Because the Dallas Mavericks didn’t have any picks in Thursday’s NBA Draft, Nico Harrison didn’t have a chance to impress owner Mark Cuban with his unique way of evaluating and drafting talent.
But Harrison, who is the Mavs’ new general manager and president of basketball operations, did reveal his plans on what a Nico Harrison team will look like this season and beyond.
“I think you’re going to see versatility – players that are versatile,” Harrison said on Thursday. “Everything starts with our super star guard (Luka Doncic).
“Really, when you have that it’s like, ‘What can we do to actually make him better and help him win?’ So, you’re going to see shooting, length, I think intensity in terms of defense, and then also rebounding.”
Harrison noted that the rookie class the Mavs had last year deserve a second honest look since the coronavirus pandemic forced the NBA to cancel last summer’s Las Vegas Summer League. That meant Josh Green, Tyler Bey, Nate Hinton and Tyrell Terry – all rookies with the Mavs this past season – didn’t receive the proper evaluation as rookies in previous seasons.
Harrison said Mavs vice-president of basketball operations Michael Finley said: “It’s like they get to do their rookie year all over again with the actual summer league and having an option to go up to the G League and get minutes and stuff like that that they didn’t get to do last year.’ “
Harrison said the Mavs didn’t come close to pulling off a trade in order to become a player in Thursday’s draft.
“The first part of the draft the phones were ringing off the hook,” Harrison said. “They wanted for us to trade to get in (the draft), but it was way too rich for our blood. It just didn’t make sense.
“And then really, when you start getting into the first round you’re going to eliminate roster spots, and like I said earlier, we have so many young players that we need to see really what they can do. So adding to that young-ness didn’t really make sense.”
As far as possibly getting into the second round of the draft, the philosophy was the same for the Mavs.
“As you got towards the end of the second round it was all chaos,” Harrison said. “Every agent and every team is calling and either was trying to get rid of trades or teams were trying to hope that you get in to get their players. But it was never like to where we were really close (to getting into the draft), but we were fielding all calls.”
That being said, Harrison noted that the Mavs also are hoping to get the best out of 7-3 forward/center Kristaps Porzingis, who will enter next season without coming off a surgery for the first time since Dallas acquired him in a trade with the New York Knicks on Jan. 31, 2019.
“I really think it starts off with the coach and the culture, and I really think when you bring in a coach that’s really going to coach (Porzingis) up, give him the confidence, put him in positions to be successful, I think that’s going to elevate his play,” Harrison said. “And I think we’re going to get the Porzingis that everybody wants to see.”
Thursday was the 12th time since 1999 that the Mavs entered the draft after trading away their first-round round selection. This year’s first-rounder – along with the Mavs’ 2023 first-round pick — was included in the blockbuster trade that brought Porzingis from the Knicks. And the 2023 first-round selection is Top 10 protected in 2023, 24 and 25.
This year’s first-round pick turned out to be the 21st selection, which the Knicks used to draft Tennessee shooting guard Keon Johnson, who they quickly traded to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Although Harrison is in his first month as an NBA executive, he started out as a representative with Nike in April of 2002 and worked to market stars like Tim Duncan Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and also became the marketing liaison to Kobe Bryant.
Harrison worked his way up to the executive level with Nike before joining the Mavs this summer. He also was well sought-after by several NBA teams until Cuban convinced him to come and run the Mavs’ organization.
“In terms of talent evaluation, I think I probably have a little bit more of a cheat code,” Harrison said. “ Most of the kids that I’ve been evaluating I’ve known since they were young.
“So it’s more than actually can they play basketball, but really their mental makeup and the people that are around them, their family, their support staff and knowing that. I call it kind of a cheat code. And then in terms of what can transfer over (from Nike), I think it’s the relationships of the players. And not just the basketball players, but also the GMs and the presidents and the coaches that are in the league.”
Harrison’s skill set as a shrewd talent evaluator will be on full display going forward as the Mavs negotiate potential trades, pursue free agents – including their own – and fill out their summer league roster. All of that is what Harrison has been building up to during his tenure with Nike,
“I think the biggest thing is that with Nike I was there for so long that I knew the ins and outs, I knew what to expect, I knew the rhythm, I knew the flow,” he said. “Here, I’m jumping straight into the fire, and so I’m learning the flow as I go.
“It’s only been two weeks (since joining the Mavs), so I’m literally jumping into the fire and learning on the run, which is actually great. It’s going to serve me well. It’s a little difficult now, but as we get through this it’s going to serve me well.”
What also was a little difficult for Harrison was getting a new gig, but not being able to impress Cuban right away because the Mavs were void of draft picks this year.
“The boss is smart, so he knows we don’t have draft picks,” Harrison said. “So for us, impressing him isn’t going to be what we do today or tomorrow. It’s a long-term thing.
“It is a little weird (not having any draft picks) because everybody is congratulating me and thanking me and wishing me good luck for the draft, and we don’t have a pick. But it’s like a dry run, I guess. It’s going to serve me well for future years.”
Elsewhere, Harrison acknowledged that the Mavs don’t know yet whether guard Josh Richardson will pick up the player option on his contract that’ll pay him $11.6 million next season. Richardson has to notify the Mavs of his decision by Sunday.
“We’re in communication with him and his representations and they have a few days,” Harrison said. “I think for them they’re probably looking at what their options are.
“There’s so many scenarios that are being played out in real time. I think they’re going to use probably the full time to figure it out, so we won’t know until they let us know.”
In the meantime, Harrison will work the phones and see how he can improve a Mavs’ squad that lost to the Clippers in seven games last month in the first round of the playoffs. As far as his phone line being tied up prior to the draft, Harrison said:
“You’ve got some teams that are just throwing stuff out seeing if it sticks. You’ve got other teams that are very serious.
“In terms of the volume, let’s just say my phone has to be charged 24/7, because it’s tons of phone calls.”
And those phone calls will continue throughout free agency and likely until the start of the 2021-22 season.
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