But a high-level power broker within the league says the Mavericks recognize that there’s urgency to build a contending team around Doncic after losing in the first round in each of the past two seasons. The clock is ticking. Internally, there are concerns the front office’s dysfunction has hurt its ability to do so — and that poor relationships Doncic has with key members of the franchise, including Voulgaris, could impact his current desire to remain in Dallas long-term. The team’s most recent postseason defeat against the LA Clippers served as a direct indictment on the roster constructed around him. Can Mavericks management remedy that in time? Or, as some team sources fear, will they pay the price for the dysfunctional dynamics that exist in some corners of the organization?
It’s not that Doncic’s situation with the team is at a critical inflection point right now. Multiple team sources simply fear that it’s heading that direction. Those concerns mostly center on Cuban and the decisions he makes regarding who he trusts and imbues with power. Sometimes, it’s examples like Voulgaris, a sports gambler with no league experience being given near total control of the team’s roster. Other times, it’s the relationships he doesn’t sever: The Mavericks’ front office has come to be known around the league for its long-existing power structure that, Voulgaris aside, has barely changed.
In early February, during the second quarter of a home game against the Golden State Warriors, Luka Doncic carelessly turned over the ball and received feedback from a Dallas Mavericks employee he didn’t care for: Haralabos Voulgaris, a well-known sports gambler hired by team owner Mark Cuban in 2018. Voulgaris, sitting with an open laptop in his typical courtside seat across from the Mavericks’ bench, motioned downward with his hands, which Doncic specifically interpreted as Voulgaris telling him to calm down, multiple team and league sources tell The Athletic. Doncic snapped back, telling Voulgaris, according to one source’s recollection, “Don’t f------ tell me to calm down.” The same sources say Voulgaris later professed that his motion wasn’t solely directed at Doncic, but regardless of intent, it only worsened an already inflamed relationship between the two.
As one team source says, “Mark Cuban is the most powerful person in the organization, but whoever he’s listening to is second.” Cuban was won over by Voulgaris’ vision: an analytics-driven spread pick-and-roll offense with Doncic as the focal point which he has tried implementing in the past seasons.
Multiple league and team sources point to the 2020 draft as a particularly egregious example of Voulgaris’ power, an evening one source described as “embarrassing.” Most members of the scouting department joined the team’s war room remotely through Zoom and were surprised when Voulgaris, attending in person, didn’t consult them for either of the team’s first two selections (Josh Green and Tyrell Terry) despite disagreements they held with at least one of the players he picked. “What did (he) sell to Mark to make him believe (he) can do this?” asks one source with an intimate knowledge of the situation. “Nobody knows.”
Luka Doncic all but announced on Monday that he would sign a five-year contract extension in August. There was no grave concern in Dallas that Doncic wouldn’t sign a deal expected to exceed $200 million, which would be the richest rookie extension in league history, but the public reassurance won’t hurt given the daunting challenges the Mavericks face to put a better team around him.
Bobby Marks: Here is the breakdown on what a Luka Doncic extension would look like: 2022-23 | $34.7M, 2023-24 | $37.5M, 2024-25 | $40.3M, 2025-26 | $43.1M, 2026-27 | $45.9M. This is based on a $115M cap in 2022-23.
July 28, 2021 | 11:56 am EDT Update
For the Kings, Kuzma (three years, $39 million combined on his deal) and Harrell ($9.7 million next season if he opts in) could fit in well on the roster that is now being built around De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton. A source with knowledge of the talks said Philadelphia also has shown interest (unrelated to Simmons), with other teams believed to be engaged on that front as well. A Hield deal of some sort, it seems, is likely on the horizon. For the Lakers, adding an elite 3-point shooter like Hield on a long-term deal (three years, $63 million remaining) would be significant considering their struggles on that front last season. The Lakers ranked 25th in made 3s per game (11.1), were 24th in attempts (31.2) and 21st in 3-point percentage (35.4). Hield was third in the NBA in 3s per game (four) behind Steph Curry and Damian Lillard and third in attempts (10.2, also behind Curry and Lillard).
Alas, ESPN’s Marc Spears indicated that a Russell Westbrook sign-and-trade with Washington could be a possibility, and Charania indicated that a Buddy Hield deal might be in the works with Sacramento. Of all the scenarios for a supporting player believed to be in play, one source to the situation indicated the Hield deal — which would involve forward Kyle Kuzma and would also likely require Lakers forward Montrezl Harrell to opt in to the final year of his deal (worth $9.7 million) and be included — appears the most promising thus far.
From Buss on down, the Lakers have a healthy appreciation for James’ basketball superpowers and are well aware they won’t last forever. The injuries to James and Davis last season were an unwelcome reminder of that much, leading some Lakers officials to worry that this window might be even shorter than they’d originally hoped. As such, they’re in the process of turning over all the proverbial stones in search of the right piece(s) to return to the NBA’s mountaintop. Their time is now, in other words — again.
Yet while Portland’s Damian Lillard and Washington’s Bradley Beal both appear to be in their respective holding patterns when it comes to possibly requesting a trade, it’s looking increasingly likely that Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons will be on the move. One source close to the situation handicapped Miami, Toronto and Washington as the most likely landing spots. The Wizards scenario, of course, would only take place if Beal wound up deciding that it was time for a new chapter outside of the nation’s capital. The moving parts, as you can see, are sometimes part of the same puzzle.
On the Lillard front, sources say he’ll continue focusing on his Team USA experience while waiting to see how the Blazers’ roster looks later in the offseason before reassessing his situation. Our Trail Blazers beat writer, Jason Quick, details those sensitive dynamics well here.
For Utah, the challenge is making a move for the roster that, in conjunction with the upcoming free agency, vaults the team squarely into title contention. And that probably won’t be easy with the assets the Jazz have. League sources tell The Athletic that All-Star point guard Mike Conley is likely to stay with the Jazz once free agency opens, but the price tag won’t be a cheap one. If that indeed comes to fruition, the Jazz will have to figure out how to fill the roster out and make improvements.
The Jazz need wings. That much is certain. League sources indicate the Jazz like rising second-year player Hughes to the point where he could find his way in Utah’s rotation. The caveat is that Hughes needs to have a good showing in Summer League play, especially on the defensive end. The Jazz really like what he brings offensively. They want to see what he is able to bring on the other end of the floor.
Michael Scotto: Regarding New Orleans, the scuttlebutt, as they say, had been Lowry potentially going there and to get him around $30 million. With that in mind, he’s their top guy, and there’s been a rumor out there about Lonzo Ball and a potential sign-and-trade with Malcolm Brogdon. It seemed to me that was more of a fallback option for Lowry. It looks like they’re trying to clear that cap space. Somepeople are thinking they maybe did it to match Lonzo, but Ball wasn’t getting $30 million. Read between the lines there a little bit.