“It doesn’t matter how many times you fail. You only have to be right once and then everyone can tell you that you are an overnight success.” That’s one of Mark Cuban’s most famous quotes, and he’s certainly operated the Mavericks with that in mind.
After what seemed like a decade of stability, the Dallas Mavericks are suddenly a whirlwind of chaos. Donnie Nelson, who had been with the organization in one capacity or another since 1998, was let go. Rick Carlisle, who’d coached the team since 2008 and led them to their only championship in franchise history, resigned as well, taking a job with the Indiana Pacers.
Departures like that don’t necessarily signal dysfunction. After all, the only thing constant in life is change. But as we’ve recently seen, just because the front office was staffed by the same people for a decade plus, doesn’t mean there was actually harmony among the Mavericks’ top brass. Nelson and Carlisle were caught up in a power struggle the general public didn’t even know was happening.
Haralabos Voulgaris, brought in three years ago to head up analytics for the Mavericks, was given an odd position that seemed outside of any traditional organizational chart. He was the focus of a story by The Athletic’s Tim Cato that illuminated how messy the organization had truly become. The piece by Cato seems to insinuate Voulgaris was overstepping his role, but with Cuban’s blessing. Though Nelson and Carlisle are gone, Voulgaris seems to still hold his position with the team. There’s been no indication he and the Mavericks have parted ways.
Now Jason Kidd has been hired as the next coach of the Mavericks. I’ll set aside his off the court baggage, or his lack of success in Milwaukee and Brooklyn. The problem here is the process that brought Kidd back to Dallas, or lack thereof.
When Nelson was fired, the Mavericks immediately announced they had hired a well-known search firm to find their next president of basketball operations. Next they announced they were forming a committee of their own to decide on the position, which included current vice president of basketball operations Michael Finley and Dirk Nowitzki. Finley was also rumored to be a candidate for the job. If you’re confused about how all that works, well, join the club.
News of Kidd’s hiring broke well before anyone was named president of basketball operations. Nico Harrison has since been announced as taking over the position, but the moves seemed to be woefully out of order. To say this is all unusual would be an understatement. It seems like chaos reigns in the offices of the Dallas Mavericks. It might lead you to think Cuban has lost his grip on things. That his basketball club is spiraling out of control. But that’s not the case.
No, this is all by design. Cuban thinks he’s disrupting the business of basketball, innovating the stodgy ways of his predecessors and contemporaries. “If there was a template for building a champion, everybody would use it, right?” Cuban said to The Ringer last year. “And there’s only been what now? Ten teams that have won championships in the past 25 years or whatever? So, you know, it’s just not easy.”
The Mavericks won a championship in 2011, after nearly a decade of shuffling the lineup and coaches around Dirk Nowitzki. Cuban decided to break up the core of that championship team, instead jettisoning key players in exchange for cap space. Since then, Cuban has chased only superstars in free agency, even though he couldn’t be bothered to actually meet with them at times.
None of this speaks to an ordered, structured process. The Mavericks have always been reactive, not proactive, and the last month has shown how little planning goes into their team building. Maybe things will be different under Harrison, but there’s no reason to think that as long as Cuban is involved in the day-to-day basketball decisions. In fact, things might be worse under Harrison, at least at first. Cuban has admitted he lurks over new employees’ shoulders. “I micromanage you until I trust you,” Cuban said in 2014.
So if you were hoping that the sweeping changes in the front office would lead to a focus on the process rather than the results, you’ll probably be disappointed. There’s no desire to replicate what Sam Presti has done in Oklahoma City, for example, or the steady, serial killer-like intensity of the Spurs. The chaos and dysfunction are part of success in Dallas, and it’s by design. Under Cuban, the Mavericks will be an impetuous franchise that lunges after whatever shiny object they believe will help them win today. If that compromises the future, so be it. Mark Cuban only has to be right one time, after all.