2004-05: Nash haunts, Nellie leaves

Fifth in a series chronicling the Mavericks' streak of 10 seasons with 50 or more wins (previous installments).

The summer of 2004 will be remembered as the summer of Nash. No one ever imagined a scenario in which Steve Nash would leave the Mavericks. But the free agent, who had just come off a tough first-round series loss to Mike Bibby and the Sacramento Kings, was pursued by the Phoenix Suns, who swooped into Dallas armed with a big bag of cash.

When Mavericks owner Mark Cuban declined to counter with an offer anywhere close to the $65 million the Suns put on the table, Nash quickly made his call. The Big Three, one year removed from the West finals, was no more. Nash returned to Phoenix, Dirk Nowitzki lost his best friend and coach Don Nelson lost his point guard, and later would admit lost his enthusiasm to coach the new-look Mavs.

"It's exciting, but it's also bittersweet," Nash told ESPN.com at the time. "I'm really sad to leave my teammates, but I'm glad to be going somewhere where they really wanted me."

Cuban, who had not been shy in spending big money to acquire players, said no this time. He contended that Nash's body couldn't endure another five or six years playing the break-neck style that had come to define his game. At the time, it seemed many fans agreed.

President of basketball operations Donnie Nelson got to work and acquired streaky shooting Atlanta Hawks guard Jason Terry to run the point. He would join rookie guard Devin Harris. Veteran center Erick Dampier and ornery swingman Jerry Stackhouse came aboard via different trades.

The club thrived to win 58 games. The final 16 game under Avery Johnson, who took over when Nelson abruptly stepped down on March 19. The Mavs reached the second round, but in the end, it was Nash who got the last laugh, at least for one season, and set the stage for his double MVPs to come.

Coach: Don Nelson (64 games)/Avery Johnson (18 games)

Record: 58-24 (2nd, Southwest Division)

Playoffs: defeated Houston (4-3), lost to Phoenix (4-2)

Team payroll: $91.9 million*

Highest-paid player: Michael Finley ($14.6 million)*

Offseason transactions: Traded Antoine Walker and Tony Delk to Atlanta for Jason Terry and Alan Henderson; traded Antawn Jamison to Washington for No. 5 overall draft pick Devin Harris, Christian Laettner and Jerry Stackhouse; traded Laettner, Luis Flores, Eduardo Najera, cash, Mladen Sekularac, a 2007 first-round draft pick (Petteri Koponen) and a future first-round draft pick to Golden State for Erick Dampier, Dan Dickau and Evan Eschmeyer (retired); traded Danny Fortson to Seattle for Calvin Booth; D.J. Mbenga (free agent); traded 2005 first-round draft pick (Linas Kleiza) to Utah for Pavel Podkolzin.

In-season transaction: Dec. 3, 2004: Traded Dickau and a 2005 second-round draft pick (Marcin Gortat) to New Orleans for Darrell Armstrong; Feb. 24, 2005: Traded Calvin Booth and Alan Henderson to Milwaukee for Keith Van Horn.

The high: The Mavs finished the season on a 9-0 run under Avery Johnson but lost their first two playoff games at home against Houston. Dallas rallied and won Game 7 at home by 40 points, the largest margin of victory in a Game 7 in NBA history. Dirk Nowitzki put together a remarkable regular season, averaging a career-best 26.1 points and 9.7 rebounds that would see him finish third in in MVP voting and make him the first Mavericks player to be named All-NBA first team.

The low: Nash did it all in the West semifinal series against his old team, putting up the best numbers of his career. Nash averaged 30.3 points, 12.0 assists, and 6.5 rebounds a game. He recorded his first playoff triple-double and scored 48 points in Game 4, then followed it up with 34 points in Game 5 and 39 points in the series-clincher. In that Game 6 on the Mavs' home court, Nash hit the biggest shot of the series, nailing a game-tying 3-pointer from the top of the arc with 5.7 seconds left with Jason Terry -- who poured in 36 points -- drifting off of him to force overtime. The Suns had trailed by 16 points with four minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Nash 3-pointer to tie led Nowitzki to verbally berate his first-year teammate Terry on the court, a rare scene from the frustrated 7-footer. Losing Nash, then losing to Nash, did not foreshadow what was to come next for the Dallas Mavericks.

The roster:

F Dirk Nowitzki (26.1 ppg, 9.7 rpg)

G Michael Finley (15.7 ppg, 40.7% 3FG)

G/F Jerry Stackhouse (14.9 ppg as sixth man)

F Josh Howard (12.6 ppg, team-high 116 steals)

G Jason Terry (12.4 ppg, 42.0% 3FG)

F Keith Van Horn (12.2 ppg in 29 games with Dallas)

C Erick Dampier (9.2 ppg, 8.5 rpg)

G/F Marquis Daniels (9.1 ppg)

G Devin Harris (5.7 ppg, 19 starts in 76 games)

G Darrell Armstrong (2.3 ppg in 52 games with Dallas)

F Alan Henderson (3.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 15.4 mpg)

C Shawn Bradley (2.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 11.5 mpg)

C Calvin Booth (2.4 ppg in 34 games with Dallas)

G Dan Dickau (played just four games)

C DJ Mbenga (played just 15 games)

C Pavel Podkolzin (played five games)