Former Dallas Mavericks research director Haralabos Voulgaris, a controversial figure in the organization since he was hired in 2018, compared the franchise's dysfunction to "high school drama" and equated the gossipy nature of the franchise as "like a sewing circle."
Voulgaris parted ways with the Mavericks last month when his three-year contract expired after having previously asked out of his contract and was reportedly told no. The former professional gambler worked as the director of quantitative research and development, and experienced increased decision-making influence that rubbed others in the organization the wrong way.
In a one-hour interview with Pablo Torre on the ESPN Daily podcast, Voulgaris described for the first time the internal dysfunction and the tension between himself and former Mavericks general manager and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson. Nelson was fired by the Mavericks in June.
Mavericks research director on tension in front office
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban hired Voulgaris as a full-time executive in 2018. He had previously worked as a consultant for the team since 2016 and as a consultant for Cuban since 2010. Voulgaris said he took the job to "be a part of something. I wanted to win basketball games."
He told Torre he had no interest in changing the structure of the front office until it became clear to him from whisperings of others that Nelson didn't want him around. That's when it became competitive and personal. Via ESPN Daily:
"It never became obvious that he wanted me out of there. You can just read between the lines a little bit. You can kind of see. Just to be very clear, the first two years or whatever, Donnie was very pleasant around me when I was there. It's just, you hear certain things, you learn certain things, you're told certain things. It was a very gossipy workplace, very gossipy. It was like a sewing circle over there."
Voulgaris said he emailed owner Mark Cuban to say he was trying to fit in and didn't want to "ruffle any feathers." Cuban, he said, replied that he didn't hire someone to fit in. He hired Voulgaris because the team was "deficient in areas that you're good at," Voulgaris said Cuban told him.
"Looking back on it, it was kind of like I was this missile to go in there and create the change and unlock some boulders that couldn't be moved before."
The tension leaked out, specifically in a report by The Athletic in June. The site reported that Voulgaris had "either initiated or approved virtually every transaction" since he joined the franchise full-time. Nelson had been with the organization for 24 years, and Voulgaris was reportedly more powerful in the organization than the general manager. Cuban replied to that report with a two-word tweet: "Total bulls***."
Voulgaris acknowledged this to ESPN Daily, saying he's "an acquired taste" and was "dealing with a bunch of people who are upset with the fact that someone else has the owner's ear and they don't." He said he had limited interactions with Nelson and reported to Cuban instead. And the empty stadiums heightened the tensions, Voulgaris told ESPN.
Mavericks drama regarding Luka Doncic
Much of The Athletic report hinged on dealings with superstar Luka Doncic. Voulgaris confirmed on ESPN Daily that Doncic did develop angst toward him, as was reported. But he also praised the star and said Doncic was the reason he took the job with the Mavericks.
The duo had an issue in a game when Doncic reportedly yelled at Voulgaris after thinking he, rather than Cuban, had been the one yelling at him for a turnover. Voulgaris said they cleared the air on that.
Weeks later in April, Voulgaris said the star was angry when he left his courtside seat with 45 seconds left in a loss at home to the New York Knicks. Doncic saw it as the executive quitting on the team, while Voulgaris said he often left games early to head to his office and get his computer to meet with the coaching staff. He said he was unaware of that issue until later, when then-head coach Rick Carlisle called him about it.
Voulgaris called it "nonsense" and found it concerning no one stood up for him and explained why he had left and the normalcy. Via ESPN:
"You have a great relationship with this player. Why are you not telling him that I didn't quit on the team?" Voulgaris said, making a thinly veiled reference to then-Mavericks defensive coordinator [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. I mean, why does it matter? It's not like I went home and started crying because we lost or threw a temper tantrum. I watched the game from my office on the TV.
"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."
The Mavericks have cleaned house and are starting anew. Nico Harrison was hired to replace Nelson as general manager. Jason Kidd replaced Carlisle as head coach. Doncic is, of course, still in town.
Dallas opens its 2021-22 season on Thursday night against the Atlanta Hawks in Atlanta.