Whether you’re at the end of your coffee, your day, your week or even your rope, welcome to Whitt’s End 6.18.21 …
*Dark Days? We've had a few. Jason Kidd’s feud with Jim Jackson, which ended with him making an ultimatum for one of them to be traded.
Roy Tarpley playing in a 1995 game drunk, taking anther drug-addled dump on the multiple second chances given by owner Don Carter.
Drafting Samaki Walker over Kobe Bryant.
Scoring only two points – on Derek Harper free throws – in the third quarter of a game in 1997.
The 2006 NBA Finals.
Don Nelson vs. Mark Cuban, commencing over Dirk Nowitzki’s knee injury in the 2003 Western Conference Finals and winding up with a $7 million lawsuit in court in 2008.
Letting Steve Nash walk.
Blowing up the 2011 defending champs.
The 2018 “corrosive workplace” scandal.
There have been many dark days in the history of the Dallas Mavericks, but this week’s abrupt departures of general manager Donnie Nelson and then head coach Rick Carlisle are most reminiscent of May 20, 1987, when head coach Dick Motta – in the wake of a 55-27 season and first-round playoff loss – quit in a huff without explanation.
In response to his flirting with courtships from the Knicks and Clippers during the season, Motta read a terse statement and simply walked away.
Said Motta, “There never will be a job or position important enough in my lifetime to compromise my values or give up any part of my integrity. Friendship means never having to say you’re sorry.”
At least Motta got to say goodbye.
Nelson, who has been with the organization for 24 years, was summarily dismissed by the Mavs with a four-paragraph press release.
*You have two years left on a contract paying you $7 million per season. You have job security despite a decade of disappointing failure. You have generational superstar Luka Doncic in your lineup. You … quit?
Imagine the level of clusterf*ck inside the Mavs’ front office that would prompt Carlisle to leave his coziest of perches.
*There are obvious glaring differences – most notably, one was about credit for championships and the other about stability amidst mediocrity – but the Mavericks’ front-office implosion reminds of the Dallas Cowboys’ infamous 1994 Jerry-Jimmy divorce.
The Mavs’ version boasts one-third of the egos and one-half the championships.
The Texas Rangers’ had a similar tug-of-war in 2012, with ownership shockingly siding with Jon Daniels over Nolan Ryan.
*Nelson, out as Mavs’ GM. Daniels, out as Rangers’ GM. Cowboys’ fans who for decades have been screaming “the owner should fire the GM” must be pulling-their-hair-out envious.
*June 11, 2011: Mavs win their championship.
June 17, 2021: Mavs lose the architects of their championship.
*Cuban has always fancied himself as a pioneer, a cutting-edge innovator and a disruptor. But most recently he’s merely presided over an organization that’s epically dysfunctional.
First the 2018 sex-in-the-workplace scandal that led to him donating $10 million to various women’s organizations. And now – after a Clippers’ series in which he was uncharacteristically quiet-if-not-invisible – he loses his long-time GM and head coach within the span of 24 hours.
He also has to live with two emphatic statements that, upon further review, were blatantly wrong. After the Mavs were eliminated: “(Carlisle) isn’t going anywhere.” After a report surfaced about various team rifts: “Total bullsh*t.”
Oops, and double-oops.
*Yes, it’s messy. But this extreme makeover needed to happen. Ten seasons without winning a playoff series. And in all 10 seasons Dirk and/or Luka suited up. Regardless of what was going on behind the scenes, that is an inexcusable and abject failure.
*Shortly after Don Nelson arrived to resuscitate the Mavs in 1997, he was quick to tell anyone that would listen that his son, Donnie, was being groomed to be the eventual head coach of the team.
“Some day I’ll hand him the reins, and he’ll deserve it.”
*For the first time since February of 1997, the Mavericks are operating without a Nelson.
*Mavs will hire a GM before a head coach. That I get. Makes sense. What’s confounding is that they are hiring a search firm – Mike Forde’s “Sportsology” – to find their GM. There are 30 NBA teams. You’re telling me that’s too big of a pool of candidates for the Mavs to have a handle on without hiring a headhunter?
*GM candidates will include the Raptors’ Masai Ujiri and former Mavs’ All-Star Michael Finley. The list should include Keith Grant, who has only been with the organization since, oh, Day 1. The former equipment manager that started in 1980 has been Donnie’s right-hand man (and assistant general manager) since the late 1990s.
You know who shouldn’t get an interview? Dirk. No way he has the stones these days for that kind of grind.
*With free agency starting Aug. 6, the Mavs must move relatively quickly. Ujiri, whose contract as Raptors’ president is up, seems the sexiest choice. He built Toronto’s championship team with players such as Kawhi Leonard, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, all of whom are unrestricted free agents this summer.
*Regardless of who gets hired in title, if the Mavs are smart they’ve already hired their de facto GM. Goes by the name of Luka Doncic.
