NBA Rumor: Dallas Mavericks Turmoil?

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Don Nelson: I wasn't invited to Dirk Nowitzki jersey retirement ceremony

Don and Donnie Nelson. The general manager who acquired Nowitzki’s draft rights on the night of June 24, 1998, and Don’s assistant GM/son who was insistently bullish about raw 19-year-old Nowitzki’s NBA potential. The question is, why weren’t they there? Several sources on Friday night strongly pushed back on Don Nelson’s assertion earlier in the evening when he told The News: “I wasn’t invited. I really wanted to be there, but I didn’t feel that I should just show up without an invitation, so I didn’t.”

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“I read about what [Nowitzki] said,” Nelson said. “That was nice. I don’t think Dirk had any decisions about who was there. I think that’s all an organization thing. Mark Cuban’s in charge of that, I’m sure.” A source told The News that Cuban was not in charge of the invite list. That was done by an event planner. There was a three-page spreadsheet of guests for whom Nowitzki requested tickets, but more than 60 were unable to make it to Dallas because of canceled airline flights that day or COVID-19 concerns.

“Dirk deserves every accolade and every tribute that anyone could ever give him,” Zaccanelli said. “He’s the most important person in Mavericks history. And he’s one of the most important people in Dallas’ recent history. “The bottom line is he deserves everything that he gets and more, but it’s clear that Cuban carries these rifts and there were glaring holes [Wednesday night]. Don Nelson, other than Holger [Geschwindner] and Dirk’s father, is more responsible for the maturation of Dirk Nowitzki than any other human being.” Zaccanelli emphasized that he has no ill will against Cuban. He’s well-aware that Perot in 2010 sued Cuban for “financial mismanagement” of the Mavericks, a suit that was dismissed, but Zaccanelli called Perot a “great owner who never sought credit” for the significant accomplishments during his tenure.

“Cuban’s rift with Ross Jr. is his rift with Ross Jr.,” Zaccanelli said. “But without Ross Jr. he’d just be another guy who’s got billions of dollars [and] who no one really knows a lot about. And that’s a [expletive] fact. And not having Don Nelson at that ceremony, how could you do that? “And I’ll say publicly: Mark Cuban owes me nothing. I don’t expect anything. I don’t ever expect any accommodation, nor do I want it. But for Ross Jr. and the Nelsons as it relates to Dirk Nowitzki, I mean, come on.”

When Chandler Parsons was a member of the Dallas Mavericks, he reportedly played a key role in personnel decisions in consultation with Mark Cuban. Parsons joined the Mavericks in 2014 on a three-year, $46 million contract. “Donnie Nelson ultimately won a power struggle after Chandler Parsons was the primary voice in Cuban’s ear for a couple of year,” said Tim MacMahon on the Brian Windhorst Podcast. “Chandler Parsons had significantly more control over personnel than Donnie Nelson did for two years. That is simply a fact.”

Curiously, Voulgaris took credit for a couple of developments on which he should have held his tongue. He said relations between him and Donnie corroded to the point in 2020 that Donnie got up and left the Mavs’ draft room when Bob walked in. Now in charge, as Bob put it, he pressed for a trade to acquire Tyrese Haliburton, who went 12th to Sacramento. No deal transpired, so the Mavs took Josh Green with the 18th pick when conventional wisdom had it that Villanova’s Saddiq Bey was the superior option. A source close to the team confirmed that the analytics department was, indeed, behind the choice of Green. Bob loves a good 3-and-D guy more than a full house.

“I wanted to be a part of something. I wanted to win basketball games,” Voulgaris told Pablo Torre on the ESPN Daily podcast. “Changing the organizational structure of the Dallas Mavericks was never something I was interested in unless I was going to be the guy in charge, and I wasn’t even sure. I never actually wanted to be the guy in charge until it became clear that the guy in charge didn’t want me around. And then I was like, ‘Oh, OK, now it’s competitive.’ … “But when it became personal, like then the competitive part of me started to kind of kick in. Like, ‘Oh, this guy wants me out of here.’ It never became obvious that he wanted me out of there. You can just read between the lines a little bit. You can kind of see. Just to be very clear, the first two years or whatever, Donnie was very pleasant around me when I was there. It’s just, you hear certain things, you learn certain things, you’re told certain things. It was a very gossipy workplace, very gossipy. It was like a sewing circle over there.”

