It doesn’t seem like it, but the Mavericks have been home from the NBA bubble for six weeks.
The Los Angeles Lakers stayed through the entirety of the restart and hoisted the NBA trophy on Sunday night with a Game 6 win over the Miami Heat. It was a triumphant end to a season like no other. No matter your opinion of the Lakers, the simple fact that the season was completed with a champion crowned is a testament to the NBA’s ingenuity.
So now what? How can the Mavericks extend their season six more weeks next season or in the years to follow?
And how close are they to being able to do so?
We all know this is a talent-driven league. There’s a reason why LeBron James has won four NBA titles with three different franchises. He’s got great talent.
And we did not see strong evidence that his days as a superstar are in decline.
We all know they will be at some point. Father Time remains undefeated. But does anybody really think James, and, by extension, the Lakers, are going to slip markedly next season?
Didn’t think so.
James is so good – and Anthony Davis certainly is a top-10 player on the planet, too – that the Lakers don’t need deep talent around those two to be legitimate title threats. So it’s reasonable to expect them to be very difficult to beat in a seven-game series again next season.
And don’t forget about Golden State, which presumably will be healthy again next season with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Or Denver, which has confidence and talent in surplus. And Utah. And the Clippers. And . . . OK, you get the idea.
But what about the Mavericks?
Luka Dončić has a chance to be the sort of dominant force that James has been throughout his long career. Both of them started in the NBA as teenagers. Both became stars in a heartbeat.
The only difference is James is closer to the end of his career and Luka is only just beginning.
As an NBA general manager told me back at the beginning of the 2019-20 season, the Mavericks have hope – real hope – because of Dončić.
They took the Los Angeles Clippers to six games in the first round of the playoffs. The Mavericks have served notice that they are going to be a threat for years to come. But how much of a threat?
“We’ve proved that we can fight in the bubble this season,” said Dwight Powell this week. “We faced a great deal of adversity and I think we proved we have competitors that are ready to step up the challenge of whatever may be ahead of us.
“And I think that’s the most important identity a team can have when you’re trying to evolve and get to the next level and become elite. That requires a level of hunger and a level of tenacity and fight that they’re willing to do whatever it takes regardless of how the chips may be stacked or whatever injuries or adversity we may face.”
Powell is confident that the Mavericks’ experience this season gives them that attribute.
“I’m very, very proud of the body of work our team put together in the bubble in the playoffs. For a lot of guys, it was their first time in the playoffs. I was pleasantly surprised and impressed at how we reacted to a lot of the adversity along the way.”
And don’t discount what a round in the playoffs means to a young team.
While the Mavericks would have liked to have moved on and been healthy and had a chance to go further in the playoffs, just being there is priceless for Luka and Kristaps Porzingis and everybody else.
“I think we’ll grow a lot and benefit a lot from that series and losing that series because we were close enough to say that we can play with this level of competition and we want to be better than we were,” Powell said. “And we need to be better than we were. And that’s going to be the goal for everybody going forward.
“How far we are away, I don’t really know how to answer that question as far as quantifying something like that. But I think we did prove that we have some of the key aspects of that identity to get to that level.”