Just when you thought you could sit back and relax into an NBA summer haze, with the draft and free agency just off on the horizon, chaos strikes. Only 72 hours after The Athletic’s Tim Cato and Sam Amick detailed drama in the Dallas Mavericks front office, the Mavericks have announced their parting with President of Basketball Operations Donnie Nelson and the resignation of head coach Rick Carlisle.
The longstanding relationship of the so-called “Triangle of Trust” between Nelson, Carlisle, and team owner Mark Cuban is well documented. They’ve worked together longer than most do in an ever-shifting NBA landscape, and notched a title a decade ago.
Now one pillar remains of a front office that has long been lauded for its stability. Mark Cuban faces the two most important decisions of his 21-year tenure with the Dallas Mavericks.
Since Cuban purchased majority stake of the team there have been two general managers: Don Nelson and his son Donnie. The elder Nelson was with the team prior to Cuban’s arrival and handed the reigns to his son as he departed.
It is a similar story on the bench. Don Nelson coached the team beginning in 1998 and did so through 2005, when he handed over control to assistant coach Avery Johnson (who led them to their first finals appearance the next season). Rick Carlisle was hired in 2008 and now here we are today.
In two-plus decades Mark Cuban has barely ever had to hire someone to run basketball operations in the team front office, or coach the team itself. Absolute credit should be given for the loyalty and stability Cuban and the Mavericks have maintained during an amazingly successful stretch of basketball. But now stands Cuban, picking up the pieces from a messy week of turnover, with a generational talent mulling over his first max-contract extension estimated to be worth over $200 million. These contracts don’t get turned down, and all indications are Luka Doncic will be signing.
Still that doesn’t mean the clock isn’t ticking. Every year we see players fed up in the midst of max deals demanding to leave a rocky situation. And while Doncic seems to be a loyal player in many regards, he isn’t Dirk Nowitzki, and no one should expect him to be.
Cuban finds himself standing at a massive fork in the road. While it’s been clear for some time that he has ultimate say in trade deals and decisions, the general manager still has to have the vision and means to build a roster. Part of that vision is hiring the head coach. Marc Stein of the New York Times has reported that Cuban plans to hire his head of basketball operations before considering a coach, a standard order of moves which makes Cuban’s decision on Nelson’s replacement all the more important.
There has been plenty of chatter this week (and rumblings during the season) about Luka butting heads with Carlisle or others within the organization. As this is a player’s league it is vital to keep Doncic happy. Winning will cure many ills, and the Mavericks have done the hardest part in securing Doncic. But with two straight first round playoff exits, and plenty of questions about the roster, Cuban must right the ship quickly.
Here’s our episode of the Mavs Moneyball Podcast discussing the Dallas Mavericks moving on from Donnie Nelson. Here’s the episode about Rick Carlisle moving on. Search Mavs Moneyball Podcast on your favorite app to find the episode, click the link, or press play in the player below.