The NBA finals that begin Tuesday night between Phoenix and Milwaukee are full of connections to the Mavericks – some easy to identify.

For instance, former Maverick Jae Crowder is in his second NBA finals in a row. He lost it with Miami last October in the bubble. Nobody saw that coming when he was involved in the trade for Rajon Rondo and Dwight Powell in 2014,

Other links are a bit more obscure.

Like Justin Jackson, who was a Maverick for a year and a half after being acquired for Harrison Barnes in 2019. Jackson was signed to a two-way deal by the Bucks in April and has appeared in five of their 17 playoff games.

And like Thanasis and Giannis Antetokounmpo, two of the three Greek brothers who have not been a member of the Mavericks’ organization (Kostas was in 2018-19).

There is Phoenix’s Cam Payne, who was in the Mavericks’ summer league in 2019, but never stuck.

And, of course, Suns’ center Deandre Ayton will always be connected to some degree with Luka Dončić. Ayton was the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft. Dončić was third (Trae Young was fifth). Ayton might not ever be the best player from that draft, but he’s the first one of those three to make it to the NBA finals.

The point is that there are never six degrees of separation between teams that make the NBA finals and a lot of their competitors that fell short.

It’s almost always a lot less separation than that.

The Mavericks exited the playoffs feeling like they missed a grand opportunity after taking the Los Angeles Clippers to seven games. When the Clippers reached the Western Conference finals, the Mavericks couldn’t help but feel like they were tantalizingly close to going that deep.

Alas, the Suns took care of business and we’ll never know how the Mavericks would have done against them.

What the Mavericks can take from these finals, however, is the way the Suns and Bucks got there.

They didn’t make the splashiest free-agent signings. They mostly built around a couple of stars that they drafted.

The Suns, who suffered through a decade without making the playoffs, got Devin Booker with a 13th-overall pick and then finally got lucky in the lottery to get Ayton.

Then, they made the bold trade to take on Chris Paul and his admittedly prohibitive salary. And by the way, a few years back, Paul was often in the conversation when it came to the most untradeable contracts in the league. I believe he’s been dealt three times since then.

The Bucks drafted Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 15th overall pick in 2013. And we won’t go into the gory details about the Mavericks nabbing Shane Larkin three picks later.

About the same time, they added Khris Middleton, who was going into his second season, in a trade with Detroit. They allowed Middleton and Antetokounmpo – surely, there’s never been a star duo with more last-name letters – to grow and then picked up under-the-radar additions in Jrue Holiday, P.J. Tucker and Brook Lopez.

It’s been a slow-build for the Bucks, but they finally got there.

The same can be said for the Suns, although they burst through the wall this year rather unexpectedly.

What it all means is that the Mavericks probably aren’t as far away from this sort of promised land as a lot of observers might think.

Next season will be interesting because it will feature a new coach at the helm for the first time since 2008. New front-office leadership, as well.

And, no doubt, some new players. There always are.

Prediction time: It’s time to go on record with our bold predictions from

My cohort Dwain Price pored over mountains of information and studied the tendencies and the biorhythms of all the players for the Suns and Bucks.

Me? I threw a dart.

So the great DP came up with this prediction: Suns in 6.

That’s bold. It means he believes the Suns will close out the series on the road in Milwaukee.

Then again, maybe it’s not so bold. The Suns have closed out their first three series on the road.

For my money, I don’t have as much faith in the Bucks as Mr. Price does. I can’t see them forcing six games out of this series, especially with Antetokounmpo being in questionable condition.

So: Suns in 5.

Twitter: @ESefko

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