NBA Rumor: Mavericks Front Office

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And in front-office news, after it was heavily rumored that Dallas was targeting a CBA-minded lieutenant to join new president of basketball operations Nico Harrison, the Mavericks have hired Brooklyn Nets official Andrew Baker, a respected salary-cap strategist, for a senior role in Dallas’ new front office, sources said. Meanwhile, back in Boston, the Celtics continue to be linked to Landry Fields in their search for a general manager under new president Brad Stevens, but two other names to keep an eye on are Nets assistant general manager Jeff Peterson and Pelicans assistant general manager Bryson Graham.

At his introductory news conference Thursday, new Mavericks general manager Nico Harrison acknowledged being pursued by multiple teams in the past for a front-office role but electing to stay with Nike each time until Dallas made a run at him. Two of those teams to express interest, according to league sources: San Antonio and the Los Angeles Lakers. The Spurs were high on Harrison’s potential as an executive and the Lakers knew him well after Harrison’s extensive work with the late Kobe Bryant.

Brad Townsend: In a follow email, I asked Cuban whether longtime assistant GM Keith Grant is remaining as part of the management structure. Cuban said yes. That’s more important than many fans might realize. Grant has been the franchise’s capologist for many years.

The Mavericks have been trying (and failing) to recruit superstars for the last decade, variously whiffing on LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard and Deron Williams, among others. It takes more than a persuasive sales pitch (or a persuasive personality) to land a superstar, but Harrison improves their chances. “It just gets Cuban in the conversation,” said a longtime team executive. “He couldn’t get in the conversation anymore. They didn’t have a guy that could connect with any of those [players]. And Nico can tell Mark what he needs to do to get guys.”

Harrison’s transition will look different from other outside hires recently seen around the league. While Rob Pelinka and Leon Rose are successfully running front offices in Los Angeles and New York, respectively, Harrison will face a steeper learning curve. His years with Nike didn’t provide him constant, direct interactions with front offices like running an agency does, and one league source personally familiar with Harrison downplays his ability as a talent evaluator. But that might not even be a front office responsibility with which Harrison is tasked. He certainly has skills that will immediately translate to Dallas, even if it takes time to fully grasp every element of his new career.

Jason Terry: “I’m a huge Donnie Nelson Jr. Fan. He was here in Dallas in 2004. When I was here, he was as an assistant coach under Donnie senior. He gave me my biggest contract in my career. And he’s a friend. Not only was he a business partner, but he was a friend. And I hate to see him leave. But I mean, he’ll go down as one of the greatest GMs the Mavericks have ever had. He did great things, obviously, bringing Dirk, bringing Luka. I mean, he’s bar none, he’s, he’s a top exec in all of basketball. And then seeing Carlisle go I mean, hey, that’s my NBA championship coach. I mean, he’s taught me so much about the game, the X’s and O’s of the game. He was a mad scientist when it came to matchups and putting players in position to succeed. So he had a great run. I wouldn’t put it past anyone to see coach Carlisle in the near future on another bench in the NBA. He’s that valuable to our league and he’s one of the good ones.

Jason Terry: So you know, the Dallas Mavericks franchise, you know, Cuban, he’s ultra-competitive. He’ll make sure he puts the right people in place, would love to see Michael Finley in that GM seat, he’s a good friend of mine. Obviously, Dirk is back involved now. So they’ll be in good hands they’re under good leadership. And you know, the Mavs got a great young star in Luka. They continue to build around him and we’ll see them making deep runs in the playoffs as well.”

The Mavericks are not pursuing established executives like Toronto’s Masai Ujiri or Danny Ainge, the former Boston president of basketball operations, to replace Nelson, according to a person with knowledge of the team’s intentions. Those executives would surely want more autonomy that Cuban is willing to cede. As I reported last week, Dallas is strongly considering elevating one of Nowitzki’s favorite former teammates — Michael Finley — to be the team’s head of basketball operations and would add to the group with an external hire even if Finley gets the job. Cuban needs to surround himself with as much versatility and experience as the Mavericks can muster, since he will always be the organization’s lead shot-caller and prefers to render the final say after consulting top aides.

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.

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.

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.”

Mavs dismiss Tony Ronzone

Tony Ronzone, the Mavericks’ director of player personnel who last summer was the subject of a sexual assault accusation published in Sports Illustrated, was dismissed by the franchise after it learned new information pertaining to the alleged incident, sources confirmed to The Dallas Morning News. What isn’t clear is exactly when Ronzone was dismissed. Reached by email on Monday afternoon, team owner Mark Cuban declined to comment. Through a team spokesperson, CEO Cynthia Marshall also declined to comment.

Since you’re talking about women, what was your view of the way the league handled the Mavericks situation? (In lieu of a fine from the league, it was decided that owner Mark Cuban would make a $10 million donation to organizations that promote women in leadership roles and combat domestic violence; Cuban also hired a new CEO in Cynthia Marshall who has headed an organizational overhaul). “I think that the NBA did a very thorough investigation. It breaks my heart that anybody had to go through any of that and feel helpless, and not have a place to go or would go to complain and nobody would listen. That hurts. That’s damaging to a person. But I think that the changes that have been put in place are going to benefit the organization. I think what Mark did by stepping up – it’s hard.”

Mainly, back in 1998 when the Mavs acquired Dirk Nowitzki in a draft day trade with the Milwaukee Bucks, many compared his game to that of Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird. That didn’t go over too well with the Bird followers. So when the Mavs were asked last week who they fondly compare their latest prized rookie – Doncic – to, their lips were unilaterally sealed. Well, sort of. “I’m not going to make the same mistake we did 20 years ago, because (Doncic, like Nowitzki at the time) is a 19-year old kid that is going to have his rear end handed to him,” said Donnie Nelson, the Mavs’ president of basketball operations. “He is going to go against the elite of the elite, not only outside our walls, but within our training camp. Dirk and I had a long talk coming in. That’s why I want to remain guarded in my comments.”

In fact, Nelson — the Mavs’ president of basketball operations — all but guaranteed it. In this draft, variety truly is the spice of life as the Mavs can go big, small or in-between and still walk away with a can’t-miss prospect. “It’s just exciting,” Nelson said. “We’re looking forward to Thursday. “It’s some really, really good things in there (in the draft). We feel we’re going to get something really good and we can’t wait until Thursday night.”
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Jaxson Hayes arrested

New Orleans Pelicans center Jaxson Hayes — the #8 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft — was arrested after an alleged violent altercation with police, TMZ Sports has learned … and it apparently got so extreme, the hooper and a cop were taken to a hospital. We’re told law enforcement were called to an LA area home for a domestic disturbance early Wednesday morning … and when cops attempted to check on the parties involved, 21-year-old Hayes tried like hell to keep them from entering the premises.
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Sources tell us 6’11”, 220-lb. Hayes got combative with cops and a fight broke out … with the ex-Texas Longhorns star getting tased in the middle of the scuffle. The brawl was allegedly so intense, police put out an “officer needs help” radio call. Hayes was taken to a nearby hospital to get treatment for minor injuries … and an officer involved in the fight also sought treatment, although their condition is unknown.