Change was imminent for the Dallas Mavericks going into the 2021 offseason. While fans were expecting this to come largely from roster changes, when news broke on June 16 that the Mavericks and 24-year General Manager Donnie Nelson were parting ways, it was clear that bigger changes were in the works. Just one day later, Rick Carlisle told the Mavericks he would not be back as head coach, giving Mark Cuban the job of rebuilding the power structure in Dallas.
After a grueling week and a half, filled with speculation and anticipation, the Mavericks have filled their vacancies, as they came to terms on deals Friday with a new head coach and GM. Nico Harrison will be the GM and head of basketball operations and Jason Kidd is set to be the franchise’s 10th head coach. Here’s everything you need to know about the new era in Dallas:
Mark Cuban’s calling card throughout his tenure as owner of the Mavericks has been to stray from the beaten path and question what a basketball organization should look like. At times it hurt him and his Mavericks, as seen by the countless number of fines and violations of league protocol. But, more times than not, it led to positive change, and the out-of-the-box decision to hire Nike executive Nico Harrison as General Manager seems to be one of those times.
He is a guy that is well-respected by and well-connected to a lot of the game’s biggest stars. Endorsements from Portland guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum as well as Lakers star Lebron James have come in the last few days. Jared Dudley, a respected veteran who also plays for Los Angeles, had this to say on Friday:
Many teams have tried to get Nico, if Dallas could land him that’s a big Play https://t.co/A5wlfdaHzs— Jared Dudley (@JaredDudley619) June 25, 2021
At Nike, he was responsible for evaluating talent and deciding which guys the company would pursue. He was also the guy that helped build Kobe Bryant’s image and fostered a great relationship with the Hall of Famer until the day he passed. He reportedly also has a great relationship with Luka Doncic, as he influenced his decision to join Jordan brand in 2019. David Aldridge of The Athletic had this to say about the Nico Harrison’s impact league wide:
Haven’t met anyone-player, coach, etc.-who doesn’t like Nico Harrison. He’ll be able to talk with anyone in the room. Obviously strong relationships with a lot of stars and important people in the game from his Nike gig. Definitely worth outside-the-box thinking from Dallas.— David Aldridge (@davidaldridgedc) June 25, 2021
Jason Kidd was named as the next head coach, and while there are a lot of people upset (with all the right to be), there are some positives to take away from this hiring. He, too, is well liked by players league-wide and has been endorsed by some powerful stars in recent years as well. When Kidd was fired in 2018 by the Bucks after they started the year 23-22, Giannis Antetokounmpo reportedly was the one who told Kidd what was happening. “Devastated” at the decision, Antetokounmpo asked Kidd if there was anything he could do to influence the decision of the organization, to which Kidd responded “There’s nothing you can do”. According to people close to the situation, Kidd was a “key part” in Giannis’ development.
The Portland Trailblazers recently fired their coach, and when asked who he wanted to be the next head coach, Blazers superstar Damian Lillard reportedly indicated a strong preference for Jason Kidd.
Lebron James, who has played under Kidd in Los Angeles the last two seasons, believes that Kidd is the “only person alive who sees the game of basketball” with his level of clarity.
Along with being one of the greatest point guards to ever play the game and a local legend, Kidd has won the hearts of many of the leagues’ best players. It is clear that both of these hires were made keeping free agency in mind, and are attempts to lure key players to Dallas. Adding the right pieces around Luka is the focus this off-season and these two moves could prove to go a long way towards that.
In addition to these major hirings, the Mavericks also recently brought back legendary forward Dirk Nowitzki in an advisory role. Nowitzki advocated for the hiring of Jason Kidd. The Mavericks opted to bring back familiar faces more than branching out, and this runs even deeper as JJ Barea reportedly had preliminary discussions to join Kidd’s coaching staff. Given Barea and Nowitzki’s positive relationship with Luka Doncic, the “hometown hero” approach Dallas is taking could pay off in a big way.
The Less Good
The downside to employing players that have recently played is their obvious lack of actual coaching or front office experience. It is unknown whether or not they are going to be good in these new roles, and there is a possibility that their greatness on the court just won’t translate. While Kidd’s similarities to Doncic as a player and the friendship Doncic has with Barea and Nowitzki are certainly positives, it is a big risk to hire such an inexperienced staff just before Luka Doncic is offered a huge contract extension, and enters a prime window for him to have a chance to win a championship.
