the 1998 draft so he could make a few extra bucks. Nelson engineered the pre-arranged deal with Milwaukee, but still had to sweat out the eventual scenario.
That’s because the Sacramento Kings had the seventh selection and the Philadelphia 76ers were picking eighth. But the Kings drafted Jason Williams and the Sixers chose Larry Hughes, leaving Nowitzki for the Bucks to draft – for the Mavs.
In sliding down three slots, the Mavs basically saved Perot about $1 million. But they still were able to cash in and get the man they coveted the most in that draft in Nowitzki, who has become the ninth all-time leading scorer in NBA history.
While Nowitzki has been a 12-time All-Star who led the Mavs to the 2011 NBA title, Pierce is a 10-time All-Star who led the Celtics to the 2008 NBA championship.
Over the years, Nowitzki hasn’t had much personal dealings with Pierce, although they’re only two of a handful of players still in the NBA from the draft class of ’98.
"Even in All-Star games he’s always in the East locker and I don’t really get to spend much time with him,’’ Nowitzki said. "But I think there’s a mutual respect there and we’ve always watched each other from afar.
"It’s getting fewer and fewer (players still in the league from the 1998 draft class) by the year. But it’s good to see him still doing his thing.’’
Nowitzki has spent his entire career with the Mavs, while unquestionably becoming the franchise’s premier player. In the meantime, Pierce played 15 stellar years for the Celtics and last season for the Brooklyn Nets before joining the Wizards over the summer.
The Mavs (8-3) meet the Wizards (7-2) at 6 tonight at the Verizon Center with Nowitzki and Pierce obviously playing a major role in their team’s success.
"Paul is a Hall of Fame player,’’ Nowitzki said. "I’ve always admired him, he’s a clutch shot and he’s been a pleasure to watch for 17 years.
"He’s still obviously a great scorer, a great shooter, and he’s a good addition to this team. They have young guys and they definitely needed some veteran leadership, and he’s one of the best at it.’’