No team in recent memory has failed to build around a generational superstar more than the Dallas Mavericks have with Luka Dončić. We are not talking about Anthony Davis in New Orleans. Dončić is a consistent top-five MVP candidate and First-Team All-NBA every season, one of a handful of players of this magnitude, along with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokić. It’s a short list, so if you are lucky enough to have one of those guys, you do everything possible to keep them. Antetokounmpo and Jokić have their championship and look prepared to continue hunting for another. Dončić, meanwhile, appears nowhere close to winning his first, at least not with the Mavs, which is why it’s time to fire head coach Jason Kidd and general manager Nico Harrison for incompetence.
Not since LeBron James’s first stint in Cleveland has a franchise failed so miserably to build around a generational superstar. And even that Cavs roster was decent enough to earn a Finals berth in 2007. In James’ first six years with Cleveland, he had two All-Star teammates in Zydrunas Ilgauskas (2004-2005) and Mo Williams (2008 – 2009). Dončić has yet to have a teammate make the All-Star team. This season, Dončić currently leads the NBA in scoring, is second in three-pointers made, third in assists, and third in triple-doubles. He’s the only player in NBA history with more than one game with 45+ points and 15+ assists. How much of a load does he have to carry? He has had only five games this season with a sub-30 percent usage rate. No other player is trapped and triple-teamed like Dončić, which is as much an indication of his generational talent as it is an indictment of his subpar teammates. Before the Mavs’ last win against the 76ers, Dallas had a 14-17 record when Dončić scored under 40 points, and was 9-1 when he does. The sheer magnitude of what he has to do on a nightly basis just for the Mavs to have a shot is an indictment of how historically bad Kidd and Harrison have been at their jobs.
It has become agreed upon by Bucks, Nets, and now Mavs fans that Kidd is an awful coach, perhaps the worst in the NBA. But any time the job Harrison’s performance is brought up, Mavs fans inevitably reference the awful position in which former general manager Donnie Nelson left the team. While it’s true Nelson was way worse building around Dončić than he was Dirk Nowitzki, it’s been three seasons since Harrison, the glorified shoe salesman (he was an executive with Nike before being hired by Dallas), took over the team, and the roster is significantly worse than he found it.
When Harrison took over, he had all the Mavericks first-round picks except one protected 2023 pick owed to the New York Knicks from the Kristaps Porzingis trade. He also had Jalen Brunson and Kristaps Porzingis on the roster. Both are now gone and Harrison has nothing to show for it. Not a single player or pick. It’s not as if he was rebuilding without a full deck of picks. Since then, he has traded the 2022 first-round pick for Christian Wood (who walked in free agency for nothing), the 2029 first-round pick (plus defensive lynchpin Dorian Finney-Smith and starting point guard Spencer Dinwiddie) for Kyrie Irving, and the 2030 pick swap was sent to the San Antonio Spurs for taking on Reggie Bullock in exchange for three future second-round picks. That’s sacrificing three first-round picks with only Irving to show for it. Trading for Hardy in the second round of the 2022 draft wasn’t a full embrace of the draft by the Mavericks; they gave up two future second-round picks to secure him. Hardy has been in and out of the lineup and might max out as an empty bucket that doesn’t help the team win. Plus, what real opportunities will he see playing with an offensive-juggernaut backcourt of Dončić and Irving? Injuries have wrecked the ability of Irving and Dončić to mesh. Time will tell if they can coexist, but Harrison deserves credit for re-signing Irving to a high-value, three-year / $120,000,000 extension. But committing to him is the biggest gamble in the NBA, as he has asked out from every team he has played for.
This past summer, Harrison brought in washed Seth Curry, low-floor/defensive upgrades Dante Exum and Derrick Jones Jr., and signed a four-year, $54 million contract. Williams has been awful as an under-sized, overweight, chucking wing. While the open market was a loss, Harrison hit one home run in drafting Derek Lively with the 11th pick and a potential project with upside in Olivier-Maxence Prosper with the 24th pick. Harrison acquired the 24th pick via a trade-exception deal with Sacramento, but had to take on the lazy play of Richaun Holmes in return. He also dumped Bertans’ horrid contract in a draft-day swap with OKC Thunder to select Lively. Lively shows great polish as a pick-and-roll partner for Dončić. Here lies the problem with Harrison’s team-building strategy: In Luka’s sixth year, it’s a failure to have a rookie as your best offseason acquisition. The Mavs need to be in win-now mode, not solidifying the center position with a teenager.
