The Dallas Mavericks are a little over a month into the 2021-22 season, and things appear to be looking upward.
Over the offseason, owner Mark Cuban hired Jason Kidd as his new head coach and Nico Harrison as his new general manager. And so far, the Mavs are hovering near the top four in the always-tough Western Conference standings.
But Cuban isn’t putting too much stock in the standings as of yet.
“It’s too early on in the standings, because other than Golden State and Phoenix, everybody else is kind of battling it out,” he said. “But again, it’s still early — a lot of things can change.
“I really, really, really like the fact that each game is part of the development process. Between Nico and J-Kidd, they really set standards and goals for each of the players and put together a program that I think gets us there. That’s how I access what we’re doing.”
The Mavs enter Monday’s game against Cleveland with a 10-8 record.
Cuban said: “Are we making progress for the end goal as opposed to, ‘OK, why did we do this in one game, but why did we do that in another game?’
“It’s, ‘OK, how does how we use this guy or why we did this or that? How does that make us better?’ That’s really been our focus.”
Cuban recently sat down with reporters and answered a wide-range of probing questions about the Mavs, social justice, Dirk Nowitzki, TikTok, the new basketball, etc.
Question: What do you like about your team and the way they have looked so far?
Cuban: We’re OK. We haven’t played our best basketball yet. We’ve got a long ways to go, but we’re getting better. I like that J-Kidd is working to develop us into the best team that we can be, which sometimes means you’re not always fighting for the short term, which is what we agreed on and what he wants to do, because at the end of the day the goal is moving forward in the playoffs. There are things that on the surface seem like, ‘Why did we do this in this game at this point?’ And there’s a longer term meaning for it. He’s invested in the team to make it as good as we can be, and to that end we haven’t played our best basketball. And we will at some point. To be (10-8) and not having played our best basketball, that’s a win.
Cuban: Moses is a beast. Moses has got all the skill sets. He’s just got to get a little bit more fluid and comfortable in different circumstances. He just hasn’t seen a lot of the things that we do yet, and so as he gets more comfortable he’ll be in a position to get more playing time.
Question: You mentioned the player-first approach. It’s been very positive the way Jason talks about the team. In the context of what you can control, what makes that the right time to moving a player up in the rotation and getting them more playing time.
Cuban: Players are different today. You go back five years, it’s a different beast. My oldest daughter is 18 and going on 45, and young kids – the Josh (Green), Frank (Ntilikina) – are more like her than they were like Dirk (Nowitzki, or even Boban (Marjanovic) at (age) 33. You guys see it. It’s different. When you talk about what Jason’s doing with player counsel and all that, that’s really trying to be proactive to recognize things. You don’t communicate and teach and push the players today – the younger players — like you did five years ago. You’ve got to be adaptive. Just like in my companies, we have to be adaptive to how we deal with Gen Z. It’s just different. And so that difference is, I think, why you’re seeing what you’re seeing.
Cuban: His confidence is growing, and how he’s fitting into the team, how he’s being used, the leeway that he has. But like I said, kids today are different and you’ve got to interact with them differently. They’re going to make some mistakes, but they’ll learn and they’re going to grow just like all of our guys do. But KP has really been able to use and take his approach to really build his confidence, and you see it. When guys have confidence and when they feel like they’re able to be themselves, they play harder. When KP admitted his legs were gone the other night, that’s a big step for any player, let along KP. He’s saying, ‘You know what, I’m taking full responsibility.’ Again, I think J-Kidd deserves a lot of that credit, and you just see it. This is the Unicorn and he’s doing more and more Unicorn things. We got hurt a little bit when our preseason was kind of weird. We were blowing teams out and we didn’t quite get the conditioning, and J-Kidd has been focusing on that recently for all our guys, so we’re starting to see better performances in the fourth quarter than we saw before and I think we’re getting better and better in the fourth quarter. Going back to the KP question, I think he’s comfortable and I think with that comfort it’s got him playing at an All-Star level.
Question: With the different injuries Porzingis has had, how tough was it for him to navigate through that?
Cuban: It’s hard for anybody. There’s nobody who gets hurt that doesn’t have it in the back of their mind. I don’t care what you do. If you’ve gotten sick and you feel something hurting a little bit, you’re wondering are you sick again. When you’re playing in the NBA where it’s so fast and so athletic and so physical – especially this year so physical – that you just have to work through it, and I think KP has proven, game-by-game, and has worked through it. I think KP can be even better.
Question: What’s your opinion of what KP and Luka have been able to do as a tandem this year?
Cuban: It’s chemistry. I think the whole team chemistry is great. The dynamics are different than last year. Like I said earlier, communicating with players is different now, and I think Nico and J-Kidd, they get in there and they’re fortunate. They get a fresh start. They get to define their relationship based off of how it starts as opposed to how things have changed over the decades.
Question: Your practice facility is currently undergoing a transformation. When will it be completed?
Cuban: When the brewery company moved out, that added 60,000 square feet or something. We should have most of it done by the All-Star break.
Question: Since you bought the Mavs on Jan. 4, 2000, what have you learned about organizational structure?
Cuban: There’s business organizational structure and there’s players. It’s a player-driven league. On the basketball side it’s a player-driven league and you will have to adapt your structure to the players.
Question: What does that adaptation look like now as opposed to five years ago?
