Back in 2018, when the Mavericks hired renowned gambler Haralabos Voulgaris to serve as the team’s “director of quantitative research,” an ESPN article noted that Dallas owner Mark Cuban had big plans for the star poker player who, he claimed, had become a multimillionaire by gambling on the NBA.
“In part,” the article stated, “Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is expected to utilize Voulgaris as a strategic thinker who will help examine on-court strategy in big-picture ways.”
That never quite came to be, and Voulgaris’ controversial tenure with the team came to an end last month when his contract expired. Now, nearly a month later, he is speaking out on his time with the Mavericks—and what he’s saying does not paint the team in the most positive light, comparing it to “high-school drama.”
“It was a very gossipy workplace, very gossipy,” Voulgaris said on the ESPN Daily podcast. “It was like a sewing circle over there.”
Voulgaris Was Controversial From the Beginning
The addition of Voulgaris to the front office was rumored to have rankled trailblazing general manager Donnie Nelson, who had been essentially running the Mavericks going back to when he was assistant general manager to his father, Don Nelson (who left the team in 2005), in 1998.
The younger Nelson parted ways with the Mavericks in June, in part because of the influence of Voulgaris.
The Athletic reported earlier this year that Voulgaris, reporting directly to Cuban, had asserted significant sway over the organization, which bothered everyone from Nelson to coach Rick Carlisle and star Luka Doncic.
Voulgaris, The Athletic wrote, was, “either initiating or approving virtually every transaction made over the past two seasons. Those same sources add that Voulgaris has frequently gone as far as scripting the starting lineups and rotations for longtime head coach Rick Carlisle.”
But here is how Voulgaris described his situation with Nelson and the organization in general:
I wanted to be a part of something. I wanted to win basketball games. Changing the organizational structure of the Dallas Mavericks was never something I was interested in unless I was going to be the guy in charge, and I wasn’t even sure. I never actually wanted to be the guy in charge until it became clear that the guy in charge didn’t want me around. And then I was like, ‘Oh, OK, now it’s competitive.’ …
But when it became personal, like then the competitive part of me started to kind of kick in. Like, ‘Oh, this guy wants me out of here.’ 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.
Voulgaris Addresses Tension With Luka Doncic
Voulgaris also explained an event from last year in which he left the team late in a game during a loss to go back to his office and look up a few things on the computer. Doncic took note of his absence and was offended, according a phone call Voulgaris got from Carlisle after the game.
But Voulgaris said the organization could have easily explained to Doncic that he was simply looking up stats. Instead, Doncic was left to believe he had given up on the team in the loss.
“I just went to my desk to look at something on my computer or got up because I normally get up,” Voulgaris said. “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.”