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Signs point to a more mature Luka Dončić after a tough season

To mature and develop, we need to face adversity. Luka Dončić’s exit interview may be a sign that he’s taken quite a few steps on that journey after a hard year

Chicago Bulls v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

During Luka Dončić’s last press conference of the season, we saw a slightly different Luka. As Tim Cato pointed out on his podcast 77 Minutes, Luka was calm, in control of his own message and on point. He knew exactly what he wanted to say and what he did not want to say.

What a contrast to both the coach and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, who at times tend to say things they shouldn’t to the media, like admitting their team is tanking or calling out players in a negative manner, or just plainly avoiding accountability by blaming others. Either because they can’t control their emotions and keep in control of their message to the media - or because they simply don’t know any better and haven’t thought it through.

This is simple communication strategizing. Stay in control, control the message, be respectful, take accountability. These are just some of the things a Mavericks communication strategy should entail, and the head coach and owner seem to fail at them regularly.

Luka Dončić, however, was straightforward, short and direct in his answers, controlled his message and took accountability (as he always does). He answered the questions he wanted to, and didn’t deflect or avoid when he didn’t. Here are a few notable examples from his exit interview, adding context with a little communication analysis:

On sitting the guys:
I didn’t like that. That’s it.”
(Message: I stand by my commitment to winning, I disagreed but I compromised)

I’m happy here. There’s nothing to worry about”.
(This is the main message: avoid fans and media speculation by emphasizing that he’s not looking elsewhere)

You said you were unhappy earlier?
“Off court”.
(Message: Here he sets the record straight that he’s not unhappy with the team or his teammates)

How are you feeling now?
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
(Message: respect my privacy)

What do you think should change?
“I don’t want to talk to the media about it.”
(Message: The FO and team has to handle this in-house and it shouldn’t be discussed with the media)

And while Luka Dončić was in control and gave real answers while holding on to his boundaries during the exit interview, showing maturity, a couple of things also point to him understanding that this summer can be used for development.

What did you learn about yourself this season?
“Didn’t have time to think. I’ll get back to you in preseason. I got time now.”

We all know the feeling of having more clarity when you’ve had some time to process. Like Luka has said himself, he hasn’t had real time off for years. That means no time to really reflect and learn from mistakes and successes. When you’re constantly moving, trying to get somewhere, reach something, you never have the time to do anything but react.

I remember myself after quitting basketball, always playing, practicing, on the run to the next game, tournament, achievement, I suddenly had so much time. Too much time. I was miserable, to be honest.

Some months after, I put together a team of old teammates - to play for fun. And I’ll tell you what, the way I saw the game and my own abilities on that court had expanded and changed rapidly. All of a sudden I could see things on offense and do things I’d never let myself do in competition. I looked like a different player, my old coach said after watching a practice. And I felt like a different player. Looser, more able to reflect on the game because I had stepped away for a while.

Hopefully Luka gets to experience something like that this summer. Because obviously, it doesn’t take skills training for Luka to reach the next level, it takes maturity in how to view the game and prioritizing his time. Understanding that effort makes a difference on defense, that complaining to referees leaves your teammates to fend for themselves on the defensive end and that behavior and body language sets the tone for the whole team - good or bad.

This is not rocket science. It’s maturity. And maturity takes time. Something Luka finally has this summer.

Pressure makes diamonds, right? Without struggles and adversity, a young player never gets the chance to develop into his full potential. Be it failures on the court, not playing well, even injuries. Without overcoming failure and adversity, it’s hard to grow.

With a season of adversity and frustration behind him, this press conference may be a sign that we’re seeing the beginning of a new and improved Luka Dončić. A superstar that understands his own power and narrative, and who is ready to take the next step in his career. A more serious version of the joyful wonder boy, the adult version who’s been maturing during this season of hardship, which may have brought him some of the most difficult times he’s faced as a basketball player.

So here’s to giving Luka Dončić time and peace to grow and mature this summer. I have a feeling a season of hardship followed by an extended European summer may cure everything that ails him - or any of us, really.

Despite the fact that I wrote about whether European summers were Luka Dončić’s biggest weakness last year - I also think they may be one of his biggest strengths.

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