Kidd is not a new coach (he has four and a half years of coaching experience in the NBA), but his previous tenures have not been incredibly successful. His regular season coaching record is 183-190, and 9-15 in the postseason. His most successful season came in his first campaign where he coached the Nets to a 44-38 record and won a first round series against the Raptors. After a failed power struggle with Nets management, he was essentially traded to Milwaukee where he coached an additional three and a half years before getting fired.
Underachieving is the common theme amongst teams he has helmed, and was ultimately the reason he was let go by the Bucks. The organization did not believe they could win with Kidd, and their defense was horrible (after starting out really well in year one). It’s hard to imagine a team with now two-time MVP and one-time Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo having a bad defense, but that was the reality.
Kidd also has a history, even as a player, of being stubborn and “burning bridges”. There have been reports of him having issues with different people along his journey, including Jabari Parker in Milwaukee and Rick Carlisle when he played in Dallas. Certainly he is respected for his basketball intellect, but his interpersonal skills and ability to make coaching decisions are still in question.
As for Nico Harrison, he also does not have experience working in an NBA front office. Surely some of his responsibilities at Nike, like scouting talent and negotiating with players, will translate over, but the fact still remains that he has not worked in an NBA front office. With Danny Ainge recently leaving Boston and Masai Ujiri yet to sign an extension with Toronto, it seemed like a no-brainer that Dallas would try to pursue them, given their incredible experience and success. They were never considered by the Mavericks, and it remains to be seen if Harrison's connections throughout the league can make him an effective head of basketball operations.
Back in September of 2018, the results of a seven month investigation into the sexual assault allegations within the Mavericks organization was released. The offenses took place over the course of 20 plus years, and as a result of the story coming out, Mark Cuban made big changes. He brought in Cynthia Marshall as the new CEO of the Mavericks and pledged $10 million towards women’s causes. Cuban says he was not aware of any of these allegations, and while that may be hard to believe, he has made decisions to consciously make it a safer place over the past three years. Marshall was brought in to change the culture even further and she made it clear that there was no place for any misbehavior in the Mavericks organization:
Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall in 2018 pic.twitter.com/gp9ycqLtJX— The Kobe Beef (@TheKobeBeef) June 25, 2021
The hiring of Kidd completely undermines everything the Mavericks have said they stand for. In 2001, Kidd pleaded guilty to hitting his wife during an argument, making him a domestic abuser on the record. Hiring him as head coach raises many more questions than it answers. Was Marshall consulted on this decision? If so, did she sign off? How could a franchise so fresh off of one of the largest harassment scandals in sports history employ a man who has a history of the exact thing they said they had “no tolerance” for? Do the Mavericks really value winning that much over upholding values that are supposed to be common sense? The reason Kidd’s hiring is so ugly has very little to do with basketball.
To make matters worse, their lack of consideration for a coach who has endorsements from players like Tristan Thompson and the Mavericks’ own Luka Doncic is concerning. Yes, Jamahl Mosely is right under their nose and yet nowhere in their sight. The feeling was that he was ready to be the successor to Rick Carlisle, and yet the Mavericks chose to hire a controversial ex-point guard instead. Mosely was reportedly promised an interview for the position, although it is unclear whether or not he got one.
This is a microcosm of a bigger problem the Mavericks have. They have almost a complete disregard for their channels of finding new talent, as seen through their non-existent draft presence and lack of use of the G-League. Cameron Payne, who just scored 29 points in a conference finals game, played for the Texas Legends. By not even considering Mosely, the Mavericks continue their trend of not utilizing assets already in their organization.
There’s much to be excited about with the changes within the Dallas Mavericks, but some things to be concerned about as well. We’ll see what the Mavericks can make of their new situation
Here’s our episode of the Mavs Moneyball Podcast discussing the Dallas Mavericks hiring Jason Kidd and Nico Harrison. Here’s the Green Room on the topics as well. Search Mavs Moneyball Podcast on your favorite app to find the episode, click the link, or press play in the player below.