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Slacking Off Ep 2: Chatting on what this season may bring for Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic

Where is Doncic in his story arc?

NBA: Dallas Mavericks-Media Day Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Our second installment of Slacking Off sees David Trink and I hop on Slack to chat with our colleague from across the Atlantic, Mette Robertson. It is about 6 a.m. Texas time Wednesday morning, the sun is not quite up yet but it will be by the time we finish this chat. We wanted to have a conversation about Luka Doncic as he enters year six in the NBA and get Mette’s unique perspective on all things Luka.

Brent Brooks: Mette and David. Good Morning, or Good Evening as the case may be. What time is it over there, Mette?

Mette Robertson: Hey you guys! It’s 1 pm over here in Denmark - or as we say: 13.

Brent: Let’s start big picture. Where do you see Luka Doncic in the arc of his career?

David Trink: That’s a good question, and honestly I think he may be farther along than we think. I have a hot take that he’s going to retire early, whether that’s after this contract extension finishes up or the next one. I think he could be closer to halfway done than he is to a third of the way.

Brent: That farm in Slovenia is calling his name, eh David?

Mette: Agree. I see him reaching the next level very soon - if things around him work out, as well as if he keeps developing into a more mature player. MVP level maybe next season if all aligns.

David: If the Mavericks don’t win anything soon it could be calling my name too!

Brent: Just choked on my morning coffee with that one.

David: I agree Mette, although I think he’s been there for two years skill-wise. The team and his on-the-court antics just have to go the right way and the MVP is his to lose.

Brent: This notion of being further along than is widely perceived makes me think of that old saying - “the hour is later than you think”. So, let’s play off that for a moment. Matthew Phillips brought up an interesting notion that based on the current roster construction the Mavs are trying to slave for two masters right now - the Irving timeline and the Lively timeline - where does Luka fit best if that is the choice?

David: Well he’s definitely on Irving’s timeline more than he is Lively. Luka and Irving can both win now whereas Lively in a vacuum needs a couple of years to fully develop.

Mette: That’s a hard one, All I can say is that with Luka it’s now. The Mavs can’t keep postponing for young guys, Luka wants to win now, and that matters. So yes, Kyrie is probably the best answer.

David: But the way I see it, the timelines converge in the next 1-2 years when the young guys come into their own, Dallas gets another rotation piece, and everybody is ready to win at that point (and maybe Jason Kidd is gone? Please?)

Brent: If that is the case, how do you explain the Mavs offseason which seemed to lean into a youth movement rather than the win-now moves many were expecting? Is the goal to develop a core around Doncic and eventually trade Irving or develop trade assets and add to the Doncic-Irving duo?

David: No, I think they’re hoping the timelines converge as I said for one or two really really good years, and maybe by then, they find another star to replace Irving when he’s gone.

Brent: The thread-the-needle approach.

Mette: I am not sure they really know what to do or what Luka wants. A lot of it is “make it up as we go” IMO. That said, it WAS a great offseason.

Brent: A heckuva lot better than the previous one - almost like a different chef was in the kitchen.

David: Yeah they seem to be half-committing to both pathways - which I’m not upset about because that’s better than 0 commitment to building, so there was progress.

Mette: Exactly, David. Progress is good. Now we need to see it on the court. Both from coaches and Luka.

David: Right, this whole thing could blow up if all the young guys end up being bad, which is not unlikely.

Mette: Oh man, not unlikely at all. And I am not sure Luka will stay in Dallas at all if this season falls apart.

David: Back to my hot take from earlier regarding that, Mette, I think Luka is more likely to retire or go back to Europe to play I suppose than to go to another NBA team.

Mette: Yes, it will be interesting to see, I’m not sure he’s done with the NBA without a ring though.

Brent: In terms of Luka on the court, two things I am hoping for but not convinced we will ever see - so which do you think is more likely? Off-ball participation in the offense on possessions Kyrie has the ball - ie. Luka setting screens or coming off screens without the ball. Or...a maturation that diminishes the amount of lobbying refs which impacts defense? Dallas has played a ton of 5-4 because Luka was mad about a non-call.

If it was during dead-ball moments, then fine. It's gonna be fruitless, but okay whatever. But it is a trait that impacts winning, so it needs to change - just not sure Dallas has a coaching staff that can deliver that message effectively.

