Haralabos Voulgaris: Mavericks GM Donnie Nelson got upset, disappeared during 2020 draft

Mavericks pick Josh Green in 2020 NBA Draft
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Since-departed Mavericks executives Donnie Nelson (who held the title of general manager) and Haralabos Voulgaris (who might have had more power) clearly had issues with each other.

Those came to a head during the 2020 draft, when Dallas picked Josh Green No. 18 and Tyrell Terry No. 31.

Prior reporting around that Mavericks draft focused on Voulgaris not including scouts in decision-making. Some scouts reportedly preferred Saddiq Bey in the first round.

Hindsight has not reflected favorably on Voulgaris. Bey, who went to the Pistons one spot after Green, made the All-Rookie first team. Terry has already gotten cut.

But Voulgaris shares a different version of draft day, one where Nelson is the primary villain.

Voulgaris on ESPN Daily:

The focus of the draft, for me, was to trade up to get Tyrese Haliburton. That was the focus of the draft. I’m not operating the phones. So, I’m trying to impress upon Mark this the guy we need. Can we make this happen? What can we do? Donnie went up to his room, office, because his office was separate from everything. I’m assuming work the phones.

At this point … already know who everyone likes, who all the scouts like. And you also know who they think they other teams like.

So, the idea that I didn’t consult anyone – first of all, I didn’t know I was going to be running the draft. I don’t think it was anyone’s plan for me to be running the draft. But when it came time to pick 18, the general manager of the team wasn’t around.

Where was Nelson? Voulgaris:

I don’t know. He got very upset that I was there and that it looked like I was getting more attention from whoever, the owner, whoever, I don’t know. I think said to me, “Why aren’t you GM of the team? Why aren’t you already GM of the team?” And I just bit my tongue. But if I was 25-years-old version of me, the one everyone thinks I am, super arrogant, I probably would have said, “Because my dad was a degenerate gambler, and your dad was f***ing GM. That’s the reason why we’re not – in different spots.” But I didn’t say that. I just bit my tongue.

I don’t know. It was just a weird day.

By the way, I had a lot of empathy for this guy too [Nelson].

There wasn’t a lot of communication as to what was happening. And he’s trying to run the draft, and it was just kind of – look, these are stressful, regardless.

This is a massive indictment of Nelson. If he were supposed to run the draft and went AWOL because he got upset, how the heck did he last another season on the job? That’s a nearly unforgivable offense for a general manager.

For what it’s worth, Mavericks owner Cuban has a history of showing too much loyalty to select employees.

Perhaps, Nelson has a different explanation for draft day. As Voulgaris detailed in the podcast – which I highly recommend listening to in full – he and Nelson communicated infrequently. Nelson could have been busy negotiating trades – maybe even to help Dallas get Voulgaris’ preferred target, Haliburton, who went No. 12 to the Kings. If the problem were merely Voulgaris not understanding his own or Nelson’s draft-night responsibilities, that’d fall on Cuban.

But this is presented in a way that makes Nelson look culpable.

Throughout the podcast, Voulgaris sounds like he wanted to be more respected within the organization. He wanted coaches to assure Luka Doncic that slights were only perceived, not real. Voulgaris wanted Nelson to value him more highly.

Yet, Voulgaris didn’t go out of his way to make those scouts feel included. Was that necessary? Maybe not in terms making the actual picks. But a feeling of chasing a shared goal can go a long way.

Voulgaris certainly wasn’t kind in bringing up nepotism. Nelson is the son of former Mavericks general manager/coach Don Nelson. Voulgaris doesn’t get much credit for biting his tongue when he publicly shares his could’ve-said retort on a podcast later.

To be fair, Voulgaris also expresses empathy for Nelson. Whatever other problems existed, Dallas’ power structure had a flawed design.

Which, like many of the Mavericks’ issues, ultimately falls on Cuban.

PBT Podcast: Golden State Warriors season preview

2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics
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The Golden State Warriors will enter the season hanging banner number four from this era and passing out their championship rings, but this is a team with more questions than most returning champs.

