After suggesting earlier in the week that the team would fight for a play-in spot until they were officially eliminated, the Dallas Mavericks figuratively threw in the towel Friday afternoon when they announced a number of key players would be sitting out of their game against the Chicago Bulls. The Mavericks eventually lost to the Bulls, officially ending their season. Their closing lineup was absent, well, all except Luka Doncic. The news that Doncic would still play sparked plenty of debate online as fans fear the organization is playing with fire in possibly upsetting their young superstar by “waving the white flag”. Who knew an injury report for Game 81 could cause such a stir?
What is the final week of the Mavericks’ season has been plenty full of drama, just for all the wrong reasons.
Doncic is no doubt a fierce competitor, one who won’t just back down when there are still games to be played. He stated as much earlier in the week, when questions of sitting both Doncic and Kyrie Irving first entered the conversation. It is also worth noting that Friday night’s home game was a Slovenian-themed fan night, with the first 3,500 fans receiving “I feel Slovenia” scarves upon entering. Surely there was some extra motivation for him to play for his home fanbase as well.
But once again we’ve lost the plot. The Mavericks organization is adept, even inadvertently, at getting the fanbase to argue about one thing when the focus should be elsewhere. The team is barely “tanking” at best with just two games left in the season. And while scenarios existed where the Mavericks steal the 10th spot in the play-in, that destiny wasn’t in their own hands.
This, ultimately, is tertiary to the real problems. We are squabbling about Luka wanting to play, or not wanting to upset him by giving up at the last possible moment. But the truth is we should never be arguing about whether or not Doncic should be playing in Game 81. That conversation only happens because of a laundry list of organizational malfunctions. There would be something poetically hilarious if “giving up” on the last two games is what made Doncic want out and not the front office’s inability to put a contender around him by his fifth season.
For those harboring that fear there is some truth in there being the proverbial final straw, Doncic himself has voiced how challenging this season has been for him on and off the floor. And if the team continues down such a dour path then eventually it is possible that a scenario like this is what drives the MVP-caliber talent to ask out.
You can sense that pressure from those around the team. Before Wednesday’s game against the Sacramento Kings there was a release of the headline-grabbing floodgates from both Mark Cuban and Jason Kidd, covering everything from poor roster construction and Jalen Brunson’s parents all the way to testy responses about the team’s future leadership and failure. You can sense even on paper that there are plenty of frayed open nerves from management. But in the end if Doncic weighs and measures this organization and finds them wanting it won’t be because of Game 81, it will be somewhere in the midst of the other 300-plus games that got them here.