Basketball-wise, there’s a lot going on with the Dallas Mavericks. As someone that writes and covers the team while trying to juggle the weird balance between fan and analyst/columnist, it can feel like my brain is spinning various plates going over everything.
This is a team that, objectively, has succeeded. They’ve gone from 33 wins to 40-plus and secured a playoff spot. They’ve gone from having Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews and some cold cuts to a 21-year-old MVP candidate and a 25-year-old running mate who is 7’3 and can shoot threes and block shots. A rebuild that could have taken over half a decade and instead it only involved three Actually Bad seasons. This is great.
On the other hand, this is also a team that punted almost $15 million in cap space last summer, with their biggest off-season acquisition, salary wise, being an OK bench guard. It’s a team that has one reliable 3-and-D wing in a league where you need at least three. Depending on what Tim Hardaway Jr. does with his player option this off-season, the team could be mostly capped out until 2021.
I am perpetually terrified at the thought of Luka Doncic following the path of Anthony Davis, Paul George, Kevin Durant or hell, his teammate Kristaps Porzingis. Stars have more leverage than ever to bolt a situation they’ve determined they don’t want to be part of anymore. I spend too many nights thinking about how the Mavericks proclivity for star-chasing instead of pursuing modest starter-level upgrades will doom the team to consistently rely on plucking diamonds from the muck and trying to polish undrafted or overlooked talents into something more than they are capable of. We haven’t even gotten to the still lingering injury risk that is Porzingis or a key cog in their rotation in Dwight Powell recently suffering from a career-altering injury. There’s a lot to process when keeping one eye on the future and one eye on the present.
Watching Luka Doncic against the Bucks Saturday night, none of that mattered. I was happy watching basketball. I was yelling and clapping and pacing around the room. That feeling, that high, that’s what we chase as fans an what we do this for!
Having a player so absurdly good as Doncic has that effect. It wasn’t that long ago that I was having the same mental gymnastics with Dirk Nowitzki, awing at all he accomplished while wondering if external factors would prevent him from reaching the plateau he deserved. Then Dirk would score 29 points in the fourth quarter during a comeback win and the thought of off-season moves and cap space would melt out my ears as I entered a frenzied moment of zen.
I’ve never seen a game from a player that Doncic played in the win against the Bucks. He was at the apex of his powers, finding cutters and shooters while also still taking over and scoring down the stretch when needed. It was one of the most all-encompassing performances I’ve ever seen outside of LeBron James.
With every Doncic pass or dribble move, my heart grew three sizes like the Grinch. Any worries of the off-season, the draft or how the Mavericks would move this roster forward to be a Finals contender just vanished, instantly. Honestly, who gives a shit about free agency when your 21-year-old MVP candidate is going between his legs to the game-sealing assist in overtime against the best team in the league? Salary cap math is for NERDS. Why crunch a spreadsheet and look at contract details when you can watch a guy that looks like he just got done with spring break on South Padre Island embarrass the best athletes in the world.
You know he took the soul of the Bucks because afterward he had Giannis Antetokounmpo reciting a love poem about Doncic’s game. We somehow pissed off Rockets fans who feel like James Harden doesn’t get enough love for his through the leg bounce passes. All of this is amazing. Give me more.
A superstar at the height of his powers is so intoxicating. It can paper over a lot of old wounds. Let’s do that again sometime.