Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks took a big step forward this season.
It wasn’t just the playoff run to the Western Conference Finals, although that was its culmination. It was putting together a top-10 defense. It was trading Kristaps Porzingis (to make the next offseason moves easier) and in doing so finding a strong five-out identity. It was a step forward from Doncic. It was Jalen Brunson and Maxi Kleber (among others) stepping into larger roles. And it was new coach Jason Kidd.
“Now it’s about, what is our appetite come next season? Are we going to tiptoe into the season or are we going to be hungry? Then, are we going to train this summer to understand what it means to play into May and June? Because it’s a long season.”
By his own admission, Doncic’s conditioning can reach another level — and the Warriors exploited that, challenging him defensively this series. Doncic is 23, and many NBA players become focused on their body and conditioning about that age — since they were in middle school the players were able to roll out of bed and be the best player on the court. Their bodies still bounce back from a night out like it was nothing. But age and the desire to extend a career/win more leads to a realization that they need to reach the next level with conditioning and focus.
Doncic is at that point. And after a playoffs where he averaged 31.7 points, 9.8 rebounds and 6.4 assists a game, it’s scary to think what a better conditioned, more focused Doncic could mean.
Doncic also needs more help.
The biggest question facing the Mavericks this offseason is can they retain breakout star Jalen Brunson? He is a free agent and a few teams — the Knicks, Pacers and Pistons are at the front of the line — are interested in him. However, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban still has the inside track to keep Brunson on the roster (it’s going to take something in the neighborhood of four years, $90 million to do it).
"We can pay him more than anybody…I think he wants to stay and that's most important."@mcuban talks to @TheSteinLine about the Mavericks chances of re-signing @jalenbrunson1 this offseason. pic.twitter.com/FnOV9LTagO
— Bally Sports Southwest (@BallySportsSW) May 27, 2022
The playoffs also showed the need in Dallas for more shot creation around Doncic — including a true No. 2 option — and some rim protection. With Doncic, the best plan may be to get a pick-setting, rim-running, defensive center (in the Rudy Gobert mold… if not Rudy Gobert himself) and then put defenders and shooters around that duo. Dallas is part of the way there with the roster they have, especially if they re-sign Brunson and Tim Hardaway Jr. gets healthy. Still, there is a lot of work for the front office to do.
However, if Dallas takes another step forward a lot of it will come from internal improvement — and that starts with the superstar Luka Doncic.