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Michael Jordan’s return to the NBA in 2001 was not a glorious one.
He remained a productive player at the end of his career as he averaged more than 20 points in each of his two seasons with the Washington Wizards.
But at 38 and 39 years old, he had devolved into a volume shooter playing on bad basketball teams that failed to eclipse 37 wins.
What if Jordan instead had joined a contender that had prime talent and deployed his leadership and limited skillset in a more surgical fashion?
Mark Cuban tried to make that happen.
Mark Cuban says he lobbied Jordan
The Dallas Mavericks owner told Dallas’ 105.3 The Fan on Tuesday (h/t @ Mike Fisher) that he tried to talk Jordan and his agent David Falk out of signing with the Wizards in 2001. He had just bought his majority stake of the Mavericks a year prior.
“The day he signed with the Washington Wizards to come back, David Falk — that’s right when I was buying the Mavs — said ‘why don’t you go meet him?’” Cuban said. “So I went to David Falk’s office and all the papers were right there. And I was trying to convince MJ to not sign them and to do something with the Mavs.”
MJ, Dirk and Steve Nash?
What would the Mavericks have looked like with Jordan from 2001-03? Pretty strong.
The 01-02 Mavs featured Michael Finley, Steve Nash and a 23-year-old Dirk Nowitzki just coming into his prime. They finished 57-25 and lost in the second round of the playoffs to Chris Webber’s Sacramento Kings.
Steve Nash was still in Dallas the next season as the same core led the Mavericks to a 60-22 record and a Western Conference finals loss to the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs.
Could Jordan in a limited but more precise role have helped the Mavericks over the hump to cut short the Shaq-Kobe dynasty in 2002 or steal a title from Tim Duncan’s Spurs in 2003?
Would Jordan have accepted anything but a starring role?
It’s all moot, of course. There was no chance Jordan’s comeback was going to land anywhere but in Washington. He orchestrated his own return to the court as the part owner and president of basketball operations of the Wizards in 2000. There was a reason former Chicago Bulls head coach Doug Collins was on the Wizards sideline.
But Jordan on the early 00’s Mavs makes for a fascinating what-if.
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