clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Mavs Are Counting on Their Past to Mold the Future of the Luka Doncic Era

Dallas thought outside the box to fill its front-office void by hiring Nike exec Nico Harrison, but bringing back 2011 title winner Jason Kidd to be the new head coach is hardly inspired

AP Images/Ringer illustration

The Dallas Mavericks aired out enough of their dirty laundry this month to prompt the exits of a lead executive who spent 24 years with the team and a long-tenured head coach who helped bring the franchise its one and only NBA title. What happened was more than a political game or a juicy bit of palace intrigue; it was a critical development in the structure around one of the NBA’s best players, which makes it a basketball story through and through. Whatever happens to the Mavericks happens, by extension, to Luka Doncic. They are the stewards of his promising and already decorated career, unless Doncic someday decides otherwise.

The burden of building around a genuine, top-shelf superstar is the pressure to get every decision right. If the Pacers hire the wrong coach, they can fire them after a single season, replace them with Rick Carlisle (the aforementioned ex-coach of the Mavericks), and move on. If the Thunder have a quiet offseason, no big deal; there’s time and draft picks yet for OKC to further its rebuild. But if the Mavericks botch a trade or misuse their cap space, that could be all the difference between Doncic having a genuine shot at a title and suffering another first-round exit. Teams with a generational talent just don’t have the luxury of miscalculation.

It’s under that sort of pressure that Dallas now closes in on two pivotal hires, according to ESPN.com: first to bring in well-connected Nike exec Nico Harrison to run the team’s basketball operations, and then to install Lakers assistant and Hall of Fame point guard Jason Kidd as its new head coach. The Mavericks are hardly the first NBA team to court Harrison, whose role in scouting talent and managing the profiles of superstar athletes at Nike bears more than a passing resemblance to some of the work of a modern general manager. A fresh, outside perspective could be a boon to an organization that had been run for decades by the same small circle of decision-makers, and an established relationship with Doncic—who signed with Nike’s Jordan Brand in 2019—surely didn’t hurt, either.


Yet if bringing in Harrison from an intersecting industry reflects the more open-minded instincts guiding the Mavericks, installing Kidd speaks to their bewildering opposite. It’s not the hiring of a coach so much as a nod at history—a callback to the 2011 championship team that Kidd led as a veteran point guard, one that overlooks his noisy, mixed-at-best record coaching his own teams in Brooklyn and Milwaukee since. Advocates for Kidd included former teammate Dirk Nowitzki, who recently came back into the fold as a special adviser, and former Maverick Michael Finley, who is expected to remain in the front office. The problem with reaching for a symbol of the franchise’s glory days is how oblivious it seems to the moment at hand. A team that just went through a well-publicized power struggle is turning to a coach who turned his first job on the NBA bench into an attempted coup, only to engineer his exit to another franchise after its failure. An organization that just spent the past few years assuring, insisting that the sexual harassment, domestic assault, and misconduct in its workplace and by team employees had been addressed at an institutional level is now hiring a man who pled guilty in 2001 to the abuse of his then-wife, who later detailed a history of “perpetual physical and emotional abuse” in a lawsuit against him.

With so little room for error, this was the inspired choice? This was the coach who inspired the Mavericks to fast-forward through their interview process, even at the expense of their own qualified candidates? This was the person they wanted to represent their franchise, and to guide it at one of the most crucial points in its history?

Kidd has a reputation as a demanding and rigid coach, though without the winning record to show for it. A few weeks before he was fired from his last head-coaching job, with the Bucks, Kidd blamed his team’s struggles on the youth of its roster. “I think when you, you know, become 25 or, you know, in the 28 range, you tend to think about the game,” he said. “We’re talking about kids that are thinking about trying to put the ball in the basket.” The following season, those same kids won 60 games and went to the Eastern Conference finals under Mike Budenholzer.

Doncic, for reference, is 22 years old, and a pushy 22 at that. He challenged Carlisle, just as Kidd had a decade before him, only more theatrically; Luka coming into a timeout yelling at his coach eventually became a standard part of the Mavericks’ in-arena experience. Carlisle was always effusive in his praise of Doncic, as he often was of Kidd. Their basketball genius is undeniable—and could be a point of connection between them. Yet Carlisle, ever sardonic, might not have had the extrasensory playmaking of the two guards in mind when, in speaking with ESPN.com’s Tim MacMahon, he endorsed Kidd as Doncic’s next head coach “because he and Luka have so many things in common as players.”

Somehow, Kidd’s hiring doesn’t feel like it came out of good process, good ethics, or even good basketball. If it isn’t rooted entirely in 2011 nostalgia, any decision to bring Kidd back to coach would have to stem from the idea that he could evolve beyond what he showed in his past two attempts to do this very job. His previous stints were not without vision, whether it showed in the way he opened up Giannis Antetokounmpo’s game by playing him at point guard or how he maximized certain role players by using them as other coaches wouldn’t. Yet taken in full, even those feel small, like flashes against the backdrop of a less inspiring body of work—bits of good tactics when the Mavericks, in all their organizational disquiet, need so much more.