Regardless of what you think about the power structure of the Dallas Mavericks’ basketball operations, the names didn’t change. On paper, the Mavericks remained on a steady course while other franchises blew up every three to four years. However, through recent unconventional and untimely hirings, Mark Cuban provided his organization with a facelift.
Following Donnie Nelson and Rick Carlisle’s unceremonious departures and the arrivals of Nico Harrison and Jason Kidd as their successors, revisionist history practitioners unleashed their warped memories. Before focusing on the future, one must remember the past and not repeat the same mistakes.
Front office frenzy
Stability rang synonymous with the Dallas Mavericks organization for decades. During his 24-season run, President of Basketball Operations Donnie Nelson weathered through the highs and lows of Dallas basketball. However, following a well-reported exposé from The Athletic’s Tim Cato and Sam Amick, Nelson and Mark Cuban’s 21-year business relationship ended.
Nelson holding the league’s longest-tenured executive position speaks to the nearly bulletproof system of which Cuban designed. Yet, like most relationships, a third party plays a significant role in the derailment. Unfortunately, Nelson’s angle of the relationship falls more on the shortest side of a scalene triangle.
Since the Mavericks won the championship in 2011, only two Mavericks have reached NBA All-Star status, as the front office failed to build on the monumental success. Now, without completely pushing the franchise’s shortcomings on Nelson, one must acknowledge Cuban’s arching influence on basketball decisions.
Even so, despite hyperactive ownership tendencies from his boss, Nelson’s job title granted him the ultimate privilege of evading any significant accountability. Nelson’s recent tone-deaf comments on a superb Luka Doncic playoff performance reverberated his past offseason mishaps while falling short of dodging front office follies.
Regardless of the chaos between him and Haralabos Voulgaris, you didn’t need a heliographic decoder to see the writing on the wall: Nelson’s time was wavering, or at least his influence on the front office.
Coaching through madness
While the news of Donnie Nelson shook the NBA world, the report of Rick Carlisle’s resignation hit like a seismic shockwave. In an age where head coaches rarely finish their contracts, Carlisle existed as a made man in the NBA. The 13-year commitment stood as a testament to the influence and adaptability of one of the best coaches in the league.
Without legitimate talent on the roster following the lone franchise championship, Rick Carlisle was left to pick up the pieces of yearly broken offseason planning. Despite the Mavericks’ uncanny knack for discovering talent, Dallas failed to reshape the bottom of the roster to slide players to their rightful positions.
Yet, miraculously, Carlisle maneuvered a 393-394 record since the 2011 championship with the likes of Raymond Felton, Chris Kaman and José Calderon, to name a few, as main cogs in the rotation before the historical 2018 NBA Draft that procured Doncic. Even with Harrison Barnes as the main option during the lottery-bound seasons, astonishingly, Carlisle produced the most out of reclamation projects and raw role players.
In his three seasons with Doncic, Carlisle coached two rounds of playoff action. Despite displaying heroics in both series, the Mavericks failed to capitalize on a 2-0 lead in the 2021 playoffs. Although many fingers pointed at Carlisle for rotation decisions, ultimately, the talent didn’t perform when Doncic needed relief, and that falls on the front office.
A drastic change in philosophy for the Dallas Mavericks
A lot is said of the Mavericks’ free agency shortcomings. However, to Donnie Nelson’s credit, the franchise benefitted from his emphasis on international scouting. Nelson instilled less credence in draft picks than a fantasy basketball owner who allows autoselecting for his entire roster.
In the United States of America, the AAU system remains king in relationship building with future NBA talent and a talent pool for NBA scouting departments. Yet, as Cuban stated before, that’s not the Mavericks’ philosophy in team building. Nelson was apathetic to local talent; his relationship with international players rivaled former U.S. president Bill Clinton’s foreign policy.
Harrison’s presence in the front office implies a shift in scouting philosophy. After spending nearly 20 years with Nike, his relationships with American-born players should provide Dallas with a new wrinkle in maximizing Doncic’s talents. Speaking of building relationships, it’s been reported that the Kidd-Harrison hirings came as a bundle deal.
Despite all of the shocking developments following the Game 7 loss to the Clippers, the elephant in the room remains the decision to hire Kidd, who was connected to a domestic abuse case in 2001, only one year removed from firing an employee for sexual harassment. No, Kidd wasn’t in trouble for anything related to sexual misconduct, but any mistreatment of women doesn’t bode well for the Mavericks, or anywhere else for that matter.
The elephant in the room
In addition to potentially influencing free agent signings, Harrison has another favorable toolset in his favor. Following the trial in Colorado, Harrison played a significant role in rebuilding Kobe Bryant’s reputation. Not that Harrison said he would or will improve the perception of the Kidd hire, but his track record suggests it’s a possibility.