Cuban: Nico and J-Kidd. Like I said, they get to come in with a fresh start. Having Josh Green, who just turned 21. Luka, Frank is 21 or 22. This has been different. When I first came here there was a playbook. Del Harris would hand you a playbook. There are no kids today reading anything. I don’t care what it is. But you put it in a video? We’re talking about doing plays in an app where you just scroll through like a TikTok video. It’s no different than my 12-year old, my 15-year old and my 18-year-old. If I want to know what news is happening in the world, I ask them what happened on TikTok because that’s how they get everything. Why are the kids coming to play in the NBA any different than our kids? It’s the exact same thing. One of the beauties of the NBA is that we are a player-driven league. The NFL’s about the shield, Major League Baseball is 25 guys. Here (in the NBA), because 2K is so popular and we’re so popular on social media, we are a player-driven league, and the players know it. The kids now, when someone comes into the league, they have a social media following. They’re already a brand. When you see the game ends and guys go to the locker room, the “likes” and the “posts” start immediately. An interesting stat would be the delta in time between the completion of the game between the 15-17 guys and the time that they make a “post” or a “like” or anything. It’s shocking how short a time period, and three years ago that never would be a consideration. Looking at your phone at halftime five years ago would have been a ‘hell no.’ But nobody even has their phone out while the coaches are talking That’s what matters.
Question: How would you describe Nico?
Cuban: It’s intense, but he knows it’s not about Nico. He’s been through it — he knows how to communicate. He’s managed hundreds of people. It worked with Nike in a results- and people-driven organization for 20 years. So this isn’t new for him to do these things. And he’s a learner. To me that’s always the most important part. Can he deal with the people, can you get results, and are you a learner? He’s a learner. He’s a sponge and is always open to things, so I’m happy with what’s been going on.
Question: How is Kristi Toliver doing as one of your assistant coaches, and what does it mean to have a WNBA player on your staff?
Cuban: I love Kristi. It just means she’s great at basketball. Gender doesn’t matter. She’s just really good at her job, and the guys love her. She knows how to play. She can get out there and give advice. She knows how to convey advice from J-Kidd and she’s got a rapport. Whether you played in the WNBA or the NBA, people respect your game. With her success, they not only respect her game, they respect the impact she had on the game. She’s great at basketball and she’s a good coach, so we’re thrilled to have her.
Question: Do you feel like since George Floyd death, when players wanted the NBA owners to help them forward the message, do you feel like other owners are doing enough in regards to social justice?
Cuban: I haven’t paid attention to what other owners do, but it’s important to me. But everybody has to make their own choices. Honestly, the NBA as an organization, it’s important to us. Anything that happens in this country is important to us. So, we try to pay attention to it.
Cuban: It’s never enough. If you have to ask the question, it’s never enough. You’ve seen the programs the Mavs have put together. It’s continuous – it’s not something we think is over. I always tell (Mavericks CEO) Cynt (Marshall) when an issue is front and center in the media and everybody does something, it’s what you do when the media dies down that matters. So we’ve really tried to stay consistent and been impactful.
Question: The Mavs are retiring Dirk Nowitzki’s jersey No. 41 on Jan. 5. What do you think that night will be like?
Cuban: I love Dirk to death. I’m thrilled for him. Every award he gets is awesome. We’re not going to have a statue unveiling or anything like that. We might tease what it looks like, but it’s pretty obvious what it’s going to look like. We’re going to have some special NFT’s made.
Question: How did you decide that Jan. 5 would be the date to retire Dirk’s jersey?
Cuban: I didn’t. They checked to see when Dirk could make it and all the people he wanted to show up could make it, and it was Jan. 5.
Question: How exciting are you for that day?
Cuban: I’m probably excited to get it over with, because (Nowitzki) bothers the (bleep) out of me about it. (Laughter).
Cuban: I think he’s getting a little bit antsy. But I can tell you this – I’ll break you one piece of news. Dirk has an office in the new practice facility.
Question: How’s he going to use that office?
Cuban: We haven’t built it yet. It’s going to be built. But it’s up to him like it always is.
Question: What do you think of businesses that require you to show if you’ve been vaccination?
Cuban: I’m fine with it, obviously. For me, it doesn’t take a lot to get vaccinated. It’s just the path to least resistance with people’s health. I understand why people have made it an issue about other things. But I don’t have any problem with having it. I got it. It’s with my phone. It’s really, really easy. It’s not intrusive to me at all.
Cuban: Here’s my attitude on the new ball. I think there is a difference. I think if you look at the Spalding ball (previously used in the NBA) and this (Wilson) ball, the grooves are different. The grooves affect the rotation, and affects the aerodynamics of it, and it’s not that it’s right or wrong. It’s just that it’s going to impact different shooters differently. The higher the arc, the more likely you are to benefit, and the lower the arc, the less likely you are to benefit. It might work against you. There are some guys that grew up and have been in the league long enough that when you get that Spalding ball you feel for the grooves, and the depth of the grooves (on the Wilson basketball are) not there. And so guys are still trying to adjust to that. It’s not right or wrong. It’s just that when people talk about the ball being different, it’s not an excuse. It’s a reality. Guys are going to have to adjust. But they’re pros, so they will adjust.
Question: So, why did the NBA change basketballs? Was it a money deal?
Cuban: I’m sure it was a money deal. I don’t know the exact deal. It’s all good. The players get 51 percent. It’s not bad (for the players). So why didn’t (Wilson) do it the same (as Spalding)? I have no idea.