DALLAS - It was our view, in the wake of the shove-out of GM Donnie Nelson and the jump-out of coach Rick Carlisle, that owner Mark Cuban's directive to himself must be two-fold. First, hire the right people to take the Mavs forward. Second, sit back and let them do the job.
Nope. And Nope.
Our friend Marc Stein reports that Dallas will not be pursuing the likes of Masai Ujiri or Danny Ainge, two highly-credentialed (and available) NBA GMs. Rather, as Stein suggests, in part because "those executives would surely want more autonomy than Cuban is willing to cede,'' in-house candidate Michael Finley is the likely next GM. (And, we'd add, in-house candidate Jamahl Mosley is the likely next coach).
This is not an indictment of Finley. Or of Mosley. Are they the best candidates on the planet? No - and again, that's no indictment. Heck, we're not even fully indicting the owner here. Cuban has done incredible things for the Mavericks. When he took over the team he bought it from someone who didn’t care about the basketball and only cared about the real estate around the basketball. The first time I walked into the home locker room after the sale, after Cuban had directed the locker room be remodeled, it was a sight. It had gone from blah to wood-grain lockers, plush office chairs and flat-screen TVs so players like Eduardo Najera could interrupt us during a post-game interview as his Oklahoma Sooners won a national championship (true story).
Back then, it was revolutionary to cater to players like that. These days, it’s standard practice. Cuban has always relished his role as a disruptor, no matter the business.
But, given the past few days, did his thirst for disruption and being on the cutting edge cost him his basketball man of 24 years? And now his coach of a dozen years? And now ... a decision that is about more "thirst''?
Cuban, Stein writes, "will always be the organization's lead shot-caller and prefers to render the final say after consulting top aides.''
Stein politely makes it sound sort of smooth. And hey, all organizations get dysfunctional at times, even the ‘Triangle of Trust’ that the Mavs had between Cuban, Nelson and Carlisle. In those dysfunctions, if they’re not resolved, someone always loses. And, guess what? It’s never the owner. It’s usually the guy that ‘buys the groceries,’ as Bill Parcells liked to say.
But Cuban now seems prepared to buy the groceries. And to cook and serve and consume them.
Can the Carlisle and Nelson replacements cook, too? That all comes down to how involved Cuban wants to be. And it seems, per Stein's report, that he wants the authority to generate from his bunker.
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We have two ‘jocks-to-socks’ owners in this town. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is the other. They have plenty in common. Billionaires. Past glory. Past mistakes. But Cuban is doing something we’ve been asking Jones to do for years — change out the general manager. It’s a novel concept Cowboys fans probably aren’t familiar with.
Should it be Finley? Well, is he better than Toronto's Ujiri, who built the Raptors’ championship team a couple of years ago? Did Cuban's ‘search firm’ recommend Fin over Ujiri?
Think about that one.
We believe that Cuban had a chance here to set clear boundaries and responsibilities, not for Nelson’s and Carlisle's replacements, but for himself and the rest of the front office - and that this decision is purposely opting to pass on that opportunity ... an opportunity to clear up and end the dysfunction.
A new boss. A new voice. People do the job with minimal interference. Let the new hire bring in his own staff. His own coach. Perhaps hire an analytics director that didn’t make his bones as a gambler and has actual NBA experience?
A new GM should have the chance to create that path, with Cuban’s blessing.
Cuban is at a crossroads as an NBA owner. He has a top-five player in Doncic. He has the desire to win more titles. He doesn’t want to repeat the same mistakes of squandering Nowitzki’s prime, which led to just one title and two Finals appearances.
Parting ways with his "Triangle of Trust'' partners might be the best place to start, as much as it hurts. The next step is to hire the right people for the job.
But instead, Cuban seems to have come up with a new Twist on Trust: Mark is who is trusted by Mark. So Mark is the "shadow GM.''