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dave92
11-05-2005, 08:35 AM
Finley puts some hurt feelings behind

By ART GARCIA
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

The revelation seemed a product of the moment, soaked in emotion and frustration.

The Mavericks were done, their hearts cut out minutes earlier by Steve Nash, and Michael Finley and Dirk Nowitzki were alone.

It didn't matter who else was in that locker room May 18. After Phoenix ended the Mavs' season in the Western Conference semifinals, Finley broke down. Body and mind drained, he told Nowitzki the time had come.

"I was so hurt after the last game, not only because we lost, but because I knew that was my last game playing with him," Finley said recently, sitting comfortably in his new locker room, that of the San Antonio Spurs.

At the time, Nowitzki tried to brush off Finley's claim.

"Calm down. You're obviously frustrated," Nowitzki remembers telling Finley. "Let's let the summer come, and we'll see what happens."

Somewhere down deep, long before rumors of amnesty clauses or trades, Finley knew what was next. There was no way of knowing, but he just knew.

"I have a feeling that something is going to happen where I'm gone," Finley told Nowitzki. "Steve's gone. I know they're not going to touch you, so I know I'm gone."

Then came the amnesty talk in June. Finley's name and the $52 million left on his contract were immediately linked to the one-time waiver rule, a surprise mulligan in the new collective bargaining agreement.

The clock started ticking. The prediction was coming true.

But did it have to?

"It could have been carried out a different way," Finley said. "One, it was called the 'Allan Houston Amnesty Clause,' and he doesn't get waived. I didn't have to get waived."

The Mavs thought otherwise. Not only were the financial savings immense -- the team is paying off most of the remaining contract in deferred payments, but saves the luxury tax penalty -- the basketball angle wasn't ignored. Privately, Finley's on-court worth was being questioned. His job as a starter was in jeopardy.

The team worked vigorously to trade Finley, with one deal falling apart right before the midnight Aug. 15 waiver deadline. Finley didn't appreciate how the situation was handled, adding that owner Mark Cuban was determined to send him to the Eastern Conference.

"It could have helped me out if I was waived earlier," Finley said. "The fact they did not want to waive me but trade me to not face me, again, I felt was wrong.

"It's a business, and Mark has his way of doing things, and he wanted to get the best end of the deal. When all is said and done, he didn't want to waive me and be even. He wanted to get the upper hand."

Finley called Cuban to discuss just what was going on. Cuban told Finley and his agent, Henry Thomas, that the Mavs were trying to put together a trade.

"Mark pretty much told me he didn't want me to play in the West," Finley said. "He would prefer that I play in the East. My thing was that no matter where I play, it's not up to you to try to avoid me. It's up to your management group to put together a team out there that's good enough to beat whatever team I decide to go to."

Finley chose the defending champions, spurning Nash in Phoenix, Shaquille O'Neal in Miami and Kevin Garnett in Minnesota. It was a second chance with the Spurs.

San Antonio, Finley said, was the only other team he considered before re-signing with the Mavs in 2001 for seven years and $102 million.

"At the time I thought loyalty meant something, so I went back to Dallas thinking we had a chance to do some great things there," he said. "The situation came again, so I just felt it was meant to be for me to come here."

He called the Mavs' contract, which paid him approximately $50 million over the last four years, a "blessing and a curse."

"My contract called for me to be a superstar, and I wanted that role, but the coaching staff didn't want me in that role," Finley said. "They're paying me this money to be a superstar, but the coaching staff is holding me back, for legitimate reasons. But from the outside looking in as a fan and media, you don't see that.

"You see Finley making all this money and doing nothing. If you look at the big picture, the coaching staff was holding me back so other players could flourish. I just wanted to be a team guy. I could have easily been selfish and talked bad about everybody, but that wasn't me."

Cuban doesn't regret the deal, which wasn't out of line financially in those days.

"If it weren't for the amnesty provision, he would still be a Mav," Cuban said. "Mike earned every penny we ever paid him, and I would do the same deal in a heartbeat. The only unfortunate thing about the contract is that the media hung it over his head every day."

Finley still believes he's good enough to start, even in San Antonio, but that's no longer his focus. It's finding a niche on an established team with championship aspirations.

"It's a chance to start over with a clean slate," he said.

And a full plate. The Spurs have three titles in the last seven years, and are built around Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.

"A lot of teams that I was looking at, there were a lot of unknowns," Finley said. "Is the team going to mesh? Is the coaching staff going to be stable? Is the management going to be stable?

