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Former Maverick Jim Jackson likes what he sees in Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr.

He also says why it’s unfair to compare the current Mavs to the teams he played on in the 1990s.

Jim Jackson

Dallas Mavericks fans are familiar with Jim Jackson. After the Mavericks drafted him fourth overall in the 1992 NBA Draft, Jackson became the face of a franchise looking to return the glory days of the 1980s. Unfortunately, Jackson’s tenure with the team was instead fraught with turmoil. The legacy of the “Three Js”—the trio formed by Jackson, Jamal Mashburn, and Jason Kidd in the mid-1990s—is one replete with “what ifs.” Now, retired from the game, Jackson still surrounds himself with the sport as a broadcaster for Fox, calling both college and BIG3 basketball.

Recently, Jackson returned to Dallas when the BIG3 came to town. Although he last played for the Mavericks more than two decades ago, Jackson keeps an eye on the franchise. He likes the direction the team is heading and the pieces it has. But he also understands that the Mavericks are rebuilding.

“It’s going to be interesting,” Jackson says. “You think about the West, it’s very competitive. They’ve got their work cut out for them, but there’s some gaps in there. I mean, Denver is still trying to figure some things out. Utah had a great run last year so you figure they’ll be in the mix. The Lakers now with LeBron and with what they’ve done—they’ve retooled. So, they added a little bit more depth to an already deep Western Conference. But, it’ll be good for [the Mavericks].

“Again, barring any injuries, depends on how long it takes Luka to develop, the growth of Dennis Smith will be very important in regards to his maturation as a point guard—because, as you know in this league, you need to have a strong, steady point guard that understands how to run the team and is not just about scoring. It’s about evolving as a teammate and being a leader on the court. So, those factors are going to play in. So, I’m excited to see.”

The development of the Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. are the driving force of the team’s rebuilding effort. While Jackson thinks that there will be an adjustment period for Doncic, he gives him high praise—along with general manager Donnie Nelson—mentioning him alongside some of basketball’s all-time greats.

“From what I’ve seen, it’s going to be very exciting to see,” Jackson says. “You have to give Donnie Nelson a lot of credit. You got to think about it, his days back in Golden State he discovered Šarūnas Marčiulionis, who turned out to be a Hall of Fame player. He was really high on Dirk, of course, when other people were questioning that and now, he’s going to be a Hall of Fame player. Now, will Luka fit in that? We don’t know. But Donnie has a great track record of identifying some foreign players that fit the way they want to play.

“Combined with Dennis Smith, they’ve got a great, bright future. You’ve got to add the pieces that matter, especially in the Western Conference, and continue to build it. But when you get a building block like that, hopefully Luka can come in and get himself comfortable with playing in the NBA. It just takes a little time but I think with the international game and the way guys play, with his skillset it shouldn’t be too bad. It’s a matter of trying to figure out his way through the system. I look forward to watching him grow.”

Because the Mavericks are rebuilding around a young core, it’s easy to draw parallels to Jackson’s time with the team. But Jackson is quick to point out that a comparison isn’t really appropriate between the Three Js era and today.

“The most difficult part was that we didn’t have any consistency,” Jackson says about the Mavericks teams he played on. “Mark Cuban wasn’t the owner. There wasn’t any stability. I tell people all the time the thing that people miss about my tenure with Jason, Jamal and especially mine—I was here first—I went through three different owners and four coaches in five years. You didn’t have the stability that you have with Mark Cuban—one owner, general manager in place.

“So, it was consistent change that effected the dynamics of our team. You know, Jason, Jamal and myself never played 82 games together as a trio. So, it’s somewhat different in regards to yes, there’s a new generation that’s going to usher forward the Dallas Mavericks, but we didn’t have the stability they do. That’s the benefit that they have right now.”

Jackson also offers some advice for both Smith and Doncic. He iterates that if they want to have long, successful careers they must take what they are doing seriously and be open to instruction and opportunities to grow.

“It’s all about being professional,” he says. “First and foremost, this is a job, this is a career and you put that on the front burner before anything else. And if you do that, just like Dirk, you can achieve a lot. Will that bring a championship? We don’t know. A lot of factors come with that, but you also have to give yourself a chance.

“It’s a lot different now for young players. There’s a lot more distractions from social media and things like that, that can take away from the ability for a young player to focus. And if they can maintain a small circle of guys that are going to continue to push them, and continue to grow if they respect the coaches and the organization and they continue to direct them in the right way and they’re open to listening and learning, then they’ll be just fine. But again, each player is different. Each circumstance is different. It’s a matter of keeping a consummate goal in mind, which is to be as a successful a player and team that you can be. And that requires your full attention and doing the little things every day of getting better.”

With his playing days long behind him, Jackson spends his time crisscrossing the country as a broadcaster. Calling BIG3 games, he gets to see and interact with a number of his former peers. Himself once part of a big three in the NBA, does he still get the urge to get out on the court? Is it possible that the legendary Three Js could reunite in the BIG3? Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear likely.

“For me, I ain’t playing,” Jackson says wryly. “I can tell you that. I haven’t played in 12 years. I don’t think Jamal is and Jason still wants to pursue his coaching career. And also, you know the funny thing is that being out of the game for 12 years, there’s no way that I could possibly get back in tip-top shape without tearing something up and I don’t want it to affect my golf game. [laughs] That’d be great though, wouldn’t it? Maybe 10 years earlier. Maybe.”