Appearing on the ESPN Daily podcast with Pablo Torre, former Mavericks executive Haralabos Voulgaris publicly addressed for the first time his exit from the franchise and reports of discord between him and longtime head of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, who also left the team this offseason.
A report from The Athletic in June stated that Voulgaris had either initiated or approved nearly all of the Mavs’ roster moves for the last two seasons and suggested his influence was virtually on par with Nelson’s. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who worked with Voulgaris in the past and brought him aboard in 2018 as the team’s director of quantitative research and development, disputed The Athletic’s portrayal of how much power the executive had. However, Voulgaris’ abrasive personality was reportedly a source of some tension in the front office and he was said to have a “strained” relationship with star guard Luka Doncic.
As Tim MacMahon of ESPN details, Voulgaris told Torre the Mavericks’ basketball operations department was a “very gossipy workplace” and likened the team’s dysfunction to “high school drama.” Although he denied some details from The Athletic’s report – including that he dictated lineups and rotations to then-coach Rick Carlisle – he didn’t challenge others.
Voulgaris told Torre that he came to believe Nelson “didn’t want me around,” adding that other people in the front office may have felt threatened by his close relationship with Cuban.
“I didn’t have a working relationship with other people in the front office at all, to the point where it was awkward,” Voulgaris said. “But that’s kind of the M.O. of the way that front office was run — like, surround yourself with people who are not threats. You don’t become an NBA general manager and hold on to your job for that long unless you are very, very good at keeping your job.
“… I think Mark had this idea that maybe we (Voulgaris and Nelson) could work together, the stuff that he’s good at I might be deficient at and vice versa,” Voulgaris continued. “(Nelson is) more of a, kind of like a wheeler-dealer, like when you shake his hands, you want to make sure your rings are still there. Not in a bad way, but he’s that guy. He’s a deal-maker. He’s a broker. My working relationship with Donnie Nelson was seeing him every once in a while and getting a fist bump. That was it. Whether it was a fist-bump text message or a fist bump in person, that was his thing. He was very nice and cordial to my face, (but) I think threatened by me.”
Voulgaris also confirmed The Athletic’s claim that his relationship with Doncic worsened after he left his courtside seat with the Mavericks down 10 points and under a minute left in a game in April. Doncic viewed it as a sign of Voulgaris quitting on the team, while the executive considered it a non-issue and was upset that others in the organization didn’t back him up at all.
“You have a great relationship with this player. Why are you not telling him that I didn’t quit on the team?” Voulgaris said, referring to one of the Mavs’ assistant coaches, possibly Jamahl Mosley. “I just went to my desk to look at something on my computer or got up because I normally get up. There are plenty of other instances of me getting up in the middle of the game. … It was such a non-event that I didn’t think it was a big deal, and the fact that it became a big deal led me to believe that this is just not worth it to me.”
Voulgaris wasn’t fired by the Mavs, and didn’t step down from his role either — his contract simply expired and the two sides didn’t work out a new deal. While the franchise may have been seeking a fresh start following the hiring of Nico Harrison to replace Nelson, Voulgaris made it clear that he also felt his time in Dallas had run its course.
“If I’m distracting that f—ing guy (Doncic), I don’t need to be around,” Voulgaris said. “Whatever the case may be, no matter how I see it, it doesn’t matter at the end of the day. He is the fulcrum of the team. So I was like, ‘Cool.’ Plus, I was trying to find a way out of this job to begin with.”