All three Texas teams have now won titles and they did it on the backs of some all-time greats. In a look back at recent history, I got together with Tim Varner (ESPN.com’s 48 Minutes of Hell) and Rob Mahoney (New York Times, NBC Sports, and ESPN.com’s The Two Man Game) for a Texas-sized 3-on-3.
Who was/has been the best player in Texas in the last 20 years?
1. Tim Varner: I tend to see this as a four man race, with David Robinson intruding at the fringes of a conversation that finds Hakeem Olajuwon, Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan at its center. Nowitzki is currently in the limelight, and Olajuwon is woefully under-appreciated, but my heart is still with Duncan. I could make the he’s-won-more argument, but my preference for Duncan is as much an emotional attachment as anything.
2. Rob Mahoney: Weighing the careers of Tim Duncan and Hakeem Olajuwon is as difficult as any such comparisons get. The margin between the two players is razor-thin; both are elite offensive contributors, world-class defenders, stellar rebounders, superb teammates, franchise cornerstones, and exemplary leaders. Yet if forced to nudge my determination from the razor’s edge, I’d choose Duncan, though without the fervor nor the gall to tell you that Hakeem is in any way unworthy. It’s just a matter of taste, really.
3. Rahat Huq: I’m going with Hakeem. Dirk and Duncan took the floor every night flanked by fellow All-Stars. Dream rotted through his prime next to the likes of Joe Barry Carroll. His best teammate was a 32-year-old Clyde Drexler and the Glide was rapidly on the decline. Had he had more help, Olajuwon would have won more hardware.
What was the most significant event in Texas in the last 20 years?
1. Tim Varner: David Robinson’s broken foot. The Admiral’s missed season set the stage for the Spurs’ selection of Tim Duncan at the top of the draft. That moment, more or less, began San Antonio’s decade long dominance and set the stage for four championships.
2. Rob Mahoney: Lots of great candidates here, but I’ll plug a dark horse: the drafting of Manu Ginobili. Hitting the lottery with Tim Duncan was critical to San Antonio’s success, but their long-term contention was only possible because they selected an All-NBAer with the 57th pick in the 1999 draft. R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich have worked some magic in San Antonio, but that kind of payoff for such a low draft pick was a flat-out miracle. With Duncan alone, the Spurs would have been very good. With Duncan and Ginobili at no cost other than draft picks? They were incredible.
3. Rahat Huq: Many to choose from but here’s one surely overlooked – Dallas’ 2001 acquisition of forward Juwan Howard. With Dirk, Finley, and Nash, the Mavs already had a nucleus. But it was obtaining Howard’s $17million salary–for nothing–that allowed the team to consistently revamp its supporting cast through a chain of moves. The Howard contract was later traded for Raef LaFrentz and Nick Van Exel. They were each subsequently dealt in similarly high profile moves. And so on.
What Texas team has the brightest future?
1. Tim Varner: Dallas. Mark Cuban has the means and the vision to field a competitive team on an annual basis. Cuban is an innovator whose dedication to winning finally brought home a trophy last season. I see that continuing, even after Dirk Nowitzki retires.
2. Rob Mahoney: None of the Texas teams are particularly primed for the long haul, but I’ll go with Dallas. Dirk Nowitzki could contribute in the NBA until he’s 50 if that’s his aim, and the Mavericks have the infrastructure to reboot with relative ease. Mark Cuban, Donnie Nelson, and Rick Carlisle give Dallas the means and savvy to transition quickly, and it doesn’t hurt that the Mavs also have a few young pieces (Rodrigue Beaubois, Dominique Jones, Corey Brewer) to fiddle around with.
3. Rahat Huq: I’ll say Dallas. You have to get really bad to get good as titles are won through the draft. Mark Cuban is the only boss from any of these teams to have made public acknowledgment on this point (stated last year at the Sloan Analytics Conference) so I trust he’ll tank when it’s time. Meanwhile, the Rockets are on a track to pick 14th every year and we’re not sure what the Spurs are planning.