"But here there are no unknowns. The coaching staff is established. The core group is established. I was just coming in to help a team that's already had success."

Finley, 32, is just part of the supporting cast, joining Robert Horry and Nick Van Exel on perhaps the league's deepest bench. After playing in pain last season, he's completely healthy after off-season ankle surgery.

He's also at ease.

Finley didn't always speak his mind last season. When former coach Don Nelson resigned with 18 games left in the season and was replaced by Avery Johnson, Finley didn't speak publicly for several days.

"It was nothing personal toward Nellie, nothing personal toward Avery," Finley said. "At the time I was just playing bad basketball and we suddenly had a new coach. There were a lot of things I wanted to say, as far as the ankle and how I was feeling.

"I would have had my surgery earlier. I would have spoke up on the Nellie thing when it happened. But that's in the past."

Finley hasn't talked to Johnson since signing with San Antonio.

"We were friends and teammates before he become management," Finley said. "It's disappointing not hearing from him. Just to say, 'Good luck, we're still going to beat you, but good luck anyway.' That was a difficult situation, but, oh well."

Johnson, who attended Finley's charity golf tournament in June, didn't intend there to be any slight.

"I was saddened to see him go, too," Johnson said.

Finley didn't need long to make a contribution in silver and black, scoring 11 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter Tuesday as the Spurs beat Denver in their opener. The jumper was there, but it was his work defensively that has caught coach Gregg Popovich's attention.

Don't tell Nelson.

"We expected him to be a hard worker, a jump shooter, and somebody who would exhibit a great work ethic and leadership," said Popovich, San Antonio's one-man contingent in Finley's recruitment. "But his effort on defense has been quite obvious."

Finley's effort was never questioned over his 626 games with the Mavs, dating to the 1996-97 season. He was an All-Star before Nowitzki and Nash, and neither has forgotten that.

"He taught me so much about the game of basketball and how to be a professional in this league, on and off the floor," Nowitzki said. "I owe a lot to him. On the other hand, there isn't a better situation to be in than San Antonio. I'm happy for him."

Added Nash: "He was a cornerstone. The way he carries himself, the way he prepares and competes, any team would be lucky to have that guy."

Finley returns to American Airlines Center on Saturday night, and though no special fanfare is planned, there could be a day in the future when Finley's contributions to the franchise are honored.

"If anyone deserves consideration, it's Fin," Cuban said.

Finley expects his first game against the team that put him on the map to be "unusual."

Nash went through it last season, and his advice for his old teammate is: "Just try to enjoy it."

Finley plans to.

"In a perfect world, we both could have walked away happy," Finley said. "But for me, I'm happy. I have no bitter or ill feelings toward the Dallas organization or the team. It was good to me for eight years, so I've walked away happy. I'm in a situation now where I'm happy.

"Life goes on."

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Art Garcia, (817) 390-7760 agarcia@star-telegram.com

aexchange
11-05-2005, 09:26 AM
Finley's back, with regrets

New Spur says Mavs broke up a team that might have won a title


09:24 PM CST on Friday, November 4, 2005

By DAVID MOORE / The Dallas Morning News

Emotion rarely escapes Michael Finley's public facade. But a few cracks have appeared as the former Mavericks star contemplates his return.

It hurts Finley to no longer play alongside Dirk Nowitzki, his friend and teammate of more than seven years. There is the owner who told him they were "in this together" only to let him go a few months later and the coach and former teammate who didn't lobby to keep him.

These are issues Finley must sort through tonight when San Antonio plays the Mavericks at American Airlines Center. But above all, the founding father of the Big Three can't help but wonder what might have been if the Mavericks had kept their nucleus intact.

"You look back a couple of years ago, the year we won 60 games, we thought that was the team that was going to ultimately take Dallas over the top," Finley said. "Management thought otherwise.

"Their plans for the future were very different from the players' in the locker room at the time. From their standpoint, they made decisions that bettered the organization. But from a player's standpoint, I don't think so.

"We will never know how good that team would have been."

Steve Nash was allowed to walk in free agency. Owner Mark Cuban used an amnesty clause to release Finley and erase the financial penalties that would have been assessed on top of the player's $51.79 million contract, which he still receives.

Nowitzki is the only player left from a Mavericks team that battled the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals 29 months ago. Like Finley, Nowitzki believes that team was special and has daydreamed about what could have been. Avery Johnson, who was part of that group and now coaches the Mavericks, acknowledged that none of the players wanted to break up that team.