Mette: Easy: Number 1. Let me say it this way: The constant talking back and having a conversation with the refs is the way he was raised. The whole Slovenian team does it, his dad Sasa did it, everybody does it. I want him to improve, and choose his battles, but I don’t think it will ever go away.

David: Yeah I agree, I don’t think the complaining is going away. He won’t grow out of it completely, the best players all spend their time complaining. It will help when he starts winning a lot to get more calls.

Brent: Sure, David, other players complain but it is the how and when that needs to change - yet I doubt it ever will. With Luka, I think of this old quote. As Tom Baker’s 4th Doctor says in his first episode back in 1974, gotta take the rough with the smooth. So, I have resigned myself to accept that the complaining isn’t changing - in frequency or style. Just wish it would.

Mette: I wish it would too. I just don’t think we factor in cultural differences, when we talk about this. The other thing, playing off-ball. He knows how to do it, he did it in Madrid, and he does it once in a while with Slovenia. Does he want to? I think yes - if he trusts his teammates. (And coach to call plays when needed).

Brent: So, why Mette have we seen so little of the off-ball play in the first five years if it's in his bag?

Mette: Because he was allowed to, to start. Then started liking it, then he had to carry it all, and that’s the easiest way for him to do that - now because he doesn’t trust his teammates and coaches enough (yet?) Luka off-ball doesn’t have to be standing in the corner. He used to be a great cutter and screener.

David: I agree, I’d love to see him in some pin-down action, either setting the screen or receiving it or both in a screen-the-screener kind of way. That action would be very tough to guard with a guy like Luka as a screener. It’s what’s made Steph so good his whole career.

Brent: Jason Kidd is hyper-focused on defense and has more or less rolled with his primary guards as offensive coordinators. As I mentioned in a Twitter/X thread that Mette had going recently, jazz is great until you have to conduct the symphony. Luka - and Kyrie for that matter - are two of the greatest improvisational players the NBA has ever seen. But in key moments like ATO plays and - most crucially - end-of-game plays where the outcome is being decided...often, improv “ain't it, bruh”. There were moments last year when Luka was yelling at his own bench that the opposing team knew the play they were going to run. It is maddening to see such a potent offense grind to a halt because it cannot switch gears from improv to a coordinated burst of basketball choreography. Think about it, when was the last time the Mavericks surprised you out of a timeout (in a good way)? It doesn’t happen. Most of the crunch-time moments before the Kyrie Irving arrival resulted in Doncic heaving shots from 35-ish feet.

Mette: Brent, what you’re describing is one of the major obstacles to the Mavericks actually living up to the potential they have. And after Kyrie arrived it was worse!

Brent: Well, the Maxi game-winner aside.

David: It just seems like there is so much creative wisdom to go around offensively in the NBA and the Mavericks somehow got none of it? They have like one horns set and then Luka post-ups and that’s it.

Mette: When Igor was there was the last time.

Brent: I was in the building for the Minnesota debacle which encapsulated how much the guards were deferring to each other so much they never got a shot off while the other three guys stood and watched. I understand you cannot have everything (most of the time) in a head coach but I yearn for someone who can draw on a clipboard and surprise the other team. Case in point, the Vince Carter shot vs the Spurs years ago.

Mette: It was hard to watch. Honestly, my team ran more plays when I was 16 than they do. Not even kidding.

David: Oh trust me my high school team ran more action than they could ever fathom. I wouldn’t wish the Princeton offense on anyone. Brent, I was there for that shot, that’s the loudest I’ve ever heard the AAC.

Mette: Well, to summarize: It’s not hard, they’re pros, they need to do better.

Brent: We could - and probably will - have an entire episode of Slacking Off focused on Kidd but for now I’ll pivot back to Luka. Let’s talk about the injury we have recently learned about - the calf issue. Is this going to be a thing all year long and how much do you think we can expect to see Luka play this season with the rule changes on league awards? Is he going to play in closer to 50 games or 70?

David: I don’t think specifically the calf will be an issue but his injury status will be. I wrote recently that a healthy thigh would be a key to a successful season, but I should’ve just said his body as a whole. While it’s concerning that he already has lingering injuries like this, he’s not going to miss 30 games unless something really bad happens because he’s a gamer.