*It’s January of 2000 and I’m shooting hoops with Cuban in the expansive backyard of his sprawling mansion in North Dallas. As the newly-minted owner of the Mavs, between jumpers he’s weighing the pros and cons of retaining head coach Don Nelson.
“Rick Majerus is out there,” I offer. “Quirky. Innovative. Great people person. Players’ coach. Fun style for fans to watch.”
Retorted Cuban, “Why would I get rid of a guy and then hire one just like him?”
It wasn’t until five years later that he replaced loosey-goosey Nellie with buttoned-up Avery Johnson.
If I’m a betting man, the Mavs’ next coach will be another 180. More, shall we say, “flexible” than Carlisle.
*There are six NBA coaching openings and more teams to be eliminated this weekend. Carlisle seems a lock to nab one of them. But … why? I mean, the consensus narrative has always been that Carlisle is a “great, successful” coach. But ... his NBA coaching resume:
Seasons w/ a Hall of Famer (Reggie Miller, Dirk, Luka): 15
Trips to NBA Finals: 1
*On my scale of 1-10 of importance, the GM is a 10 and the coach a 3. Coaching in the NBA continues to be ridiculously overrated.
Rookie coach Steve Nash – who had never held a head coaching job at any level – has his Brooklyn Nets poised to win this year’s title. But it wouldn’t even be that rare of a feat, following the footsteps of recent first-year coaches to lift the trophy including Tyronn Lue, Steve Kerr and Nick Nurse. Frank Vogel led the Lakers to last year’s championship in his first year with the team. It is, and always will be, a players’ league.
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*It’s anyone’s guess as to Carlisle’s successor. Luka, for what it’s worth, would endorse current assistant Jamahl Mosley.
“He’s got the things that are needed for a head coach,” Doncic said after Mosley's one-game fill-in for a win over the Knicks this season. “He can be the head coach, for sure.”
Knowing Cuban’s relentless desire to generate positive buzz – and further bury the franchise’s 2018 black eye – don’trule out the Mavs hiring the first female head coach in the history of American major sports.
Becky Hammon, keep your phone charged.
*Never had the pleasure of meeting Haralabos “Bob” Voulgaris, a former professional gambler and the Mavs’ director of quantitative research and development since 2018. But he’s apparently brash and arrogant and intrusive and – along with producing “unique data insights” – is at the crux of the team’s front-office meltdown.
Luka, who reportedly is not a fan of Voulgaris’ heavy influence, yelled at Carlisle during a timeout of a game this season, “Who’s in charge, you or Bob?!”
In other words, Voulgaris is the spitting, feisty reincarnation of Frank Zaccanelli, put in charge of the Mavs as interim GM by new owner Ross Perot in 1996 and the man responsible for trading away Kidd.
*For Luka, who at age 14 was first scouted by Donnie, this upheaval likely isn’t reassuring.
“It was kind of tough to me,” said Doncic, who is in Slovenia training with the national team. “I really like Donnie. I’ve known him since I was a kid and he was the one that drafted me. It was tough for me seeing that, but I’m not the one making decisions there.”
Luka is learning the hard lesson that life in the NBA is just as much a business as a game.
Here’s hoping Cuban makes some right moves, first and foremost signing Doncic to a supermax contract worth $201.5 million over the next five years.
*Unreached potential be damned, Carlisle is the 2nd longest-tenured head coach in DFW sports history and belongs on our Mount Coachmore:
Tom Landry 29 years 2 championship
Rick Carlisle 13 years 1 championship
Ken Hitchcock 8 years 1 championship
Jimmy Johnson 5 years 2 championship
*Donnie’s legacy in Dallas is tricky. Is he the visionary who combed Europe to land Hall of Famers Dirk and Luka? Or is he the flop that repeatedly whiffed on draft picks and failed to sign elite free agents? Can he be both?
*With the recent departures of Carlisle, the Cowboys’ Jason Garrett and Jim Montgomery from the Dallas Stars, the Rangers’ Chris Woodward is suddenly the dean of DFW head coaches. He was hired Nov. 2, 2018.
*It’s official, the Cowboys are returning to California for 2021 training camp. Heads start knocking and pads begin rocking on July 22. Despite the ideal weather and star-studded spreading of America’s Team, it’s not great news.
The Cowboys are 0-for-Oxnard as far as a Super Bowl or, for that matter, even making an NFC Championship Game. They have summer camped in Oxnard 14 times since 2001, never even winning two playoff games in any of those seasons.
The only summer “homes” for Super Bowl teams were Thousand Oaks and Austin.
*Isiah Kiner-Falefa has a legit beef with not being among the Top 10 vote-getters at A.L. shortstop. Why? He’s first in hits and stolen bases, third in batting average and fourth in RBI among his competition. But when your team is already buried 17 games out of first place in its own division, the anonymity becomes quicksand. Only Ranger in the Top 10 at a position is outfielder Adolis Garcia.