Now, there is no magic brush that erases the pain caused by Kidd’s past, but it’s healthy to exhibit even the slightest transparency of his growth as a human. Moving forward, Dallas must move opposite of the Portland Trail Blazers debacle. Basketball aside, the Mavericks’ public relations staff has quite the undertaking.
Frankly speaking, Kidd exposed and foreshadowed more than Cuban and Harrison during the new hires’ press conference.
During the official press conference mainly focused on Harrison and Kidd, the Mavericks’ new coach touched on player development. While Carlisle excelled in getting the most out of his players, the patience for rookie Josh Green weighed thinner than the breaks in between games of the condensed schedule.
Now, in fairness to Carlisle, the season’s doom-or-bloom climate left no room for error. Now, with a younger coach and a full offseason for Kristaps Porzingis to finally focus on training rather than rehabbing, perhaps it’s time to unleash the athleticism of Green. It’s no secret that the Mavericks seek a facelift in their starting lineup.
Although inserting the green sophomore in the starting lineup indicates failure of the offseason, expect a significant uptick in minutes next season. Upon draft night, Mavericks fans clamored for new GM Harrison to trade into at least one of the 60 picks. However, Harrison had other plans and described the sophomore players as the rookies, since they didn’t receive the typical rookie experience.
This is Nico Harrison’s full quote from when I asked about the feasibility/Mavs’ level of interest in trading into this draft. pic.twitter.com/YYS3D9m6Bk
— Brad Townsend (@townbrad) July 29, 2021
Although Harrison comes into his new job with no picks, he opted to stay out of the draft. We can only speculate whether Harrison genuinely wanted to stay out of Thursday night’s action. As an emphatic Mark Cuban reminded everyone at the press conference, “The person who writes the checks has to be the one who signs off on it,” which is fair.
However, the fact of the matter is, acquiring draft assets only increases your chances to obtain star talent. Dallas rejecting offers to participate in draft night seems like more of the same issues which plagued them during their past superstar chases.
Free agency expectations for the Dallas Mavericks
Last year, the talk surrounding the 2021 free agency class felt like the summer of 2010. Two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and All-Star guard Bradley Beal headlined the top stars of the class. Unfortunately for Dallas, both players signed extensions, ultimately rendering the 2021 free agency starless.
Fast forward to the current day, and Dallas now has enough cap space to outright sign a top free agent. Although the Antetokounmpo-to-the-Mavericks train derailed, an opportunity to obtain a playmaking guard is still plausible.
Updated 2021 cap space projections post-2021 NBA Draft:
1. NYK – $53.5M
2. SAS – $48.9M
3. DAL – $34.3M
4. OKC – $30.9M (after Favors trade)
5. TOR – $23.1M
6. MIA – $20.5M
7. DET – $17.5M (after Plumlee trade)
8. CHA – $8.8M
Everyone else = projects to be over the cap@spotrac
— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) July 30, 2021
Names don’t matter if the process doesn’t change for the Dallas Mavericks
Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry is the main topic of free agency conversation for numerous teams, including the Dallas Mavericks. There are a few other guards available for either an outright signing or a sigh-and-trade maneuver.
Spencer Dinwiddie and Mike Conley also make up the top options at the guard position, although Lonzo Ball remains the free agent Mavericks fans crave. Yet, even with Ball’s upside and younger age, it’s a dangerous game to forego a restricted free agent signing.
Regardless of the players recruited, the front office’s approach to courting players must evolve. Having dinners with current players while the free-agent list dwindles will expose the Mavericks as a poorly-run entity.
Although Dallas isn’t technically a small-market city, the Mavericks must operate as such. Harrison’s Plan B mustn’t take place on the last hours of free agency. With a team featuring future league MVP Doncic, an outcome where Dallas gets used as a springboard of leverage can’t exist.
Will Nico Harrison serve as the twist of fate?
Sticking to your proverbial guns only gets you so far. Doubling down, although a repeated tactic often used in the Dallas Mavericks organization, will ultimately plague the current GM as it did the former. If Harrison repeats anything that the past regime practiced during free agency, expect more of the same disappointing results.
Harrison has a chance to change the tides for the better. Although the odds aren’t in his favor, perhaps an unconventional hire will shake up the redundant front office decisions of the past. It’s hard to calculate what he will do in light of most of his career served as a Nike executive.
However, in a year where Dallas has the third-highest cap space, whiffing in his first offseason sets him up for future failures. Harrison breaking the free agent cycle is the necessary action for Dallas to succeed this summer.