Otto Porter and Gary Payton II are gone and their minutes will go to a young core — Jordan Poole, Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga, James Wiseman — who are going to be asked to carry a larger load. Particularly during the regular season.

Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area joins Kurt Helin of NBC Sports to break down this coming Warriors season, what to expect, and if the young core can get the older vets to the playoffs rested and ready to defend their title. There’s also talk of what comes next in Golden State, as some hard contract choices are coming in the next few years.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Khris Middleton says he will miss start of season following wrist surgery

Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics - Game Two
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When Khris Middleton first went under the knife this summer to clean up issues with his left wrist, he expected to return in time for the start of the season.

At Bucks media day Sunday, Middleton said he’s not going to make that opening night goal but should be back early in the season, as reported by Jamal Collier of ESPN.

The Bucks open the season on the road Oct. 18 against the Celtics (who have their own set of issues heading into this year).

Middleton’s importance to the Bucks was evident in the playoffs, when not having him as a secondary shot creator was a key aspect of their seven-game loss to the Celtics.

Middleton averaged 20.1 points and 5.4 rebounds a game last season. A healthy Bucks team — with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Middleton, and Jrue Holiday as the core — enter the season as serious title contenders. But they need Middleton, so they will not rush him back.

Zion, Nash, Davis: Seven players, coaches who enter NBA season under pressure

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Every NBA season comes with pressure — the pressure to win, the pressure of fan emotions and expectations, and for players the pressure that this is their livelihood. There is real pressure to stick in the NBA and earn that handsome paycheck.

But some players and coaches enter this season under more pressure than others.

Here are seven players and coaches who are under added pressure this season.

Anthony Davis

“This is not going to work without AD. No disrespect to Bron, no disrespect to Russ. They’re going to be who they are… but AD, having AD available…. it’s going to be invaluable. He’s the centerpiece to that championship table we’re trying to build.”

That was new Lakers coach Darvin Ham talking about Anthony Davis — the lynchpin to everything Ham hopes to do in Los Angeles. As he said, LeBron James will be LeBron (read: elite, even at age 37), and Russell Westbrook will be Russell Westbrook (he’s saying all the right things, but…), but if the Lakers are going to be any threat in the West it starts with Davis. Ham needs the Davis from the bubble — healthy, elite defender, playmaker, solid midrange jump shot — because he plans to run the offense through AD.

More than just this season, the Lakers have to come to a decision: Is Davis the No.1 option they can turn the franchise over to after LeBron steps away? Can he physically carry that burden and not break down? Davis can be one of the game’s elites, but is he ready to carry the Lakers franchise? Their future direction depends on that answer.

Zion Williamson

The acquisition of CJ McCollum last season helped bring the Pelicans together. They made a push into the playoffs with a solid core of McCollum, Brandon Ingram, Herbert Jones, Jonas Valanciunas, Larry Nance, Devonte' Graham and others. Watching New Orleans you couldn’t help but think, “If Zion Williamson were healthy…”

Now we get to find out. Williamson is reportedly in the best shape of his life (take all offseason conditioning comments with a shaker of salt) and ready to resume his role as a No.1 offensive option and maybe the best interior scorer in the game. The pressure of getting paid is off Williamson — he got his max extension — but the pressure of living up to it is just starting.

Steve Nash

When your star player says “him or me” during the offseason — even if that ultimatum gets rescinded — you enter the season under a microscope. Nash would have been getting a close look even if Kevin Durant didn’t drag his name into his offseason drama — there are plenty of front office people around the league not convinced Nash is up to the task in Brooklyn. There is enormous pressure on this team to get things right — to avoid a meltdown — and if things go at all sideways in Brooklyn Nash will be the fall guy. His seat is already warm.

Kyrie Irving

While we’re in Brooklyn… Ben Simmons is the logical first name to pop into your head when thinking of players under pressure with the Nets — and with good reason. We haven’t seen him on an NBA court in over a year and his play and fit are critical to the Nets’ hopes of contending. But there is another player who faces real contract pressure in Brooklyn.