“I sent [Cuban] an email where I was like, ‘Hey, look, I’m just trying to fit in. I appreciate the opportunity. I don’t want to ruffle any feathers,'” Voulgaris said. “And he was very clear, like, ‘No, I don’t want you to fit in. We’re deficient in areas that you’re good at. If it’s hard, hard conversations have to be had.’ Looking back on it, it was kind of like I was this missile to go in there and create the change and unlock some boulders that couldn’t be moved before.”

According to Voulgaris, he had very little interaction with Nelson despite technically reporting to him in the organizational structure. Voulgaris communicated directly with Cuban and, more frequently, with Carlisle, whose lineup and rotation decisions were heavily influenced by the data provided by Voulgaris. “I didn’t have a working relationship with other people in the front office at all, to the point where it was awkward,” Voulgaris said. “But that’s kind of the M.O. of the way that front office was run — like, surround yourself with people who are not threats. You don’t become an NBA general manager and hold on to your job for that long unless you are very, very good at keeping your job.”

Voulgaris also confirmed that Mavs superstar Luka Doncic developed angst toward him. Doncic became irate that Voulgaris left his courtside seat with about 45 seconds remaining in an April home loss to the New York Knicks, which Doncic considered an indication of quitting on the team. Voulgaris, who often retreated to his office late in games to get his computer before meeting with the coaching staff, was unaware of the issue until receiving a call from Carlisle late that night. Voulgaris considered it “nonsense” that could have been easily explained to Doncic and was “offended that nobody stood up for me,” particularly an assistant coach who was close with Doncic.

“You have a great relationship with this player. Why are you not telling him that I didn’t quit on the team?” Voulgaris said, making a thinly veiled reference to current Orlando Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley, who was the Mavs’ defensive coordinator. “I just went to my desk to look at something on my computer or got up because I normally get up. There are plenty of other instances of me getting up in the middle of the game. I mean, why does it matter? It’s not like I went home and started crying because we lost or threw a temper tantrum. I watched the game from my office on the TV.

Porziņģis spent significant time outside the arc to stretch the defense, uninvolved as Dončić danced on the perimeter. In the last five games of the Clippers series Porziņģis scored just 58 points. He lobbed not-so-cryptic criticisms about former coach Rick Carlisle’s strategy. “I was used a lot as a spacer and just shooting threes,” Porziņģis said in September. “That’s not my whole game. There’s more to my game, more than what I can do.”

Interestingly, in the United States, everybody is questioning Luka’s leadership with the Dallas Mavericks. For example, famous ESPN journalist Brian Windhorst mentioned that he’s not sure how many people would be excited to play with Luka. He described him as a ‘maybe difficult person.’ How do you feel about these comments as a dad and as a person who knows Luka very well? Sasa Doncic (Luka’s dad): I don’t know. Maybe this journalist is probably the biggest basketball genius. So please don’t ask me about it (laughs). I’m telling you, what he is doing in the NBA is more than great. I’m talking as a basketball fan. As a father, I’m very proud of him. He’s not afraid of anybody. He has this heart and guts to compare with everybody. What he’s doing at 22 years old in the NBA, as a European player, I think, nobody does this.

“I don’t know how many people are going to be excited to play with Luka,” Windhorst said during an interview with Shan and RJ on 105.3 The Fan [KRLD-FM] Monday. “I think Luka is, maybe, a difficult person. He’s a great player, but when you watch the Mavericks play, he’s barking at the coach, he’s barking at his teammates, he’s barking at the officials. He’s always barking about something. He can really be an irritable guy.

“Screw it, I’m going to stop being delicate. I think it got to a point where Rick perceived Jamahl Mosley’s close relationship with Luka Doncic as a threat to him. I don’t think those guys will necessarily send each other Christmas cards. And look, who’s right? Who’s wrong? Whatever. I do know this: players I’ve talked to… Luka’s not the only guy on that team who is extremely close to Jamahl Mosley. [He’s] developed great relationships with players throughout his career.”

