DALLAS — Luka Doncic is not like you and me. We understood this already from watching him play basketball, of course, but gained another lesson along these lines Tuesday when the Mavericks held a news conference in Slovenia to announce their superstar point guard’s five-year, $207 million extension.
During the Slovenian part of the conference, Doncic was asked what he had bought with the money. His answer, according to a translator, was that he “hadn’t bought anything worthwhile yet” and “needed to process this before I start spending.”
I wonder if the rest of us would have so much patience.
Actually, the extension does not kick in until after Doncic makes $10.2 million in the coming season, so the important news is that he is under contract with Dallas for six more years. Now we know from James Harden and others that unhappy multi-millionaires can talk their way out of town, so the Mavericks’ job is just beginning when it comes to making all of this work.
In other words, this contract was huge for Doncic. But it’s the next one that tells us whether or not all of this — the restructuring of the organization around GM Nico Harrison and head coach Jason Kidd, the inclusion of Dirk Nowitzki and elevation of Michael Finley in the front office and the roster building that must continue — has been handled the right way.
Doncic said Dallas feels like a second home to him and that the people in the organization are great. But being the competitor that he has shown in three NBA seasons and put on display again in Tokyo, leading Slovenia to the bronze medal game, Doncic is going to tire of first-round exits to the Clippers or anyone else very quickly.
In the news conference that lasted 35 minutes and was handled in English, Spanish and Slovenian, a certain Latvian was never discussed. Kidd said his job is to make Doncic’s job simpler, “to give him the answers to the test,” which seems reasonable since he was one of the great point guards of all time.
But someone may have to provide Kidd with the answers to the Doncic-Kristaps Porzingis riddle. After two seasons, it feels less and less like they are capable of bringing the best out of each other. Kidd figures to emphasize running and playing fast which Doncic loves. Porzingis is more of a trailer on those plays, and making him someone who delivers more than the occasional 25-foot jump shot is a challenge.
Doncic did not speak directly to this but when asked about how tiny Slovenia had been so successful in the Olympic Games, he said, “Everybody trusted each other. Everybody had each other’s back. That was the most important thing.”
The money spent to secure the future for Doncic and Tim Hardaway Jr. took up most of the Mavericks’ cap room for this offseason. The signing of Reggie Bullock from the Knicks and Sterling Brown from Houston served to solidify the bench with a pair of nice 3-point shooters for which this club is forever searching. But no one in the Western Conference made enormous moves beyond the Lakers, and it remains to be seen if a team with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook isn’t more than a few years late in pooling their Hall of Fame talents.
So while it’s Kidd’s job to find the path to better chemistry with the current group, it could be Harrison’s task to change course somewhere along the way. One might think Porzingis’ contract that averages more than $31 million per year makes him impossible to trade, but in today’s NBA, we have seen monster contracts on the move year after year.
For now, up in the Alpine Mountains east of Italy, it’s all roses and smiles. And a lot of wine according to Cuban.
The work comes soon enough. With the NBA moving back to its normal October-to-June course, the Mavericks will be back in training camp next month. We will begin to see what Kidd is all about as a coach. We will begin to see how the top of the Western Conference shakes out after an offseason of minimal major change.
And Mavericks fans will be secure in the knowledge that they have at least six years of viewing one of the five best and one of the five most entertaining players the league has to offer.
They have to find players who can score without Doncic’s help and players who can increase his assist total right to the top of the league. Luka can supply much of the rest. Kidd says he has the answers to the test.
Tuesday was a day to feel good about it all. And then, for Kidd, it was off to Latvia to spend time with a player who has to do more than spoil the party.