Most NBA executives fit into one of two clearly defined roles, analytics-based (think Brad Pitt in Moneyball) or scouting-based (think Clint Eastwood in Trouble with the Curve). Most also lean towards building through the draft and developing young players or trading for or signing veterans with less of a learning curve. Nico Harrison is not most NBA executives and the contrast between this offseason and last offseason is a perfect example of how his flexibility allows him to learn from his mistakes.
The Dallas Mavericks continued a decades-long tradition of devaluing first-round picks last season when they traded a first for talented but mercurial big man, Christian Wood. Wood has since moved on to the Los Angeles Lakers as he will once again try to get the most out of his prodigious talents. The Mavericks did trade back into the second round and select Jaden Hardy, but that hardly constituted a recommitment to the draft as they traded two other second-round picks for the right to do so.
Fast forward to this offseason and things couldn’t be more different. The Mavericks made the unpopular but correct choice to tank to ensure that they kept their first-round pick. They essentially used that pick, rather than trading it for a veteran as virtually every pundit predicted. They did trade down two spots and used the ammunition from that trade to trade back into the first to select Olivier-Maxence Prosper, who is the Mavericks most exciting wing prospect since Josh Howard (provided you do not consider Luka Doncic a wing).
Harrison once said, “We are listening to everything.” It is easy to say such a thing, but the truth is he really does appear to be open to this idea. The Mavericks got much more athletic this offseason. They got much bigger on the perimeter, and most importantly they showed a diversity of thought processes which can only bode well for the future.
It is tempting to view this change of course as the floundering of a man who has no clear goals. It is possible Harrison is so willing to change course because he simply doesn’t have a firm grasp of exactly what it is that he wants to do. Beauty or in this case, quality leadership may be in the eye of the beholder. While a pessimist may see this course change as a sign that Harrison has no strong ideals, it is truthfully a sign of a man smart enough to learn from his own mistakes.
Every decision-maker makes mistakes no matter how great they are. Red Auerbach is perhaps the greatest executive in NBA history, and he overruled his entire staff to select Joe Forte instead of Tony Parker. The important thing is that executives make more good decisions than bad decisions. One of the best ways to do that is to be willing to do different things.
The reason that Harrison is so open to doing different things is that he is not beholden to either background as his foundation. He neither spent decades combing high school games for elite talent like Adam Sandler in Hidden Gems nor does he have a history of winning millions by examining mathematical probabilities like Haralabos Voulgaris.
Harrison is a deal-maker. That is what he was responsible for doing at Nike. The Mavericks appeared to be locked into a roster with few means of change when took over, but the Mavericks have completed massive trades each of the last two seasons. His flexibility allows him a level of freedom very few executives enjoy. And that freedom allowed him to have a really good offseason which has positioned the Mavericks well for the upcoming season and seasons beyond.