*Keller High School’s Bryce Boneau was this week named Gatorade’s National Boys Soccer Player of the Year. See, all those kids scurrying around all those fields all over the Metroplex on all those Saturdaymornings eventually spawned a star. Boneau has signed to play at Notre Dame.
*March Madness, in June? Baseball’s College World Series starts this weekend without No. 1-ranked Arkansas, which was upset by North Carolina State. This will be the 21st consecutive year that college baseball’s overall No. 1 tournament seed won’t win the championship.
*Only three Mavs have made All-NBA 1st, 2nd or 3rd teams: Dirk (12 times), Luka and Nash (twiceeach).
*RANGERS RISK: We all think the Texas Rangers are going to be putrid this season. Our lil’ roundtable revealed predicted win totals of anywhere between 61 and 78, but no one thinks .500 is plausible. Let’s put our money where our mouth is. I’m going to bet a virtual $100 against the Rangers every game this season and, after six months and 162 games, see where I wind up. I’ll keep a running tab right there each Friday and come September I’ll (wink) disperse my profits to my most loyal readers. RECORD: 25-43TOTAL: +$417.
*My Dad is beating cancer. On Dec. 21, 2019, my 79-year-old pops played 18 holes of golf with his regular group at Cleburne Links Golf Course. Played well. Won a couple of bucks.
By Christmas at my house, however, he was complaining of extreme fatigue.
“Feels like my pockets are filled with wet sand,” he said.
He was abnormally cold, shivering under blankets. He was unusually sleepy, dozing during our family’s tradition of grazing and alternating between A Christmas Story and NBA hoops on TV.
On Dec. 31 he texted my brother and me, “Can’t wait for a better 2020!” Four days later he imploded, went to the hospital and was immediately transported to Fort Worth Huguley’s cancer ward.
“Leukemia,” the oncologist told us on Jan. 4. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it, you’re looking at a long, hard road.”
With that, I saw my dad cry for only the third time in my life (the others being the deaths of his parents).
“I thought I was ready,” he told about eight of us as he lay in the bed in the wake of the diagnosis. “But nothing prepares you for this.”
With only two hiccups where pity momentarily wrestled control of his persistence, he began to fight. Chemo via IV. Chemo via pills. Countless blood transfusions. Painful biopsies. Constant checking of his vitals. Learning about platelets and hemoglobin and plasma. Bland food. Bad TV. Good nurses. Sleepless nights recounting his life and contemplating his death. With his immune system compromised, only a few us could visit. When we did, we wore caps, gowns, gloves, masks, the works. We kept him positive, pinning a motivational carrot to his calendar.
“Father’s Day,” I told him throughout the cold, bleak winter, though privately uncertain about the goal. “By then we’ll be playing golf again.”
After the first round of chemo in late February 2020, he was allowed to go home. But two days later, his blood sugar mysteriously plummeted to a near diabetic-coma levels and he was rushed back to the hospital. A week later his heart suddenly fluttered out of control, and he was raced to ICU.
“Is this life-threatening?” I asked the doctor. “Most certainly,” he said grimly. “It’s serious. Touch and go.”
He turned 80 in the hospital in March 2020, a birthday he’ll never forget. But he survived. He persevered. He powered through another 28-day round of chemo, until the good levels – when admitted, approximately 76 percent of his cells were infected with Leukemia; by late March it was down to 8 percent – and the bad boogeyman known as COVID-19 prompted his premature release.
Once home, he couldn’t walk 10 feet from car to back door of his house, crumpling in the grass for 20 minutes. He used a walker. He had daily home healthcare nurse visits. To pass the time we watched the entire series of Breaking Bad and I tutored him on a new smartphone, both of which seemed to take the same amount of unfathomable time.
Not hour by hour or necessarily day by day, but week by week he felt better, got stronger. He walked farther to each weekly check-up at the hospital, which regularly unveiled continued improvement of his levels.
“Father’s Day,” I kept telling him.
In April 2020 he ditched the walker. He started helping me mow his yard. He tinkered with his car. Then drove it. In early May – without warning or fanfare – he went to his backyard and began chipping golf balls. He had a checkup that revealed infected cells of only 4 percent.
“You’re in remission,” the doctor crowed. I was wrong about “Father’s Day.” Dad was back on the course – shooting his age, no less – playing multiple times a week since mid-May.
He beat my goal. He beat cancer. Now, in 2021, he plays golf at least three times per week and goes to the hospital for – so far, so good – check-ups every six weeks. Happy Father’s Day, indeed.
*This Weekend? Friday is for playing golf down in my old stomping grounds, Thorntree Country Club in Desoto. Saturday is for completing the Spartan Stadion event at AT&T Stadium. Sunday is a visit to dear ol’ Dad on, duh, Father’s Day. As always, don’t be a stranger.