Ex-exec offers peek inside the high school nightmare that is the Mavericks’ front office

Ex-exec offers peek inside the high school nightmare that is the Mavericks’ front office


All was not what it seemed, he said, which may be why changes were made earlier this year
Illustration: AP

You always have to take the word of a former/disgruntled employee with a few grains of a salt and a shot of tequila (and a lime if that’s your thing), so when former Mavs front office exec Haralabos Voulgaris compares your franchise’s dysfunction to “high school drama,” it’s fair to be skeptical. Yet, when you dig a little deeper, it’s difficult to say with certainty that he’s wrong. (Though, I’m sure the Mavs will tell you everyone was “extremely gruntled.”)

An ESPN interview with the professional gambler-turned-exec shed some light on the reasons for the offseason upheaval in Dallas, which featured the ouster of longtime head coach Rick Carlisle and general manager Donnie Nelson.

“I didn’t have a working relationship with other people in the front office at all, to the point where it was awkward,” Voulgaris told ESPN. “But that’s kind of the M.O. of the way that front office was run — like, surround yourself with people who are not threats. You don’t become an NBA general manager and hold on to your job for that long unless you are very, very good at keeping your job.”

He described his role as “kind of like I was this missile to go in there and create the change and unlock some boulders that couldn’t be moved before.” He did indeed go in like a missile and, instead of unlocking boulders, blew them to bits.

From pissing off Luka Dončić over leaving his seat before the end of a game against the Knicks to “dealing with a bunch of people who are upset with the fact that someone else has the owner’s ear and they don’t,” it doesn’t seem like anyone much cared for Mark Cuban’s unconventional hire — outside of Cuban, of course.

Voulgaris said he told Cuban in an email that he was just trying to fit in and didn’t want to upset anyone, but that’s not what the owner wanted.

“He was very clear, like, ‘No, I don’t want you to fit in. We’re deficient in areas that you’re good at. If it’s hard, hard conversations have to be had,’” Voulgaris said.

So what now?

Cuban has never been interested in conventional team-building, which could be why he’s had so much success. Or, it could be that he’s gotten lucky with two transcendent players who can overcome a spotty front office.

They haven’t won a playoff series in over a decade, and their most notable acquisitions over that time were Rajon Rondo (failed spectacularly) and Kristaps Porziņģis (failed, so far, a little less spectacularly). The only player they’ve drafted over the past five years who’s still on the team is Jalen Brunson. (Technically, they traded for Luka.)

They hired Jason Kidd, whose coaching career highlights are spilling Diet Coke to stop a game because he was out of timeouts and getting lambasted in Giannis Antetokounmpo’s book, and they brought in Nike executive Nico Harrison as their new general manager.

By all accounts, Harrison is a great relationship guy — which may be better than hiring someone like Voulgaris, who describes himself as “an acquired taste” — but I have yet to read anything or see any move that speaks to Harrison’s actual front office acumen. Jared Dudley said the hire was a “big play,” though, so there’s that.

To be fair, I loathe retread hires and am all for trying someone new. I just don’t know if this is the time — or if Cuban has the hiring history — to take such a wild swing.

Dončić just signed an extension, so, in theory, they have time to build around him. But in practice, as my coworker Carron Phillips detailed, there’s a big chance this roster isn’t built for a deep run in the playoffs, and guys don’t care how many years they have left on their contracts.

Let’s just hope Luka’s tenure with the franchise doesn’t end like Voulgaris, who, toward the end of his employment, “was just trying to find a way out of this job.”





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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.