Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo made it clear this summer that he was willing to part ways with the organization if they weren’t on the same page as him when it comes to winning a second championship.
These public comments came months after the Bucks, the best team in the Eastern Conference, lost to the Miami Heat in five games during the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The Greek superstar made it clear that he would not be signing an extension with the team unless he was sure they could bring another championship back to the city.
Milwaukee’s front office was listening intently to Antetokounmpo’s public comments and pulled off a blockbuster three-team trade that sent Jrue Holiday, Deandre Ayton, and lots of draft capital to Portland, Jusuf Nurkic to the Suns, and Damian Lillard to the Bucks.
The Bucks delivered for their star player, whether he meant to publicly pressure the front office or not, just as they did when he made similar comments before acquiring Holiday in 2020. The trade has made the Bucks an NBA Finals favorite. The situation has shown how powerful a star player’s voice can be in an organization that values them.
After a disappointing season in Dallas that led to the Mavericks missing the playoffs last year, ESPN’s Tim MacMahon reported that “fear exists” within the organization that star Luka Dončić would consider requesting a trade if the Mavericks fail to make significant progress towards becoming a championship contender. It is worth noting that if Dončić signs with another team in free agency, he will lose a significant amount of money that the Mavericks could pay him.
Dončić has typically been one to trust the Mavericks’ decision-making within the organization. For his first four seasons in Dallas, he showed minimal desire to be involved in personnel matters. He welcomed a coaching change with open arms when Jason Kidd was hired in 2021 and has supported the process behind trades, such as the Kristaps Porziņģis trade at the 2022 trade deadline or the Kyrie Irving deal last season.
The Mavericks have tried to set themselves up for success since Dončić was drafted but have now taken two steps back from the process after missing the playoffs entirely last year.
It was evident that the Mavericks would struggle with finding someone to take the load off of Dončić’s hands when Jalen Brunson signed with the New York Knicks, as he finished the 2022-2023 season with a 37.6 usage percentage, second in the NBA.
In January, an ESPN report by MacMahon read that Dončić “strongly indicated” he wanted the Mavericks to upgrade the roster ahead of the trade deadline. The Mavericks decided it was time to bring a star in to help relieve Dončić of his ballhandling duties when they acquired Kyrie Irving days before the deadline.
Dončić, being the laid-back, reserved guy that he is, quickly disputed the ESPN report, saying that the people he talks to know the report isn’t true. Even though he stated the report isn’t true, he admitted that he does speak to the Mavericks front office more than he used to. Take what you want from his response to the report, but it becomes difficult to doubt that he hasn’t influenced personnel changes as the star of the franchise.
Luka Doncic on his influence on roster decisions: “Obviously, people who are next to me – who I talk to – they know that (report) is not true. ... I talk to Nico. I talk to Fin more than I used to. ... We have great communication — that just stays between us.”— Grant Afseth (@GrantAfseth) January 19, 2023
( : @dallasmavs) pic.twitter.com/Jtjtcpso8w
Dončić is the star of this team and his input should be strongly valued by the front office. When you think of the best players to ever suit up for the Mavericks, Dončić is one of those top names that come to mind at just 24-years-old. When the Mavericks drafted the superstar in 2018, it was the beginning of a new era and they knew they had something special. He has brought back relevancy to Dallas basketball with the magic that he displays on a nightly basis.
But, he can’t do it alone. As we saw at the end of last season, even he and Kyrie can’t do it alone. The Mavericks made several roster changes this offseason to surround the pairing with defense, including bringing in Grant Williams, who has publicly praised Dončić’s game on numerous occasions. One would think that Dončić had a say in the decision to acquire Williams via trade as they seem to get along well on and off the floor.
Dončić should take a page from Antetokounmpo’s book when it comes to being more demanding of his franchise. After all, Antetokounmpo’s comments have led to a championship and put the Bucks in the position to win another. Both seem like reserved guys who don’t want to appear as the “bad guy” to the public. However, their talent is so undeniable that you are wasting their prime years if you don’t surround them with top-tier talent that puts them in a position to win a championship.
Dončić has made it clear that he is devoted to winning a championship in Dallas. Now, it’s time for him to step out of his comfort zone and become more demanding of the front office to help him do so. There are few chances like this to capitalize on the talent that Dončić possesses. Dončić putting pressure on the organization to improve the roster can unlock a new potential for this Mavericks team to reach. Rome wasn’t built in a day but with a co-star seven years older than your franchise player, the Mavericks simply don’t have any more time to waste in building a contending team.
At the time of writing this, the Mavericks are 3-0 on the season and Dončić looks bought in. He has come into the season in shape, quietened down on his complaining to referees, and has improved his defense. Now, it’s time for him to put pressure on those around him to get on the same page to carry this team to the promised land for the first time in 12 years.