Mavs fans also see-saw blame when it comes to recent front-office moves. When celebrating wins like the draft selection of Lively, who has been a welcomed surprise at the center position, they credit Harrison. It’s the same with the bottom-of-the-barrel free-agent signings of Dante Exum and Derrick Jones Jr., who resurrected their NBA careers this season as serviceable rotation players. So Harrison gets credit as the decision maker. Got it. But when observing the horrendous JaVale McGee or Grant Williams signing, (now) minority owner Mark Cuban is levied the blame. The blame game is used to shield Harrison from criticism while levying responsibility for terrible moves on Cuban, often addressed as the “shadow GM.” When looking at the past three seasons, Harrison is either terrible at his job or a useless puppet.
Thus far, the Mavs have scraped by on the back of Dončić’s brilliance. Yes, he complains too much about calls. And, yes, he often checks out on defense. But he is a generational scorer, playmaker and leader. Just look at the 73 points against Atlanta in January or his season stat line of 34.5 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 9.4 APG, 1.4 SPG (all but rebounds are career-highs). On the flip side, he is also number one in MPG at 39.1 and the highest usage percentage by a wide margin at 36.2. He has the magical ability to turn bums into useful NBA players. While he has yet to fully gel with any above-average sidekicks, much of that is on the coaching, with both Porzingis and Brunson not used to their full potential under Kidd.
Speaking of Kidd, he is the other half of the duo holding back the Mavericks. Harrison’s worst hire is routinely ridiculed for his lack of calling timely timeouts, sense of urgency and questionable rotations. The offense often looks like a Dončić or Irving bail-out in isolation or a chucked three-pointer. The Mavs are second in three-point frequency, makes and takes, but 11th in efficiency. These glaring issues at his two other coaching stops, Milwaukee and Brooklyn, caused him to get fired. History has repeated in Dallas. There was his famous quote after the Mavs blew a 27-point second-half lead against the Lakers last season: “I’m not the savior here, I’m not playing,” Kidd said then. “I’m watching, just like you guys.” He seems to develop personal grudges around his players that then affect their place in the rotation and playing time. Think of Christian Wood last season or giving the starting spot to McGee before training camp started. Both were huge red flags. On out-of-bounds and out-of-time-out plays, Kidd is routinely bailed out by Dončić.
The Mavs defense was already hanging on by a thread with Bullock and Finney-Smith. It collapsed when Harrison let both go via trade and free agency. He has kept washed players like Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell as major rotation pieces for far too long. The Mavs are 22nd in defensive rating this season. They’re currently 22nd in opposing points per paint, second worst at defending at the rim and fifth worst at defending the mid-range. Although Dončić has made strides defending in isolation and on post-ups, the duo of him and Irving routinely get hunted in switches. It gets even worse when the bench comes in, specifically undersized Jaden Hardy, WIlliams and Powell. With a staggering 80 percent of playing time dedicated to players under 6-foot-8, the Mavericks’ lack of size raises serious concerns for long-term defensive improvement, as they currently rank in the bottom five in all rebounding statistics and blocks. They are over-relying on a 19-year-old Lively, who has become the anchor of the defense. At 114.7, he has the best defensive rating of the rotation players. While Lively has been Harrison’s second-best acquisition after Irving, it’s goofy as hell to depend that much on an 11th-pick rookie.
