Voting for NBA Executive of the Year was announced on May 10, two days after the Mavericks finished dismantling the defending NBA champions. The award was won by Pat Riley and the Bulls' Gar Forman. They each received 11 of the 30 possible votes. Another Bull, John Paxson, won three more votes, while reps from San Antonio, Oklahoma City, New Jersey and New York also received a vote or two. Donnie Nelson received zero votes.
If the voting had taken place a little later, Nelson's work would have been more appreciated. While his team won just two more games in 2010-11 than 2009-10, they faced and overcame more obstacles this season and - unbeknownst to most of us - were more equipped for a long playoff run.
The two keys move by Nelson and Mark Cuban came in the offseason, as they talked Dirk Nowitzki into staying and decided to use the much ballyhooed (at least locally) Erick Dampier trade "chip" on oft injured Tyson Chandler. Dallas had just re-signed Brendan Haywood to a large deal, assuring him a starting position in keeping him from joining the Miami revolution. They had evidence that Chandler was fully healthy again from head athletic trainer Casey Smith, who was with Team USA along with Chandler. The move was greeted with skepticism but proved to be a perfect fit, as Chandler became the long awaited interior complement to Dirk Nowitzki.
Around that time, Roddy Beaubois broke his foot while training with France. The injury proved to be more troublesome than expected and kept Beaubois out until mid-February. Beaubois had been expected to be a primary scoring option and one of the keys to 2011 success, but he was never able to integrate himself back into the lineup successfully. Late in 2010 that didn't appear to matter much, as the Mavericks had found their groove and found themselves sitting atop the standings. They'd beaten the Heat twice and looked like the strongest team in the West.
Then on December 27 Nowitzki injured his knee. Five days later, Caron Butler injured his knee. Nowitzki would miss nine games, but Butler was done for the season. The team really didn't fully recover from those two injuries until jelling in the playoffs. In response, though, Nelson managed to opportunistically add two pieces during the chaos of the midseason blockbusters that apparently gave NJ and NY their EOTY votes.
Peja Stojakovic was bought out of his deal by Toronto shortly after the Raptors obtained him from New Orleans. A salary deal with Toronto involving Alexi Ajinca allowed Dallas the roster spot to sign him. Stojakovic averaged 13 ppg on 51% shooting against the Lakers, filling the small forward role that would have belonged to Butler.
The Knicks waived Corey Brewer after obtaining him in the Carmelo Anthony deal. Two days later, Brewer signed a three-year deal with the Mavericks. He became a bit player in Dallas until late in the season, when he scored 20, 13 and 11 in the last week of the season. He has been lightly used in the playoffs, but a swing stretch in Game 1 against the Lakers saw Brewer help turn momentum Dallas' way, and Brewer could be a defensive option against Lebron James and Dwayne Wade.
Unlike Miami, Chicago, New York and New Jersey, the Mavericks did not enter the 2010 offseason with cap room or as what was viewed as a preferred destination for free agents. Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban were able to hang onto their two key free agents, Nowitzki and Haywood, and find the right pieces to allow the Mavs to reach the Finals, despite crippling losses of Beaubois and Butler - arguably the team's second and third best players entering the season.