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

Mavericks pick Josh Green in 2020 NBA Draft

BRISTOL, CT - NOVEMBER 18: NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver reacts to the number eighteen overall pick, Josh Green, for the Dallas Mavericks during the 2020 NBA Draft on November 18, 2020 in Bristol, Connecticut at ESPN Headquarters. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

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.