The way the 2020-21 season ended for the Dallas Mavericks raised a lot of questions and brought about a certain level of uncertainty for the franchise’s future. A lot of this circled around whether or not Dallas would be able to build a championship-level team around superstar Luka Doncic, and, subsequently, if the failure to assemble one would push Doncic out of Dallas. A complete dismantle of the team’s front office and coaching staff following the game 7 loss to the Clippers certainly did not lift any worry amongst Mavericks fans, but another major event should have: the Milwaukee Bucks winning the NBA championship. The Bucks title has major implications on the Dallas Mavericks future, and here is why:
Loyalty pays off, still
In the summer of 2020, Giannis Antetokounmpo decided to stay home and sign a supermax extension with the Milwaukee Bucks. He made the choice to pursue a championship with the team that drafted him, rather than going elsewhere to chase a ring. Mavericks fans are all too familiar with this concept, as Dirk Nowitzki did the same thing 10 years prior in the summer of 2010. Nowitzki’s loyalty paid off just a year later, as the Mavericks captured their first and only title in the summer of 2011.
The league was a very different place 10 years ago. Player movement did not have the grip it has on today’s climate. Lebron James had just revolutionized player empowerment by leaving the Cavaliers for the Miami Heat. After the Mavericks’ championship, the likelihood of a player re-signing with a team after continued playoff failure, and then winning a championship with that team seemed like a relic of a by-gone era. When Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks won the title in 2021, again mirroring a Dirk Nowitzki of 10 years prior, it was an important reminder not only of the meaningfulness of this type of championship, but that one of this type was still possible.
It’s clear that Luka Doncic values pride and meaning behind things. He said publicly that a gold medal with Slovenia would mean more than an NBA title with the Mavericks. Playing for people he has an emotional connection to means a lot to Doncic. It is important to him not only that he wins, but that the wins have value. Doncic calling Dallas a “second home” in conjunction with the Bucks winning the NBA championship said everything we need to know about Doncic’s future with the Mavericks. Playing for the people of Dallas means something to him, and now that Giannis Antetokounmpo proved that staying loyal to a team still has benefits, the likelihood that Doncic re-signs after his record-breaking contract extension expires has increased exponentially, regardless of the Mavericks success over the next five years.
Defense wins championships
Much like the game itself, the saying “defense wins championships” has evolved over the years. There are no longer teams that will hold you below 100 points every single game, and certainly not in a seven game series. The saying used to refer to teams like the 2004 Pistons, who would grind you down and make it nearly impossible to rattle off a high-scoring game against them. The saying now is exemplified through the 2021 Milwaukee Bucks. Although they do have a number of great defenders, with the amount of offensive firepower in the NBA there is just simply no way for them, or any other team for that matter, to be a lock-down defensive team all the time. The way in which defense wins you championships now is through the ability to make one defensive play when it matters.
The two most important plays of the Bucks championship run were a block by Giannis Antetokounmpo on Deandre Ayton in game four of the NBA finals, and a steal by Jrue Holiday in game five. Both of these plays took place with less than a minute and a half to go, and both sealed the victory for Milwaukee in their respective games.
The Mavericks do not need to build a defensive powerhouse to have playoff success or win a championship. They need one or two guys that have the ability to make a single impactful play down the stretch of games. Not only did the Bucks show this, but the Mavericks saw it first hand against the Clippers in the first round. They were right there, and just couldn’t make a single defensive play down the stretch of the games they lost. By bringing in Reggie Bullock and giving Kristaps Porzingis a full offseason to recover, they can be these guys next season. Porzingis has shown the ability to make a play on the interior, and Bullock has done the same on the perimeter.
You can catch a break in any year
The emphasis on building a win-now team is as high as it’s ever been. On Milwaukee’s path to the title they played a lesser Miami Heat team, a beat-up Brooklyn Nets team, an inferior Hawks team that miraculously upset the Philadelphia 76ers, and then a Phoenix Suns team that did not play a single team in the West with both of their top two players. If every team had stayed completely healthy, we could very well be talking about a completely different outcome, with “if” being the key word. Even outside of the Bucks, teams were rewarded for going all in on winning this season. The Atlanta Hawks, for example, accrued a lot of talent in the offseason, and it paid off in a big way as they made the conference finals.
In 2011, the playoff slogan was “The time is now”. Once again, the time is now to put talent around Luka Doncic. The time is now to find the right coaches to help this team see their full potential. It is not time to wait until this young team has developed more. Luka Doncic is ready, and if last year showed anything, you have to be ready to win on any given year because crazy things happen in the playoffs. The Mavericks have added a couple good pieces in Sterling Brown and Reggie Bullock, but they have to make one or two more moves if they want to go all in on winning now.