"As far as not breaking up the WCF [Western Conference Finals] team," Cuban said by e-mail, "I'm sure that's what the T-Wolves thought last year as well."

Minnesota followed its appearance in the conference finals by failing to make the playoffs.

The Mavericks continue to make the playoffs but are 7-11 and have not gotten past the second round since falling two wins shy of The Finals in the spring of 2003.

Finley concedes he will be "a little bit emotional" during tonight's game. He bordered on despondent the last time he played at the AAC.

More than two hours had passed that May evening after Phoenix eliminated the Mavericks, and Finley still couldn't bring himself to return to his locker. Part of the time was spent talking to Nowitzki. Part of it was spent listening to Cuban.

"I told Dirk the loss hurt so much because I thought it would be the last time I had the opportunity to play with him," Finley said. "I just had a gut feeling that something had to happen. Then Mark came in and said we were in this together, and I believed him."

Nowitzki dismissed Finley's remarks as frustration. Cuban assured Finley they would "stick it out together," but several weeks later the owner learned of a one-time amnesty clause in the collective bargaining agreement. The moment Cuban mentioned that provision to Finley and his agent, the guard knew he was gone.

Finley isn't bitter but still doesn't like how his exit was handled. He believes the club should have traded him or released him earlier.

"I don't know how we could have handled it any differently," Cuban said by e-mail. "I kept Mike in the loop every step of the way. There were no surprises for either of us.

"That said, I think we helped each other a lot over the years to both of our benefit."

The contract was a major factor in Finley's departure. But it wasn't the only one.

Finley was the team's captain and a quiet leader. After the Mavericks beat the Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center to even their first-round series at 2, Finley disrupted the postgame buzz by walking to the center of the locker room and declaring that they hadn't done anything worthy of celebration. All they had done, Finley reminded, was climb out of an 0-2 hole they shouldn't have dug in the first place.

The Mavericks won the second game of their series with the Suns because Finley had 31 points, six rebounds, five assists and a solid second-half defensive effort against Amare Stoudemire. But Finley followed with a total of 34 points, six rebounds and five assists over the final four games of the series. He scored just seven points and was 2-of-10 from the field the night the Mavericks were eliminated.

Mavericks officials felt they owned a big edge over Phoenix after guard Joe Johnson went down, only to watch Finley be outplayed by veteran Jim Jackson. Finley had also struggled the previous year in the playoffs against Sacramento.

Avery Johnson was never critical of Finley in public. But he did make comments about how shooting guards in today's NBA must be able to break down their defender off the dribble and facilitate ball movement. Neither is considered a Finley strength.

Finley knows where he stood with Johnson by what wasn't said. The two haven't spoken since Finley signed with San Antonio.

"We've been friends all this time," Johnson said. "I've become management now, but I still consider myself a friend. I want to get an invitation to his golf tournament. I don't know what's changed."

What's changed is that the player who led the league in minutes played three times, the All-Star who started 605 consecutive games for the Mavericks when healthy, now comes off the bench for the Spurs. Tuesday's opener against Denver was his first game he hadn't started since Feb. 15, 1997, against Utah.

It didn't take Finley long to make his presence felt. He was the first player off Gregg Popovich's bench and scored 11 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter.

Finley said he is happy in San Antonio even though his role has diminished. He calls his teammates a great group of guys and praises the organization for having the best interest of the players at heart.

And how does he characterize his relationship with Cuban?

"At first he was my owner," Finley said. "Now he's just the opponent.

"For him to let me go, so what? I'm still playing this game. I look at it as a blessing. If he hadn't let me go, I'd never be in this great situation I'm in now. I should thank him the next time I see him."

He will have that chance tonight.

E-mail dmoore@dallasnews.com

dude1394
11-05-2005, 10:42 AM
"As far as not breaking up the WCF [Western Conference Finals] team," Cuban said by e-mail, "I'm sure that's what the T-Wolves thought last year as well."

SHUT UP CUBES. You sound like a child who can't take any criticism at all even when it may be spot on. I seen no similarity to the T-Wolves except possibly NVE. All the rest of the guys that you shipped off from that team seem to still be doing decently 3 years later. Dirk-First Team, Nash-M!V!P!, Raef-Starting on Celtics, Finley-Not starting ONLY because he went to Spurs, NVE-Still getting it done of the bench.

SHUT UP!

u2sarajevo
11-05-2005, 10:56 AM
Hey dude... I already moved your other thread (same article) to the correct forum.

Quit!

The other one is posted here (http://dallas-mavs.com/forums/messageview.cfm?catid=3&threadid=24057)