More than a shoe salesman: Nico Harrison showing why he was hired as General Manager

When the Dallas Mavericks made the move to hire Nico Harrison as General Manager and President of Basketball Operations, the hiring was met with some questions with respect to what exactly the organization was doing. Gone was Donnie Nelson, with over forty years of experience in the NBA who had been with the Mavericks since 1998. Owner Mark Cuban handed the reigns to former Nike executive Nico Harrison, banking on his reputation with star NBA players to help repair a roster next to superstar Luka Dončić and lead Dallas back to the NBA Finals.

Kristaps Porziņģis Trade

As the 2021-2022 NBA Trade Deadline approached, Harrison constructed one of the more shocking deals at the time, sending out Kristaps Porziņģis and a second-round pick to the Washington Wizards for Spencer Dinwiddie and Dāvis Bertāns. The move at the time was met with relative praise, as Porziņģis’ lack of availability had hindered the Mavericks’ season and the fit with Dončić wasn’t as seamless as once previously thought. With Dinwiddie, the Mavericks were hoping to add another ball handler next to Dončić and emerging star Jalen Brunson, while Bertāns was included to make salaries match (but also provided shooting off the bench). Harrison, though, had another key reason at the time of the trade:

“It was about really giving ourselves the flexibility that we need to be the team that we want to be. I think that’s really the bottom line. We were able to give ourselves more flexibility and then add more depth.”

For Harrison and the Mavericks, flexibility didn’t just mean the two newly acquired players. It also meant financial flexibility. Porziņģis had roughly $70 million left on his contract over the next two seasons. By breaking that up into two smaller contracts, Harrison put Dallas in a position to make further trades. The Porziņģis deal certainly helped – the Mavericks stunned the NBA by advancing to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2011.

When Jalen Brunson left the Mavericks for the Knicks in the offseason, Dinwiddie was thrust into a starting role alongside Luka Dončić. Dinwiddie continued to improve in his new role, averaging 17.7 points per game (PPG) on 45.5% shooting and a career high 40.5% from three-point range. However, the Mavericks entered trade deadline week at 28-26, far from expectations that they had after the successful playoff run the season before. While injuries certainly hindered the Mavericks progress, improving the roster next to Luka Dončić had been the goal for Harrison. Dončić’s usage rate was at an all-time high, and Dallas had not won a game without him in the lineup.

Kyrie Irving Trade

Harrison stunned the NBA on February 5th, acquiring Kyrie Irving from the Brooklyn Nets for Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, a 2029 first-round pick and two second round picks (2027 and 2029). While Irving certainly had his off the court issues in his career, his talent was undeniable. Harrison and Irving have a long-standing relationship that goes back to the eight-time all-star’s AAU circuit days, and Irving’s favorite player growing up was head coach Jason Kidd. Harrison believed that the risk of trading for Irving outweighed the cost of the Mavericks standing pat, and clearly trusts in his and Jason Kidd’s ability to get the most out of the mercurial guard. In two consecutive trade deadlines, Nico Harrison flexed his ability as General Manager and did what was needed to improve the Mavericks.

Outside of the trade deadline, Nico Harrison has shown a key eye for roster construction alongside Luka Dončić.

Jaden Hardy Drafted and Josh Green Developed

Harrison drafted Jaden Hardy in the second round of the 2022 NBA Draft, when many pundits had him as a first-round pick. Hardy has shown flashes of his talent this season, especially in his last 10 games, averaging 12.4 points per game on 52.8 % shooting from the field and 45% from three-point range in just 16 minutes a game. It’s likely that Harrison also felt comfortable trading away fan favorite Dorian Finney-Smith in the Irving deal due to the emergence of Josh Green, who has emerged as a legitimate two-way player. Green is averaging 17.4 points per game in his last 10, and has brought energy and excitement to a Mavericks team that was wondering whether the first-round pick would reach his potential. Green has forced his way into the starting lineup, and now becomes the Mavericks best on ball defender.

Christian Wood Trade

Harrison also identified Christian Wood as a piece that could help the Mavericks in their quest to win a championship. Harrison traded four players that were buried on the Mavericks bench for Wood before the draft last season. Wood has gone on to have one of the best seasons of his career, averaging 17.7 points ger game and 8.9 rebounds on 52.7% shooting from the field. His defense has improved as the season has gone on, and he provides spacing and a front court presence the Mavericks were sorely lacking last season. While he’s spent time in and out of the starting lineup, his fit next to Dončić (and now Irving) is undeniable. In the 17 games Wood has started, his numbers are even better, to the tune of 20.4 points per game and 9.4 rebounds per game (not to mention 2.4 blocks per game).

Buy Out Market

With the trade deadline having passed, the Mavericks roster is relatively set. Dallas should be active on the buyout market though, with Marc Stein reporting that G/F Justin Holiday is expected to join the Mavericks once he is bought out from the Houston Rockets. Holiday began the season as a member of the Atlanta Hawks, averaging 4.5 points per game and shooting 34.5% from three-point range. Nico Harrison wanted to prioritize wing depth in the buyout market, and Holiday is a veteran presence who addresses that need. Dallas is also expecting Maxi Kleber to return from injury in the next few weeks, whose defense and leadership are well documented.

It’s easy to be complacent as a General Manager when you have an all-world talent. The Mavericks have been down this road before, hoarding cap space and trying to sign players in the summer to pair with their European superstar to bring a title to Dallas. As we all know, that plan has not worked out. When Nico Harrison was hired, the idea was that his reputation would position the Mavericks to be successful when attempting to sign free agents. Instead, Harrison has utilized the trade market to solidify the Mavericks roster alongside Luka Dončić. Not only has he made the Mavericks better in a year where the Western Conference is as wide open as ever, but he has shown to Dončić and to Mavericks fans that he will do whatever is necessary to build a team that can compete for a championship.

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