The Donnie Nelson-Rick Carlisle era in Dallas is over... and it’s shaping up to be a real ugly divorce.
Nelson served as GM for the Dallas Mavericks for 16 years. Rick Carlisle served as head coach of the team for 13. Since Carlisle arrived the Mavericks have accrued nine playoff appearances, three All-Star Europeans, one Finals Appearances, and one NBA championship — Nelson and Carlisle’s resumes speak volumes. However, after a season of frustration and inconsistency ending with a frustrating Game 7 loss in the first round of the NBA playoffs, both will no longer be representing the Dallas Mavericks moving forward.
Both are leaving the Mavericks for different reasons. Carlisle ended his tenure with the organization on his own terms:
Donnie Nelson did not have that privilege.
Per Tim Cato and Sam Amick of The Athletic, Donnie Nelson did not intend to step down as GM of the Dallas Mavericks this year. As the team’s 2021 season came to an end, Nelson wanted to ensure that the team’s director of quantitative research and development — and former professional gambler — Haralabos “Bob” Voulgaris was not going to be a serious decision-maker regarding team personnel decisions moving forward.
Voulgaris has not been with the Dallas Mavericks long. He was hired by the team in 2018, long after the Mavericks started using advanced analytical tools to help make team decisions on strategy and personnel. However, in his short time with the Mavericks, allegedly Voulgaris has caused several rifts not only in the front office, but also among the players themselves.
The upcoming offseason was already slated to be a difficult one for Dallas. Along with now having to find a new head coach, the biggest issue on the Mavericks’ offseason to-do list is the re-signing of star guard Luka Dončić. It’s been well-documented that Nelson was pivotal in the signing of the European star. His ties with the European basketball market also played a large part in maintaining Dirk Nowitzki for the entirety of the German big man’s NBA career. Dončić has even stated that it was “tough” to see Nelson leave the franchise in such a dysfunctional fashion. It has also been rumored that Dončić dislikes Voulgaris as a general manager. According to The Athletic, players on the Mavericks, including Dončić, have referred to their pseudo-general manager Voulgaris as “difficult to talk to” and “going as far as setting the starting lineups for Rick Carlisle.”
Yikes! With the only bright spot on your franchise heading toward an uncertain offseason where he is uncertain to return, you’d think Cuban and company would be trying their damnedest to maintain the staff member who’s been essential to your team’s success while also looking to abandon the guy who has pissed off your key players. Then again, I’ve never been a part of an NBA front office, so maybe there are some semantics and minutiae that I am unaware of that could help me understand Cuban’s thought process through these decisions.
This seems like such a no-brainer. Keep the guys who’ve played pivotal roles in building your team’s identity. All Nelson wanted was to ensure that somebody wouldn’t be stepping on his metaphorical toes. Nelson was given the title of general manager to make personnel decisions and help the coaches determine proper strategy for upcoming games. As soon as someone else in the organization starts meddling in Nelson’s business, Nelson becomes the problem? That makes no sense at all.
Carlisle has already been linked to the Milwaukee Bucks head coaching gig should Mike Budenholzer be fired following this season. Whether or not Nelson’s departure from Dallas played a role in Carlisle’s decision to step down as the team’s head coach is still unknown. Though it should be noted that Carlisle made sure to mention what an honor it was to serve under both Nelson and Mark Cuban during his time in Dallas. Voulgaris was not mentioned.
After an NBA season where Houston couldn’t find a way to keep James Harden in town, I was ready to call them the worst run organization in basketball. Turns out I was looking in the right state, just a few hours south.