Jason Terry on Luka Doncic: 'I don’t buy into the rumors'

Jason Terry: Right now he’s busy in Slovenia, getting ready for the Olympics. And so I know, and trust, you know, Cuban, and the powers that be to do the right things to put the necessary pieces around him. And you know, he loves the city of Dallas. I mean, that’s the city, that gave him his start. And when you watch him play, he wears the city on his chest and on his back. He’s all in when it comes to Dallas. So I don’t buy into the rumors. And I haven’t seen anything or heard anything of it from his end.

But Carlisle was often difficult to deal with: lashing out verbally at non-star players he disliked or having angry outbursts directed at inanimate objects behind closed doors. All humans exist in shades of gray, and that side of Carlisle doesn’t invalidate touching stories that have also been shared about him in the past days or moments where he went out of his way to connect with a beat writer for his team. But in every corner of the Mavericks organization, there’s a shared sense of relief they no longer have to deal with his worst moments.

Nelson had wanted Voulgaris to stay in his proverbial lane, to avoid overstepping the bounds of his role and focus on being a trusted adviser to Cuban whose analytics-based views would always be taken into account. Dallas would have preferred to project stability ahead of a crucial summer in which Doncic was eligible for a supermax contract extension he indicated a desire to sign. Instead, within the front office, there was turmoil and dysfunction.

As one rival team executive shared Wednesday, there were times when talking to the Mavericks about trade possibilities meant inevitable confusion. Nelson would paint one picture, so to speak, discussing the possible pieces and players involved in an attempt to get a deal done. But Voulgaris, who this rival executive said had talked to his team simultaneously about a particular deal, would tell a different story. And because Voulgaris was widely known to have a direct line to Cuban, this dynamic was seen by Nelson as damaging to his credibility. When asked over the phone about this assertion on Wednesday, Cuban refuted the idea that Voulgaris had negatively impacted the process.

“At multiple levels of the front office, multiple people have ongoing conversations,” Cuban said. “Scouts, assistant general managers, anybody and everybody. Player development people, everybody (has) conversations with people in other organizations to get information and find out what they’re up to, just like they have conversations with Donnie. “We have people top to bottom with other teams and other teams have conversations with us. We take input and that goes into all of the final decision-making. But that’s no different than (any other) team. … And no one has any more influence because it comes down to us agreeing on it. Or me agreeing on it. That’s just how it works. And only Donnie initiated trades.”

While Cuban may view such speculative calls as being business as usual, multiple team sources still voiced concern about Voulgaris’ perceived influence around the league contributing to the team’s dysfunction. The overarching concern of these sources is how it might impact the team’s ability to maintain Doncic’s desire to remain here long-term. Doncic told reporters at a Slovenian national team press conference held Thursday that it was difficult to hear about Nelson’s departure, who sources confirm he held a good, long-standing relationship with since meeting him as a teenager. “But I’m not the one making decisions,” he said.

Perhaps that’s a natural reaction when Porzingis became subject to trade rumors, ones which made his status clear as a second-tier star next to Doncic. (Talent-wise, that obviously is correct; it still isn’t enjoyable for it to be publicly projected into the universe.) Many team, player and league sources, whenever asked, have consistently told The Athletic there is no unknown “incident” between the two players, no flash point to spark a change in their dynamic.

In an email to The Athletic, Cuban clarified that his “dust-ups” comment referred to “a guy thinks a pass should come his way and it doesn’t (or) coach runs a play for the guy.” He added, “No more dust-up.” In a Spanish-language interview after Cuban’s comments, Porzingis said, “I’ve never had any problems with my teammates off the court, I’ve always gotten along very well with them. I don’t know what Cuban was talking about. I try to be as professional as possible.”

Kristaps Porzingis: I've never had problems with teammates

The Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban recently talked about the relationship between his two young star players in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, insinuating that they may not be as close as it appears on the court. However, Porzingis denied that’s the case and noted that he’s never had any issues with his teammates so far in his career. “I’ve never had any problems with my teammates off the court, I’ve always gotten along very well with them. I don’t know what Cuban was talking about. I try to be as professional as possible, do what I have to do and be a soldier for the team,” Porzingis told MARCA.
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