After just three years in the NBA, Luka Doncic has already established himself as one of the best basketball players on the planet, and the Dallas Mavericks must respect the responsibilities that come with that.
Following a debut season where he nabbed the 2019 Rookie of the Year, Doncic did not waste any time and was named an All-NBA first team member and All-Star in the two succeeding years. With his first contract expiring at the end of the upcoming ‘21-’22 campaign, the Mavericks gave him a five-year, $207 million supermax rookie extension this offseason that is by all means fair value for the young superstar despite the steep price tag.
Doncic is one of the best players in the NBA, not just based on expectations for the future, but today. However, the roster that the Dallas front office has assembled around him leaves much to be desired. Even if he is still just 22 years old, the Mavericks cannot let this generational talent go to waste by not putting him in the position to compete for championships.
In each of the last two seasons, Dallas was eliminated from the playoffs in the first round by the formidable Los Angeles Clippers. Their most recent match-up saw the Mavericks take a 2-0 lead before falling in seven games. Doncic averaged a scintillating 35.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 10.3 assists in the series albeit it was not enough to single-handedly get them past Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and the rest of the Clippers.
Aside from the disappointing play of former All-Star Kristaps Porzingis, the most glaring hole in the Mavericks’ attack was their lack of playmaking beyond Doncic. The Clippers have suffocated Dallas’ offense these past two postseasons by hounding Doncic and wearing him out–a strategy that has been largely successful in the absence of a teammate capable of carrying the load for at least a few minutes.
They thought that Josh Richardson would fill that hole last season, similar to what he did in his earlier days with the Miami Heat. Instead, he was largely ineffective, putting up a meager 4.9 points per game in the playoffs, before being unloaded via trade a few weeks ago for the promising center Moses Brown.
The Mavericks also moved on from Rick Carlisle, who was the head coach of their 2011 title-winning team, and brought in Jason Kidd to serve as their next head coach. Kidd has already made head coaching stops a few years ago with the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets where he achieved mixed results. Dallas is banking on his growing reputation as a player’s coach to help him establish a strong rapport with Doncic and the rest of their young roster which they hope will translate to results on the court.
Among their holdovers, Tim Hardaway Jr has emerged as a potent albeit streaky scoring threat though he is too one dimensional and by no measure the facilitator that they crave. Their sixth man Jalen Brunson has shown the potential to fill that role in spurts as a sixth man and it remains to be seen whether he can eventually mature into that ancillary threat in heavy minutes next to Doncic.
In the interim, Dallas would have been better served filling that void immediately this offseason. They were said to have been targeting Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, and Mike Conley to slot in alongside Doncic before all three decided to take their talents elsewhere. These three veterans would have fit in nicely as secondary ball-handlers and their decent three-point shooting would have enabled them to space the floor.
Dallas salvaged their offseason by adding Reggie Bullock and Sterling Brown to bolster their wing rotation. This pair of wings complement Doncic nicely as perimeter shooting threats with decent size and defensive abilities though these two are far from being the major difference makers that this roster needs.
One name that continues to be linked to the Mavericks is Doncic’s national team partner Goran Dragic who was sent to the Toronto Raptors in the sign-and-trade that sent Lowry to the Heat. At the age of 35, Dragic remains a lethal scorer and capable playmaker which profiles him as an ideal partner and mentor for Doncic.
Dragic made waves earlier this month as his comments on joining the Raptors were reportedly misconstrued as dissatisfaction with his new team which prompted speculation on an eventual move to Dallas. He has since walked back his comments, but a reunion with Doncic, with whom he won a gold medal for Slovenia at the EuroBasket 2017, continues to be rumored around the league.
Acquiring Dragic would be a major win for the Mavericks both on and off the court. It would give them immediate help and address a dire weakness while also bringing in a player whom Doncic looks up to and respects immensely.
Keeping Doncic satisfied should be the top priority for Dallas if they want to keep him around for his entire career. Taking into consideration his talent, it is more of a question of when, rather than if, Doncic will win a championship, and the Mavericks should do whatever it takes to ensure that he will still be wearing their jersey when he finally gets his ring.
A couple more years of early playoff exits may lead him to look for greener pastures, following in the steps of Kevin Garnett, LeBron James (In his first stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers), Kevin Durant, and Anthony Davis who all won their first championships with a different organization from the one that drafted them.
Dallas has already done it before, winning the 2011 NBA championship with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki 13 years after picking him ninth overall in the 1998 draft, and they hope that they can replicate this success with Doncic.
It remains to be seen whether Doncic can be as patient with the Mavericks as Nowitzki, but they will be better served not testing the limits of this generational talent’s tolerance for losing.