Mavericks respond, say Nelson lawsuit part of “lengthy scheme to extort” organization

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Donnie Nelson — who spent 24 years in the Mavericks organization in various front office positions, including president of basketball operations — has sued the team alleging he was fired by owner Mark Cuban in retaliation for reporting Cuban’s chief of staff Jason Lutin sexually harassed and assaulted Nelson’s nephew back in 2020.

The Mavericks denied the claims and their legal response went further, accusing Nelson of trying to basically blackmail the organization. From Don Van Natta Jr. of ESPN:

The Dallas Mavericks responded Friday to a wrongful termination suit by Donnie Nelson, accusing the former longtime general manager of a “lengthy scheme to extort as much as $100 million” and saying the lawsuit was preceded by demands that he receive “in effect, a blackmail payment” in exchange for his promise not to expose the sexual orientation of owner Mark Cuban’s chief of staff or make other claims to embarrass the team…

In Friday’s court filing, the team alleged that Nelson approached Cuban in August 2020 and said he “knew of purported scandalous allegations from a family member that he could ‘make go away’ in exchange for a long-term employment contract that he had long desired.”

“Defendants’ representatives told Nelson that if an ‘assault’ had occurred, then Nelson should immediately contact the authorities,” the response states. “Contrary to the statements in his Petition now, Nelson assured Defendants that there had not been an ‘assault’ and, to Defendants’ knowledge, neither Nelson nor anyone else ever contacted the authorities as the Defendants had suggested. However, Nelson stressed that if the allegation became public, it would cause embarrassment for a team that had just recently dealt with unrelated claims of sexual misconduct and implied it would ‘out’ the Mavericks executive’s sexual orientation.”

Nelson’s attorney denied the extortion claim, saying the club still employed him for 10 more months and reported nothing to the police. Nelson’s lawsuit alleged Cuban offered Nelson $52 million to withdraw the lawsuit and sign a confidentiality agreement.

Much of the dispute centers around discussion in 2020 of a contract extension for Nelson. In his lawsuit, Nelson claims after he came forward with concerns about Lutin, Cuban withdrew a 10-year, $66 million contract offer as retaliation. The Mavericks’ legal response said that Nelson rejected that offer.

“While Nelson’s Petition bizarrely claims that he was retaliated against by Defendants pulling the proposed employment contract, the indisputable fact is that Nelson rejected it,” the response says.

In their legal response, the Mavericks said Nelson was fired primarily for job performance reasons. He had focused more on outside business interests near the end of his tenure and had not complied with NBA regulations and team policies. The Mavericks’ legal filing also said the team had hired an “outside law firm to investigate [the claims against Lutin at the time] and also informed the NBA.” It says the investigation was completed to the satisfaction of Nelson’s nephew.

Mavericks center Dwight Powell released a statement supporting Lutin.

In 2018, the Mavericks were revealed to have a predatory work environment, and in the wake of that made numerous changes to both personnel and practices in the organization. The league investigation of that situation continued until last year.