Mavs fear Luka Doncic may request trade unless they build contender

Mavs fear Luka Doncic may request trade unless they build contender

Exactly two months ago, the Dallas Mavericks were the fourth seed in the Western Conference and all eyes were on them after their blockbuster acquisition of Kyrie Irving.

The Mavericks thought they'd found the perfect co-star for Luka Doncic, someone who could help them make another deep playoff run after advancing to the Western Conference Finals the year before.

However, on Friday night, the Mavericks were officially eliminated from the postseason after opting to sit Irving, Christian Wood, Josh Green, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Maxi Kleber against the Chicago Bulls, and resting Doncic after the first quarter. 

Dallas prioritized their draft pick over potentially making the play-in, as they owe their first-round pick to the New York Knicks (as part of the Kristaps Porzingis trade) but it's top-10 protected, and losing to the Bulls gave Dallas the 10th-best lottery odds in the league.

While much of the conversation about the Mavericks’ uncertain future has centered around Irving’s upcoming free agency and whether Jason Kidd will return as head coach, ESPN’s Tim MacMahon reports that sources within the Mavericks fear that "Doncic, who publicly and privately expressed extreme frustration this season, could consider requesting a trade as soon as the summer of 2024 if Dallas doesn’t make significant progress by then.”

MacMahon adds that “there’s a strong sense of urgency within the organization to expedite the process before Doncic loses faith in the Mavs’ ability to build a contender around him.”

While the Mavs have Doncic on a five-year, $215 million supermax contract, he could still request a trade in the near future if he's unhappy. There’s no question that Doncic was frustrated throughout this season.

"I think you can see it with me on the court," Doncic said following a disappointing loss to the shorthanded Charlotte Hornets last month. "Sometimes, I don't feel it's me. I'm just being out there. I used to have really fun, smiling on the court, but it's just been so frustrating for a lot of reasons, not just basketball."

Recently, Doncic admitted that the Mavs’ chemistry declined “a lot” from last season to this year, while acknowledging that losing Jalen Brunson in free agency played a significant role in the team’s drop off. 

The hope was that Irving could help fill the hole left by Brunson's departure and give Dallas the perfect running mate for Doncic. However, as MacMahon noted, the Mavs went 5-11 when Doncic and Irving were both in the lineup, the worst winning percentage (.313) that a pair of All-Star teammates have posted since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976-77.

Dallas enters this offseason with some big decisions to make. They have a number of key players hitting unrestricted free agency including Irving, Wood and Dwight Powell. Mark Cuban told reporters that the priority is to keep Irving long-term.

“It’s not Kyrie or bust, but we want to keep him,” Cuban said. “I want him to stay for sure, and I think we have a good shot. I think he’s happy here. He told me he’s happy here.”

Cuban also stressed that the team will be looking to add defenders over the summer, so they can be more competitive on that side of the floor.

“We’ve got the best offensive rating, I think, with those two guys when they play together,” Cuban said. “We could not find a way to get stops in close games. I don’t think you can point to any one thing, but we’ll have to make changes, obviously, to be able to get better defensively.”

While there’s been plenty of speculation that the Mavs may replace Kidd, Cuban told reporters that he doesn’t blame Kidd for the team’s struggles, so perhaps a coaching change isn’t coming.

“I don’t think it’s J-Kidd’s problem that we didn’t have an identity,” Cuban said. “The game changed in ways we didn’t expect it to change. So I blew it. It was on me personally because the game changed in terms of the ‘take’ fouls and the speed of the game and where you need to be defensively.”

As for Doncic’s future, it remains to be seen if the Mavericks can put the right pieces around him and become a perennial contender. Several days ago, Cuban was asked about Doncic’s long-term optimism and whether he’ll be the new Dirk Nowitzki, who spent 21 seasons with the Mavs.

“Players don’t talk like that, ‘Hey, I’ll be here for the next 17 years,’” Cuban said. “He’d like to be here the whole time, but we’ve got to earn that.”

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