The crux of the failure of Kidd and Harrison lies in missing the playoffs after the 2022 WCF run before losing now-superstar Brunson for nothing in the summer of 2022. More on him in a second. Even the Porzingis trade, which brought back the useless Davis Bertans and now gone Dinwiddie, had to have a second-round pick attached to go through. The Mavs now have nothing to show for that trade. In contrast, Prozingis had a career year in Washington before joining the Celtics this season, where he is in the 85th percentile of both offensive and defensive EPM, and the most efficient post scorer in terms of points per possession. In Dallas, Porzingis was put in the corner by former head coach Rick Carlise and expected to be a spot-up shooter. His post touches increased under Kidd, but it was obvious he was never used or integrated correctly.
And now we come to Brunson. The Mavericks’ bungling of Brunson’s contract was a masterclass in shortsightedness and cost them a rising star. Ignoring the standard rookie deal structure with a team option in the last year, they gifted Brunson unrestricted freedom in 2022, all while chasing a pipe dream of landing Antetokounmpo. This blunder by the Nelson regime reeks of prioritizing a risky gamble over nurturing homegrown talent. The result? Brunson walked, leaving the Mavs scrambling to fill the void his absence created. Yes, Nelson was initially to blame. But Harrison saw the screw-up and decided to double down. Once Harrison took over, the team had several chances to extend Brunson for four years and $56 million. His father, Knicks assistant coach Rick Brunson, someone with an obvious channel to his son’s thinking, confirmed Brunson was prepared to sign that deal. The Mavs didn’t offer it to him until it was too late.
“I told the Mavericks, ‘Once the season is started, there’s no contract talk,’ (but) in January, I thought he did enough where he deserved [the extension],” Rick said. “I said, ‘Hey, take the money, man.’ He wants security. He wants to live here. And they declined (to offer the extension). “He didn’t turn sh-t down.’’
His son confirmed this in a podcast interview later on: “I talked about it with my dad since Year 1,’’ he said. “I said, ‘Yeah, we’re going to be here (in Dallas) for the rest of my career.’ That’s what I thought.”
Was it a flawed attempt to dangle him as trade bait? Even in that scenario, wouldn’t a locked-in Brunson with value beyond the season has been a more enticing chip than a player on the cusp of free agency? Remember what Cuban said about Brunson’s free agency?
“We can pay him more than anybody,” Cuban said that summer. He wasn’t lying. The Mavs could have paid him more than anyone. But they didn’t. The Mavs were unwilling to pay him more than $21 million annually. Brunson eventually signed a four-year, $104 million contract with the Knicks, which is now the best contract in the NBA and the best free-agent signing in Knicks history. Mavs’ Karens initially (and in some sad corners still do) lamented Brunson going to the Knicks and joining his father as a “daddy’s boy.” It’s easy to point the finger elsewhere when players not only don’t want to join or stay with your team. The Brunson debacle isn’t even the first time the Mavs botched a future All-Star. Back in the day, the organization failed to re-sign Steve Nash, letting him walk to the Phoenix Suns, where he became a two-time MVP.
Harrison squandered both Brunson and Prozingis, failing to receive an equal return for KP, while watching Brunson walk for nothing and become a superstar on another team. The irony is Brunson went to the Knicks, the team Harrison has regularly picked from their trash heap, bringing in Frank Ntilikina, Bullock, Theo Pinson, and even Kemba Walker.
Under the duo of Harrison and Kidd, the Mavs have descended into NBA poverty. Their new owner, Miriam Adelson, is Donald Trump’s number one campaign donor. Cuban, who now runs basketball ops, has a record of running the organization with harassing and corrosive behavior. Their head coach has his own sketchy past, including domestic violence. Their team missed the play-in last season and fell into the Lottery after a nasty tank job to keep the 11th pick from going to the Knicks. The Mavs are in Year 6 of the Luka era. After an 8-2 start, the Mavs have gone 20-21. Mavs fans cling to their overall winning record (28-23) to avoid admitting they are wallowing in poverty.
Dončić will become the most likely star to ask out if they miss the playoffs again this summer. He loves winning too much to stay long-term under this lowly leadership. Looking ahead in the next few years, it’s just a matter of time before he leaves for a more competent franchise. The Mavs have been mired in chaos since drafting the Slovenian star in 2018. They need to admit they made the wrong hire in coach and GM. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Fire both Kidd and Harrison now.
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