Brent: Another factor is how thin the backcourt has been post-Brunson. When you only have one other high-level guard - Dinwiddie then Irving - it means that regardless of how the rest of the roster progresses, the minute load will be high and undoubtedly take a toll. Mind you, I know Irving is a step or three up from Spencer but the point I am making is the WCF was predicated on the presence of three guards. That gave the “non-Luka minutes” a backcourt that could keep the team afloat and oftentimes do a lot more than that. Who is the third guard right now and how do you feel about that? Remember, right around a year ago we got the “people forget about Frank” moment from Nico Harrison - is this any better a year later?

David: I think Dante Exum actually looks like a good NBA backup.

Mette: I agree. I have a lot of hope in Exum. I think he’s been battle-tested in Europe, he rose to the occasion and played great for Australia. He’s gifted at pushing the ball - and the idea that the third guard does something different, which also secures easy points - is alluring. He’s been good in the preseason games, he has good size and has shown great composure. Exum and Green could be a great transition duo. Also, Exum is a very good defender.

David: Yeah, Exum might be our fourth-best player right now.

The Mavericks have somehow simultaneously allowed me to think they’re going to be good and forced me to believe that statement. Those things should be mutually exclusive but here we are. That’s the Luka Doncic floor effect!

Brent: Mette, can you expound on how Luka is perceived outside of the US and how the Mavericks as an organization are perceived? Then I’ll get to my reason for asking.

Mette: Luka is arguably the biggest basketball star/NBA player outside the US. Not just in Europe, but in Asia too. We saw that in the World Cup, where half of all fans were wearing his jersey, even when Slovenia didn’t play. I talked to people who saw Slovenia play in the Philippines and said that the crowd was more crazy for him than they were for LeBron when he came a couple of years ago. In Europe, he is the biggest star. We have a lot of stars at this point, but because he was raised in European basketball culture it makes it different. The Mavericks are popular to a certain extent, but only because of Dirk and Luka. Without them, they would just have been that team from Texas, where Mark Cuban is the owner.

Brent: I am glad you brought up Dirk. While I realize it is two different eras players with different story arcs (and personalities), I never heard the organization hammered the same way when Dirk was playing. Luka’s talent and maturation were so complete by year two that the pressure was on the franchise in a way they never faced with Dirk - at least not until much later in his career. I think that pressure to meet the moment in year two brought on the KP trade. I spend a lot of time thinking about the last few years as a high degree of difficulty scenario for even a great GM but Dallas has had a disinterested GM who was allowed to stay too long and a new GM with literally zero front-office experience. That is why this offseason was so refreshing - it felt competent and opportunistic but also showed restraint in certain moments. With a star who is already one of the 25 best to ever play, do you think the Mavericks are perceived as Luka’s long-term home or the waystation on his path to winning elsewhere? I know we hope it is the former.

Mette: After last season, as a waystation on his path to winning. It could change, but a lot of his fans feel like he’s been treated unfairly and hasn’t been put in a position to win, which has wasted years of his career and that he isn’t appreciated. Many would like for him to get the respect he deserves from the media and fans but don’t think he does. It could change if they put him in a position to win, but taking his closest friends and teammates off the roster and away from the team one by one probably doesn’t sit well with many either - or refusing to sign them (Dragic).

To add to this. I think we can say that most European players care less about the money - the culture around that is just different. I think that’s the last thing on his list.

Brent: OK, last question. In two years, which of these names are still in Dallas? Luka Doncic. Kyrie Irving. Derrick Lively II, and (gulp) Jason Kidd.

David: I think all of them - but if I had to guess who wouldn’t be it would be Kidd and Irving.

Mette: It depends on so much when it comes to Luka. No actually, it depends on one thing: is the team in a position to win? I think all but Kyrie if I’m being positive (Luka). I don’t think Kidd is going anywhere.

Brent: My hope is that Jason Kidd goes the way of Avery Johnson and becomes the coach before the coach that helps Luka Doncic get his ring.

Mette: We will need some patience in that case.

Brent: Hey David and Mette - thank you so much for chatting with me this morning - I guess by now Mette it's “14 o'clock”? Looking forward to the next Basketball Feelings column, they are always like unwrapping a present. And David, go Rangers bro!

Mette: Thanks guys, I appreciate it. It was fun! I’d love it. Always looking to talk basketball with people who know what they’re talking about.

David: Yeah this was a good one, hopefully we can do this again sometime Mette!

Brent: Here’s to a great season of Mavs basketball.