We're prisoners of the moment. Shackled by our short-term
memories and our reliance on the victors to recall history, the
first-round matchup between Doncic and the Los Angeles Clippers
will ultimately shrivel up and wither away, disintegrating into our
subconscious in the same way those Thunder did.
After his Herculean performances and dismantling of one of the
league’s most-feared perimeter defensive duos, it feels inevitable
that we'll eventually live in a world that belongs to Luka. He
averaged 35.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 10.3 assists per game on 49%
shooting from the field, including 40.8% from three-point
Even in a loss, those numbers are unreal. And if the
Mavericks are smart, they’ll take two things away from their
disappointing seven-game fallout to the Clippers.
First, Luka Doncic will rule the NBA. He’s far too
special of a player not to. All that remains to be seen is how soon
until it happens and whether he’ll be in Dallas when he does.
And second is that patience is for suckers. With just a little
more help and a little more something, Doncic and the
Mavericks could’ve defeated the Clippers and had an opportunity to
make a run through a postseason in which they wouldn’t have had to
worry about LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Steph Curry, Damian
Lillard or Jamal Murray.
It’s been all too easy for everyone to just assume that
opportunity will come knocking again. History has shown us that
Lady Luck isn’t really monogamous.
“I’m still a young player, so I’m fine with our team
building through the draft and not actively trying to win a
championship for another three years… I’ve got time…”
Said no great player ever.
At 18 years old, Kobe Bryant wanted all the smoke. At the same
age, LeBron James came to either kick some ass, or at least toss
bricks until his arms were tired.
In the league, opportunity knocks but every so often. And it
sure feels like Cuban and the Mavericks weren’t home to answer the
door. Imagine winning three road games in a playoff series and
still losing. Preposterous. But here we are.
Now, as the Mavericks try to figure out what to do next, one
thing is for certain — by virtue of the expiration of Doncic’s
rookie contract, it will only get more difficult to build around
him from here on out.
Doncic, who is still playing under his rookie deal, earned just
over $8 million this past season. He’ll earn about $10 million next
season before the first year of what will likely be a $200 million
maximum extension from the Mavs kicks in.
Thenceforth, it will be difficult for Dallas to manufacture or
maintain significant salary cap space given the $100 million owed
to Kristaps Porzingis over the next three years and the potential
re-signing of Tim Hardaway Jr. this summer.
The point is: it’s usually easier to find a competent supporting
cast to put around a player while they’re playing on their rookie
deal. In that respect, time is nearly up in Dallas. Next
season is the last one in which they’ll have him at an affordable
rate. That seems particularly relevant in the case of Hardaway,
whose stock has risen as he heads toward free agency.
A nice final piece on a team that has some established stars and
in need of a third or fourth scorer, he’ll fit the bill for
someone, but he might not be what the doctor ordered in Dallas. Not
right now, anyway. Paying him market value considering his strong
season and productive (albeit brief) stint in the playoffs could
put the Mavs in the precarious predicament of having too many
high-paid players who, together, can’t win you a playoff
In the NBA, the trick to managing cap space and utilizing it to
build out a contender is to maximize it while your superstars and
anchors are on favorable contracts. The Warriors would’ve never had
the cap space to sign Durant if Curry hadn’t signed a four-year,
$44 million contract that kicked in after the expiration of his
So Dallas suddenly finds itself with a dilemma. Should it seek
to maintain cap flexibility? Or commit to a three-man core of
Doncic, Porzingis and Hardaway? Would it fare better in the
star-studded free agency class of 2022? The market and
ownership group is one that players are attracted to, afterall, and
the Mavs, for the most part, are considered a model of intelligent
With Doncic, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get a player or
two to take Mark Cuban’s dollars, but he’ll need to have money to
offer. Re-signing Hardaway and keeping Porzingis don't advance that
Truly turning the corner in the NBA — going from a 45-win team
to a 55-win contender — is the hardest part of the job. That takes
all kinds of strokes of genius. And sadly for Dallas, aside from
drafting Doncic himself, it hasn’t had too many of those in recent
The answer to the Mavs’ Doncic dilemma is to find a way to
convince Portland to trade Damian Lillard to Dallas. Bradley Beal
would also be an obvious win. The problem is there are 28 other
teams in the NBA that regard those two to be the answers to their
prayers, and the Mavs don’t exactly have a treasure trove of assets
to offer in any potential trade.
Needless to say, Dallas shouldn’t take Luka’s greatness for
granted and assume that he’ll be content with seeing his
historically great performances go up in smoke because the front
office is only capable of bringing in subpar players to flank him
in the Wild Wild West.
Life comes at your fast. Luka is already approaching the end of
his rookie contract and has as many playoff series wins as he does
NBA Finals MVPs — zero. It's a shame considering what he's already
proven to be capable of on an individual level.
All things considered, Doncic is doing incredibly well for a
player whose only finished his junior year, but the Mavs now only
have one season left to bolster his support staff before his
extension kicks in.
From that point, it will only get more difficult — especially
with the money due to the fairly unremarkable Porzingis and a