Spurs' Finley wanted better ending with Mavericks
BY DWAIN PRICE
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
SAN ANTONIO - At the end of the day, when he allows time for reflection, Michael Finley's feelings were hurt that the Dallas Mavericks no longer wanted him to be part of their team.
"I was hurt for a couple of reasons," Finley said. "One, because I knew I was leaving a team that was on the verge of being a pretty good team. And, two, when you get to the point where you're comfortable with a situation of family and friends, it's tough to leave that. Especially when you haven't been, quote-unquote, a problem."
Before Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash joined the Mavs in 1998, Finley was "the" face of the franchise for about 18 months. And while Nowitzki and Nash were learning their way around Dallas, Finley became a two-time All-Star.
But none of that mattered last summer when the Mavs used the NBA's new amnesty clause to waive Finley, who later signed a free-agent contract with the San Antonio Spurs. The Mavs and Spurs are tied 1-1 in their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series, which resumes at 7 CDT on Saturday night at American Airlines Center.
Finley was the first building block the Mavs used to return to respectability. He wanted to be around when they finally won an NBA championship, but that won't happen.
"A lot of people can say I helped build it, but we didn't win anything," Finley said. "So from that standpoint, it's understandable why you want to make changes, because we never won the big thing, and we never advanced as far as we should have, maybe, some years in the playoffs.
"From a fan's perspective, they may think that it was time for a change."
Finley made two appearances in Dallas with the Spurs earlier this season to a warm reception from the Mavs' fans. But the stakes are higher now.
"I haven't done anything wrong, so I may get a few cheers," Finley said. "But I'm one of the bad guys now, so I may get a few boos. But I left (the Mavs) because they didn't want me, not because it was my choice."
Finley was with the Mavs when they lost to the Spurs in five games in the 2001 conference semifinals, and in six games in the 2003 conference finals. He spent 8 1/2 seasons in Dallas, and some are still getting accustomed to seeing him wear the Spurs' silver-and-black.
"At the beginning, it was real weird," Mavs owner Mark Cuban said. "But like I told Mike after our very first game, if we don't win it (all), I hope he does."
With the Spurs, Finley is trying to adjust to a new role_coming in off the bench for the first time since early in his second season with the Phoenix Suns. He averaged a career-low 10.4 points and shot a career-low 41.2 percent from the field this season in 26.5 minutes per game, and his scoring average decreased for the sixth consecutive season.
But the Spurs believe Finley's experience more than offsets his diminishing production.
"With less minutes he's doing great for us," Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. "He's the type of player we needed. Of course, it was awkward for him (at the beginning). But we can't say that it took him awhile because he had great games from the beginning."
Finley was the vocal and emotional leader for the Mavs. With the Spurs, that role belongs to Tim Duncan.
"In Dallas I had the leeway to speak up in huddles, speak up in timeouts, and the guys pretty much respected what I said," Finley said. "Here, the respect is still there, but I don't want to override some of the leadership that's already been here."
He also doesn't want to lose this series to the Mavs.
"It's no personal vendetta to go out and defeat Dallas," Finley said. "I got rid of that last summer. I just want to be the last team standing at the end."
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