Getting the Dallas Mavericks to the next level in the NBA landscape is a bit more scientific than just stacking a few more All-Star players alongside point guard Luka Doncic and rolling them onto the court.
So said Nico Harrison, the Mavs’ general manager and president of basketball operations.
“I don’t think it’s just about having All-Stars,” Harrison said during Friday’s exit interviews. “There’s tons of teams – and I’m not even going to waste my time mentioning names – that have a bunch of All-Stars and they were sitting at home watching us play (in the Western Conference Finals).
“You need to keep upgrading the roster, but I don’t think it’s about just getting a bunch of All-Stars. I think it’s about getting people that fit together – starting with Luka – and people that can fit around him. I think that’s more important than just getting All-Stars.”
After watching Golden State have its way with the Mavs on the boards in a conference finals series the Warriors won, 4-1, Harrison noted it’s quite evident where the holes are in Dallas’ attack.
“If you look back at the series (against the Warriors), we lost two games on the boards, and I think that’s important,” Harrison said. “We need to get somebody that can help us on the rebounds, be a rim protector. I think we need to figure that out, for sure.”
Harrison also said while re-signing free-agent-to-be guard Jalen Brunson is the franchise’s top priority, the Mavs also need to upgrade their roster on the perimeter in addition to help on the inside.
“You always want to add depth,” Harrison said. “Clearly, the inside part, that’s like no secret. We got beat up on the boards.
If the Mavs can’t execute a trade or get the players they desire via free agency, perhaps they can find what they want in the June 23 NBA Draft when they’ll pick No. 26 overall in the first round.
“There’s definitely (rear end) kickers in the draft,” Harrison said. “But I think when you look at our position where we’re at, we’re not in control of who we draft because there’s 25 people in front of us.
“We’ll have our homework done, but we’re not in control. Maybe that (rear end) kicker goes 24. When you’re at 26, I don’ think you control your own destiny.”
This will be Harrison’s first time selecting players in the draft since the Mavs were void of draft picks when he was hired last summer. But he didn’t let the 2021 draft come and go without at least acknowledging it.
“We still prepared last year for the draft, but it was like a mock draft,” Harrison said. “Now it’s real, so it’s not like simulation. It’s like Top Gun’s coming out.
“You’re not in flight simulation. You’re actually flying the plane, so it’s real. That’s really the difference, I think. You know what you’ve got, you know the players that could be around in that area, so now you dial into it.”
During his nearly two decades as an executive with Nike, Harrison was so dialed into his job that he worked with some of the NBA’s greats, including Michael Jordan, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd and Tim Duncan. Those relationships, plus his close relationships with agents and other current players, could perhaps give Harrison an edge when free agency rolls around starting on June 30.
“I think we’ll be able to have conversations with people that we want to have with, for sure,” Harrison said. “But in this league, you can be friends with whoever you want, but are they going to come to us for the money that we have for them? I don’t think so. I don’t see that happening.
“But at the same time when there’s a player that we want — and we have the money to afford him — we’re going to have a seat at the table, for sure.”
Giving the Mavs’ brass of owner Mark Cuban, coach Jason Kidd, assistant general manager Michael Finley and Harrison some input when it comes to roster additions and subtractions will be none other than Doncic. Harrison would have it no other way.
“I think you’re crazy to try to build a roster and not include your best player,” Harrison said. “That doesn’t make sense. I think from a leadership standpoint, you want your best player, you want your coach, you want their input involved, you want them involved in the decisions. That’s important.
“(Doncic will) know everything we’re doing. We’ll get his input. We’re going to talk a lot, first of all, and we’ll keep him involved. He’ll give us his opinions on things and we’ll give him our opinion, but he’s going to be involved in the process, for sure.”
Because of Doncic’s stature as one of the five best players in the world, Harrison said the four-year veteran has earned the right to have a seat at the table when the Mavs are making roster decisions that’ll effect the franchise’s future.
“We’re going to have a million things upon the boards and we’re going to throw ideas back-and-forth,” Harrison said. “Because the thing is, you look at Luka, as great as he is, he has a different point of view than maybe I would or maybe Fin would or maybe even J-Kidd would. So we want to embrace that.
“We might have a different point of view than he does, and we want him to understand that as well. I think it’s a two-way street.”
Year One under Harrison was a smashing success with the Mavs finishing fourth in the Western Conference with a 52-30 record and having homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2011. The Mavs also got out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time since ‘11 by defeating the Utah Jazz in six games.
And in the Western Conference semifinals, the Mavs rallied from a 2-0 deficit against Phoenix and upset the heavily favored Suns in seven games. The Mavs stunningly won Game 7 in Phoenix – Dallas led that contest at one point by a remarkable 46 points – against a Suns’ squad that finished the regular season eight games better than any team in the entire NBA.
Also, Harrison’s big acquisitions this season included signing free agent forward Reggie Bullock last summer, and pulling off a mid-season blockbuster trade that sent Kristaps Porzingis and a second-round draft pick to the Washington Wizards for Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans.
Between that, and the injuries and COVID-19 cases that caused the Mavs to get off to a poor 16-18 start this season, Harrison said: “I don’t know that I would call it fun. It’s hard. It’s hard. It’s rewarding, but it’s challenging. It’s definitely challenging.
“But again, I’m the type of person that I’m going to have fun whatever I do. At the end of the day I’m having fun and I’m enjoying myself. But when you’re going through it, it’s intense and it’s a lot.”
Was Harrison’s initial year running an NBA franchise what he thought it would be?
“No, it wasn’t, and I don’t say that in a good or bad way, because I really didn’t have expectations,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect.
“Year One, it wasn’t what I thought it would be, but I’m enjoying it. And now I know.”
And so do the other 29 NBA teams, as the perception of the Mavs has changed seemingly overnight. Teams that advance to the NBA’s version of the Final Four – as was the case with the Mavs this season — are described as elite.
“Twenty-six teams watched us play the last week,” Harrison said. “I think if you look at next year, no, we’re not going to sneak up on anybody.
“They’re going to see us coming, and that’s a good thing. And they should see us coming. That’s the position you should want to be in.”
And the Mavs were in that position this season. With Doncic as their lone All-Star.