When the Philaelphia 76ers released guard Trey Burke back on Feb. 6, the first thing he did was get back in the gym.
“I actually had the luxury to still have a gym to go to because I know a guy who owns his own gym back in my hometown, so I was able to still stay sharp on the court cardio-wise,” Burke said. “I looked at it as there’s no point in me having my agent make these phone calls and still pursuing NBA teams if I’m not going to be prepared.
“So, I know personally I had to be prepared myself, and I had to be at the top of my game. And when that phone call came I believe that I was.”
That phone call to Burke came last month, and on the other end of the line were the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs remembered how poised and professional Burke was in the 25 games he played for them last season.
They also remembered how crestfallen they were when Burke left via free agency last summer primarily because the Mavs just didn’t have any roster spots available.
“I was sorry that we were unable to bring him back (last summer) because he impressed everybody with his character and his ability to score the ball and play the game,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He just keeps getting better in all areas.
“His vision keeps improving, his defense keeps improving. The guy can flat-out score, and he puts pressure on the rim, too. He’s not just a shooter, so I’m really pleased for him.”
The Mavs signed Burke as a substitute player after Willie Cauley-Stein decided not to enter the bubble due to the birth of his daughter. And right out of the gate, Burke made the Mavs look good.
In their first game in the NBA bubble, against the Houston Rockets, Burke came off the bench firing and scored a career-high 31 points on 11-of-16 shots. He also made eight of his 10 attempts from downtown.
“He’s been aggressive,” forward Justin Jackson said. “He’s come in, really, not holding anything back. Obviously that first game we had against Houston he was one of the best players on the court. He’s really brought some energy (and) he’s brought some attitude to the team, so he’s been really big for us.”
Carlisle’s free-flowing system fits Burke like a hand in glove, he said.
“I think it’s the system that coach Carlisle has that lets his players play,” Burke said. “He does a great job of empowering the guards to just be free when they’re out there — just to break off plays at times.
“If you see an opening to get in the paint, he knows when you get in the paint most defenses collapse, so he does a great job of giving us the freedom in transition — even in the half court — to kind of just be free sometimes. If there is a play called and we see sometimes else, (Carlisle wants the players) to go ahead and take that chance and that risk that other systems and other programs might not allow you to do. And I think that’s all you can ask for as a guard.”
Burke didn’t have that luxury in Philadelphia. After he was surprisingly released by the Sixers, Burke knew there was something better for him in the NBA world. And he knew the Mavs had some strong interest.
“I always had my eyes on the Mavs when I got let go at Philly, and I think vice versa,” Burke said. “I think the interest was mutual. It was just a matter of timing and how they were going to bring me in.
“I know they had the maximum amount of players at the time when I did get released, so there was really no room for me. For me, I just focused on what I could control. I tried to get better every day even when no one was watching. I’m a 5 (a.m.), 6 a.m. guy.”
During those wee hours of the morning, Burke would always work on his cardio. He knows that’s extremely important in today’s NBA, which is mainly an up-and-down the court fast break type of game.
“That’s one of the biggest things for our league is you can lift as much weights, you can shoot as much as you want to, but if you’re not getting the cardio that you need to compete on a 94-foot court on both ends of the court, then it’s kind of useless,” Burke said. “And I understand that this being my eighth year in the league.
“I knew that I had to come in (to the bubble) in tip-top shape. We have these stairs back at my hometown in Ohio, and I just did a lot of cardio training, a lot of things out in the sun just to keep my wind up, and just to stay in shape. I tried to come in (Orlando) in the best shape that I possibly could.”
Those early mornings of running the stairs and hitting the gym obviously have paid off for Burke. And it’s not just his impressive performance against the Rockets that has caught the eyes of the Mavs’ coaching staff.
When the Mavs led the Sacramento Kings by two points with 2.2 seconds remaining in overtime on Tuesday, it was Burke who stepped up to the charity stripe and calmly buried a pair of free throws to ice the game and put the Mavs up by four points in a game they eventually won, 114-110.
“Trey has been terrific,” Carlisle said. “He is enthusiastic, he has improved defensively, and you know he can score the ball down the stretch.
“Those two free throws at the end of the game basically put the game away, Our guys had the confidence to get the ball in his hands, so I’m really impressed with how he’s really evolved his game the last couple of years.”
A throw-in during the Jan. 31, 2019 blockbuster trade that brought Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the Mavs from the New York Knicks, Burke has proven to be a reliable player that point guard Luka Doncic can toss the ball to.
Carlisle is just happy Burke was ready — again — for the opportunity the Mavs presented him with.
“This is a great opportunity for him,” Carlisle said. “I don’t think there are many guys that have been signed on the COVID exception — or whatever it is — that are taking advantage of their opportunity quite he is.”
— Trey Burke (@TreyBurke) July 1, 2020
— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) August 1, 2020
— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) August 1, 2020