DALLAS — Jason Kidd introduced himself to the Dallas media for the third time Thursday morning. The former NBA point guard and head coach has a long history with the city, being drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in 1994 and winning a championship here in 2011. This time, however, Kidd sat before the assembled press as the Mavericks’ newest head coach.
It wasn’t just Kidd on the stage at center court at the American Airlines Center. Sitting beside him was Nico Harrison, the new general manager. Together, they represent a sea change for the organization. Long-tenured GM Donnie Nelson and Head Coach Rick Carlisle parted ways with the team earlier this summer leaving a sizable void for owner Mark Cuban to fill. He took a gamble bringing in Kidd and Harrison. They not only reflect a new direction for the club, but elicit questions about the events and processes that led to this point.
“The league has changed in the 21 years since I’ve been here,” Cuban said. “Players have changed, how you build a championship team has changed and sometimes you just have to look to have a different toolset.”
Kidd and Harrison join the Mavericks with the franchise at a crossroads. The unprecedented rise of 22-year-old superstar Luka Doncic accelerated the team’s need for change and growth. Simply making the playoffs isn’t good enough. Doncic opened a championship window. Kidd’s task is helping nurture and develop Doncic while also alleviating the burden of being the team’s primary everything.
“I think when you look at the numbers, he has the ball a lot,” Kidd said. “He is a special player when he does have the ball. As we continue through this summer and this process of getting to know each other, I will throw him some different questions to get his opinion on playing without the ball.”
In order to take some of the pressure off Doncic, he needs teammates that not only help heighten his skills, but can also create their own shots. That’s where Harrison comes in. A former executive at Nike, Harrison developed relationships throughout the NBA. It’s that experience that the Mavericks are banking on in order to infuse the team with fresh blood and to hopefully land premier talent.
“I think my relationships extend even broader than [the NBA],” Harrison said. “Nineteen years in basketball, I have relationships that go across the industry, from grassroots to college to professional. People tend to think about the big-time pros and all that—and yeah that was a part of what I did—but really my relationships are broader than that. I think it’s going to serve me well in this position.”
It isn’t just bringing in talent, it’s maximizing the players already on the roster. One of the biggest stories this season was the performance of Kristaps Porzingis. The Mavericks spent a lot of capital to acquire the seven-foot-three Latvian from the New York Knicks in 2019, eventually signing him to a five-year, $158 million max contract. The thinking was that he and Doncic would be cornerstones that the team could build a championship contender around. It hasn’t worked out.
Even though Porzingis didn’t have the season that many were hoping for, yet again recovering from surgery to address a knee injury, he still was able to produce on the offensive end during the regular season. During Thursday’s press conference, Cuban said that Porzingis was unfairly maligned for his contributions, adding that he did everything that was asked of him. As for Kidd, he still views Porzingis as a one-of-a-kind talent and a valuable partner for Doncic.
“This is a positive summer for him,” Kidd said. “He’s healthy. This isn’t a time where he’s coming off of an injury. I think he’s really excited about this opportunity. I think he’s a perfect fit for Luka. Again, he has a skillset that a lot of people don’t have in our league. As a coach, I’m very excited to be able to work with him.”
There’s a lot of work ahead, but the Mavericks’ hierarchy seemed confident with Kidd and Harrison Thursday. However, how both Cuban and Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall responded to questions about the make up of the front office and the process that went into vetting Kidd, given his 2001 guilty plea to domestic violence, were troubling.
A report published by The Athletic days before the departures of Nelson and Carlisle detailed turmoil within the front office. Specifically, it referred to the influence of Haralabos Voulgaris in personnel decisions and lineup rotations. Asked whether Voulgaris was still with the team on Thursday, Cuban responded, “I don’t talk about anybody who’s on or off the payroll.”
Even so, Cuban did allude to at least some issues within the front office. He didn’t go into any great detail, but he did outline why it was important to bring in Harrison as well as defining one of the roles he will have as general manager.
“We didn’t have a lot of structure before,” Cuban said. “One of the values and the skillsets that Nico brings is putting together an organization that has defined roles so everybody knows what they’re supposed to do and succeed in them.”
Cuban and Marshall were even less transparent about the decision to hire Kidd. The Mavericks are still in the process of rebuilding their image after a 2018 Sports Illustrated report revealed a culture of sexual harassment, domestic abuse and workplace misconduct that festered for nearly 20 years under Cuban’s watch.
Kidd, to his credit, was open and honest about the growth he’s made through counselling. Yet, Marshall, who instituted a zero-tolerance policy within the organization upon her hiring in 2018, was less forthcoming. When asked about that policy, she reiterated its parameters rather than elaborating on how she and the organization used the benchmark in the process of hiring Kidd.
“We talked about his past,” Marshall said. “We talked about some of the history, and he walked me through his journey, which I will call it a journey. He walked me through that. And at the end of that process, I very much felt like we were doing the right thing. I didn’t feel like we were undermining our zero-tolerance policy or our values or our code of conduct at all.”
Regardless of the turmoil in the front office or whether the team followed its self-imposed zero-tolerance policy during the hiring process, both Kidd and Harrison represent the future of the organization. They have the reins. The eventual successes or failures of the Mavericks aren’t their burden alone, however. At the end of the day, it’s Cuban who calls the shots and signs the checks. In 21 years of ownership, hiring Kidd and Harrison might be the biggest risks he’s taken.
“[This is] the first time I’ve hired a general manager, one of the few times I’ve hired a coach,” Cuban said. “So, it’s an exciting time and I think this is really going to be a great start to a new chapter.”