Kyrie Irving wanted a trade out of Brooklyn this summer, the Nets said “go ahead and find one,” and Irving found his market was not nearly as deep and strong as he expected (the Lakers were interested, and he reportedly was interested in them, but any trade would have involved Russell Westbrook and got too tricky). Irving is in a contract year now and there is pressure on him to remind everyone that, when focused and committed, he is an All-NBA point guard and game changer. But will he stay focused and committed this season?

Tom Thibodeau

Knicks president Leon Rose came out this week in a softball-filled interview on MSG Network and backed his coach. When asked if Thibodeau was under pressure, Rose said, “I don’t see it that way at all. The way I say it is we’re continuing with the plan.” Nothing went according to plan with the Knicks last season. While not all of that was Thibodeau’s fault — he didn’t cause Julius Randle‘s shooting regression — if things get off to another slow start after spending money on Jalen Brunson this summer, somebody is going to have to pay the price. Thibodeau’s job may not be as secure as Rose tries to paint.

James Harden

James Harden is positioned to have a monster regular season. He’s asked to be more of a playmaker, get the ball to MVP candidate Joel Embiid, put Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris in positions to thrive, and score a few points in there as well. Harden could be poised for an All-NBA level regular season — and then the playoffs start. That’s where the pressure is. Harden’s long history of playoff foibles (including some flat outings against the Heat last year) will be under a microscope this season because Daryl Morey has built a team of solid role players — this team is good enough. It’s up to Harden (and Embiid) to prove he can also be an elite player in the postseason.

Kawhi Leonard

Steve Ballmer has paid an enormous… well, it’s chump change to him, but it’s still an enormous amount of money to turn the Clippers from league laughing stock into a respected franchise (sorry, it’s true Lakers fans). These Clippers are contenders. But that title contention rests on the shoulders of Kawhi Leonard. He has to both be healthy and play like the guy who helped lift the Raptors to a title. If Leonard and Paul George are healthy and playing like their All-NBA selves come the postseason the Clippers are a massive threat — two-way wings win playoff series and the Clippers would have two of them. It’s just on Leonard (and Paul) to be that guy.

Westbrook says he’s ‘all-in on whatever it takes for this team to win’

Boston Celtics v Los Angeles Lakers
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Welcome to NBA media day, when optimism overflows and everyone swears there are no chemistry problems, no fit questions, it’s all puppies and rainbows with their team.

The night before Lakers media day, Russell Westbrook got a head start on saying the right thing in an interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Trade? Not worried about it. Fit? Not going to be a problem. Everyone is good now if you ask Westbrook, and he was in trade talks all summer is irrelevant.

“I need to just do my job. Whether I’m wanted [by the Lakers] or not doesn’t really matter. I think the most important thing is that I show up for work and I do the job like I’ve always done it: Be professional and go out and play my ass off and compete…

Maybe [he is] as a starter or maybe it’s off the bench. “I’m all-in on whatever it takes for this team to win,” Westbrook said. “I’m prepared for whatever comes my way.”

Words are nice, but actions are what will matter. Westbrook reportedly said all the right things to LeBron James and Anthony Davis a year ago before getting traded to the team, but his not wanting to play a role and fit in was a big issue. Westbrook swears it won’t be this time, whatever Ham wants Westbrook will execute.

“There’s so much optimism on how we can be great, how AD, LeBron, myself — can be unstoppable in my opinion,” Westbrook said.

That’s optimism. Even if Westbrook fits in, Davis stays healthy all season, and LeBron continues to defy father time, these Lakers are not title contenders. A playoff team for sure, but not contenders.

These Lakers will face adversity — maybe early, Los Angeles has a rough first couple of weeks — and how the Lakers, under new coach Darvin Ham, respond to those challenges will define their season. Last season’s response from the Lakers was… not good. They rolled over. Ham has promised not to let that happen, but there will be things out of his control.

Last season Westbrook was one of those things for Frank Vogel, we’ll see how he responds this season.