NBA Rumor: Mavericks Front Office

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The Mavericks, like most NBA teams, had a preexisting relationship with Harrison because of his many years working at Nike. It also didn’t hurt that Harrison already had a close relationship with Jason Kidd, who was the preferred choice of several prominent figures within the Mavericks’ organization to succeed Carlisle on the bench after Kidd’s on-court contributions to Dallas’ first (and only) championship in 2011. Yet I’m told that the Mavericks did lean on Sportsology in their search for a new lead salary-cap strategist — they hired Andrew Baker away from Brooklyn — and for post-hiring counsel on building a front-office structure around Harrison and new vice president of basketball operations Michael Finley.

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I know you looked into Nico Harrison’s Nike background and knew a lot about him when you hired him, but what did you learn about him in his first year as general manager? Cuban: He’s a communicator. He’s a listener. He’s a learner. He’s agile. He’s curious. All the things I look for in any successful executive. And the players respect him and enjoy it. And they talk to him and connect with him continuously. And that a huge, huge, huge positive for us.

The official court response was to Nelson’s claim that Cuban fired him last summer as retaliation for reporting that Cuban’s “right-hand man” Jason Lutin had sexually harassed and sexually assaulted Nelson’s nephew during a 2020 job interview. Nelson’s lawsuit said his nephew, who was not identified, was invited to Lutin’s hotel room during the 2020 All-Star Weekend in Chicago and subsequently reached a settlement with the team. Nelson said he found out about the alleged incident and settlement only months later, while he was starting contract negotiations with Cuban, but that the talks stalled and eventually ended after he pressed the issue about Lutin. Cuban fired Nelson in June 2021.

Donnie Nelson suing Mavericks

Former longtime Dallas Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson sued the team Thursday, alleging that owner Mark Cuban fired him last summer as retaliation for reporting that Cuban’s chief of staff sexually harassed and sexually assaulted his nephew during a job interview in 2020. The lawsuit also alleges that Cuban offered Nelson, who was fired in June, $52 million to withdraw a wrongful termination claim and sign a confidentiality statement related to the alleged harassment and abuse of his nephew.

Lutin also denied the allegations in an email to ESPN and said, “What this man [Nelson] is doing to someone like me is absolutely unspeakable.” “It’s a complete lie and I defer to Mavs to comment and who have already dealt with this matter,” Lutin said. “And obviously have a lot of information to show none of that ever happened.” Nelson did not find out about the alleged Feb. 16, 2020, incident involving Lutin, or a subsequent settlement for an undisclosed amount that his nephew quietly reached with the team, until five months later, after he and Cuban had begun discussions to extend his contract for 10 years, the lawsuit says. At that point, Nelson confronted Cuban and said Lutin’s alleged activities were “putting the Mavericks’ employees, players and the entire organization at risk,” according to the lawsuit.

Mavericks not interested in buyout market

Mavs GM Nico Harrison on signing players via buyout: ‘We’ve done our homework. So we think we know who’s going to get bought out. But at the end of the day, we have 15 roster spots already filled. And for us to bring somebody in whoever that person could be, we’d have to release somebody. And I don’t think we want to do that. I think we like we like our roster how it is. And there’s nobody that I would feel comfortable releasing at this point to add room for somebody else.’

What have you learned about organizational structure in the past two decades? Mark Cuban: There’s business organizational structure and there’s players. It’s a player-driven league. You have to adapt to the players. What does that adaptation look like? Mark Cuban: Nico and J-Kidd. They get to come in with a fresh start. The players are just different. When I first came here, there was a playbook. Del Harris would hand you a playbook. There are no kids today reading anything. I don’t care what it is. But if you put it in a video? We are talking about putting plays in an app where you just scroll like a TikTok video. It’s no different than my 12-year-old, my 15-year-old and my 18-year-old. If I want to know what news is happening, I ask what happened on TikTok because that’s how you get them. Why are the kids coming into the NBA any different than our kids? It’s the exact same thing.

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.

Mavericks part ways with Haralabos Voulgaris

Haralabos “Bob” Voulgaris and the organization have parted ways, a league source confirmed. The source stressed that Vougaris, hired in 2018 as director of quantitative research and development, was not fired. His contract expired and was not renewed by new president and general manager Nico Harrison. Thus answers the lingering, most-asked, non-player-related offseason question among fans and media: “What about Bob?” Voulgaris’ departure isn’t surprising, considering the issues regarding him raised shortly after last season in a story in The Athletic, which portrayed former professional gambler Voulgaris as having usurped the power of longtime president and general manager Donnie Nelson.

Here’s one positive Harrison should provide that I hadn’t fully considered yet. The team’s front office under Donnie Nelson was never very structured; he was a get-it-done-when-it-needed-to-be worker who often called staffers and other league executives at all hours. One former team executive told me how trade talks with the Mavericks were always “weird,” with them proposing an offer one week only for it to change dramatically by the next. At Nike, Harrison worked within and promoted a much more defined structure — one which theoretically shouldn’t allow for a special adviser to gain such increased influence to the point it causes dysfunction internally and throughout the league.

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.
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August 8, 2022 | 12:48 pm EDT Update
Boston gave Tatum the supermax rookie extension. He’s their designated star, even if Brown was the better player in June and has been instrumental to the team’s success. Tatum’s input always matters because they’re building around him. Brown and Smart have undoubtedly been a part of that foundation, but they’ve also been in trade rumors as long as they can remember. Not Tatum. He’s deeply entrenched, though he says he’s staying out of it anyway. “The cool part about his job is Brad don’t tell me how to do my job anymore. You not the coach,” Tatum said with a sly grin. “He lets me do my thing. I let him do his thing. In all honesty, that’s his decision and that’s his job.”
Storyline: Celtics Front Office
After a conference-finals run in the bubble, Boston seemed primed to take the next step. It stumbled instead. Then last year, it came together in such a whirlwind that Tatum is now the top scorer on the betting favorite for the 2023 title, a team that just brought in two established veterans to shore up offensive pitfalls from the playoff run. It’s why, in spite of a tough finals defeat, Tatum’s confident the Celtics are ready to come back and pull it off this time. “I mean, what kind of teammate would I be if I said no?” he said. “We got this close, and we added two really good players. I think it makes us better.”
Tatum expects he’s going to be ready to put his team back in position to win a ring. Whether that’s starting off the season connected offensively or pacing himself to keep his legs fresh from October to June, he’s taken in another lesson on greatness. But he recognizes that doesn’t guarantee anything. “It’s not a ‘for sure’ thing, you know. You have to put in the work. You have to take the right steps,” Tatum said. “But I’m positive that we got the right group that will buy in, and we can’t look past anything and just try to coast our way to the finals. We gotta start from training camp. We gotta start from Day 1.”

Stephen Curry: 'Defending the title is tough, but we're excited about the opportunity'

Curry is running out of room to run in this offseason with training camp drawing near. He’s taken pauses to see how the Warriors are re-tooling to defend their 2022 title. “I’m excited,” Curry said. “It’s gonna look a little different, but you can blend the championship experience with where we were at the beginning of last year. Put that all together and try to keep this thing going. Defending is tough, but we’re excited about the opportunity.”