The Dallas Mavericks are 14-13, seventh in the Western Conference and off to a slow start following a tumultuous offseason. The front office was shaken up, with longtime GM Donnie Nelson and quantitative research director Haralabos Voulgaris let go. Rick Carlisle, who had been head coach for 13 seasons, elected not to return.
At the heart of all of it is the Mavericks’ preternatural star Luka Doncic.
According to an ESPN story Doncic and Carlisle’s relationship turned sour over the way Carlisle treated other players, including Dennis Smith Jr.
“It wasn’t really about how Rick treated Luka,” a Mavs player on the 2018-19 team said. “Luka hated how Rick treated other people.”
It was reported that Doncic also had issues with Voulgaris.
The latter was hired as director of quantitative research after a very successful period as a sports gambler, primarily betting on the NBA. Mavericks team governor Mark Cuban hired Voulgaris because he liked his approach to basketball decision-making and player evaluation.
Doncic’s friction with Voulgaris was highlighted by an incident during a game last season. Voulgaris was in a seat across from the Mavericks’ bench, and after a Doncic turnover he motioned downward with his hands, which Doncic interpreted as Voulgaris telling him to calm down. Doncic yelled back, “don’t fucking tell me to calm down”, as reported by The Athletic.
The Voulgaris relationship intersected with Doncic’s relationship with Carlisle. During that same season, Doncic questioned Carlisle’s authority mid game.
“Who’s in charge — you or Bob?” Doncic barked on his way back to the bench during an early-season game.
For the second year in a row Doncic reported to training camp at 260 pounds, that’s 30 pounds over his playing weight of 230. That’s not a direct correlation to wanting a coach fired. But it does signify a sentiment that Doncic knows he can do whatever he wants, as the franchise player.
A superstar with power in the NBA isn’t new. None of the alleged behavior exhibited by Doncic is out of the ordinary for a franchise player. What is strange is how Doncic has managed to avoid the criticism that usually follows.
Magic Johnson, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, James Harden and LeBron James, to name a few, have all either been outright labeled as coach killers or alluded to as such in the media.
To be fair, it hasn’t been reported that Doncic demanded Carlisle be let go. But did he have to? Carlisle likely saw the writing on the wall and made a preemptive move.
A little more than a quarter of the way through his fourth season in the NBA and Doncic has managed to avoid criticism by the national media by and large, save this season’s discussion of his weight. He’s put up excellent numbers and his play has been heralded far and wide, although it’s interesting to note Doncic’s heliocentric brand of offense is very similar to peak James Harden’s, but the latter’s style of play was often derided.
The Mavericks have made the playoffs the last two seasons led by Doncic, though they haven’t been able to advance past the first round. The superstar’s lack of help has been pointed to as a reason, though he does have a former All-Star in Kristaps Porzingis as a running mate.
New head coach Jason Kidd was hired and believed to be someone that could further unlock Doncic’s game and gifts, leading to more team success. Two super high basketball IQs mind-melding in a point guard language only they can understand.
For now, the Mavericks are Luka Doncic’s world and everyone else is just living it. How long will that last?
Time will tell.