Donnie Nelson’s long-suffering wife Lotta is accustomed to this.
It’s Mother’s Day, and the Dallas Mavericks boss’ gift to his sweetheart is …
“I’m leaving for Europe,’’ Donnie tells me. Oh, and he told her, too.
It happens most every spring. Nelson, among the planet’s most pre-eminent experts on international basketball (and, of course, basketball) leaves Sunday for a two-and-a-half-week tour of the fertile grounds of The Old County. He’ll by joined by two staffers (one of them probably Tony Ronzone) and as the overseer of a Mavs team that figures to have the ninth-overall pick or better in this year’s NBA Draft, he’ll see almost countless prospects.
But I think I can pinpoint three names that I know he and his travel companions will get too know even better than they already do:
1) - Frank Ntlikina, PG, France. The NBA world has made the connection here between the 18-year-old prospect and the Mavs. The Mavs have deep roots here; Ntlikina was once a teammate of former Dallas almost-was Roddy Beaubois, and months ago they figured out that it was OK to pronounce his name like “Frank’’ or “Frahnk’’ (with a hard K to end, closer to the Dutch language that is common in his native Belgium than to French, which sounds like “Frahn-Kuh.’’)
He’s 6-5, 170, and need to become more assertive, as you might imagine of a teenager. There are teams above Dallas at No. 9 who like him plenty (the Knicks?) and there are those in Dallas who like him -- he's a priority on this trip, obviously -- but will preach that this is a long play, one that might help the 2017-18 Texas Legends more than it helps Dirk Nowitzki’s Last Stand.
2) - Isaiah Hartenstein, PF, Germany. He’s just 19, with the knock on him being that he’s far too temperamental. But he’s also 7-1 with the skills of a forward, on both ends of the floor, and even some ball-handling ability. Hartenstein is actually German-American, a native of Eugene, Oregon, where his father (a German basketball coach and former pro player, met his mother.
He’s playing now in Lithuania and has a shot to be a top-20 pick in this draft.
3) - Rodions Kurucs, SF, Latvia. Kurucs is a Latvian small forward playing for Spanish team Barcelona B in the second division. He’s been a pro since he was 16, and while at 6-9 (but just 205 pounds) he’s drawn some comparisons to a someday-Toni Kukoc, this might be a draft-and-stash guy.
Kurucs, like Hartenstein, figures to go well after the No. 9 slot. And remember, Dallas doesn’t presently have a second-round pick, having sacrificed it by stealing Nerlens Noel in trade from Philly.
One might therefore question why Donnie and the Mavs are spending the time and the money on players like them … and all the others overseas guys who might go in this draft. (Remember, these three names are ones we've identified as "key'' to Donnie's trip, but they're not the exclusive targets of it.) Nelson, as many Mavs fans know, works to prepare for whatever contingencies develop, and efforts to make a personal connection with the prospects. (His scouts do the same, and special assistant Michael Finley - the Mavs rep at Tuesday’s Lottery drawing, I’m told, also has a knack for this.) The Mavs staff knew more about Dirk Nowitzki way back when and they knew more about Beaubois. They are similarly well-versed in the talent and the personality in guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo. I know. I don’t need to remind you what happened there, except for the part about Nelson all but moving to Greece in the spring of 2013 in order to successfully create a bond with The Greek Freak.
So it’s two-and-a-half weeks of this for Donnie. Less about “Lotta’’ than the Lottery.
“This weekend (with my wife) will be last call,’’ Donnie tells me with a wink. “But she understands.’’
Happy Mother’s Day.