Luka Dončić doesn’t like what happened this season, just as none of the Mavericks do.
He’s a proud warrior and missing the playoffs doesn’t sit well with his competitive DNA.
At times like this, he should consult with perhaps the only other person in Dallas who can relate to what the new face of the Mavericks’ franchise is dealing with:
The old face of the franchise.
Dirk Nowitzki has been where Luka is. He’s experienced really rough times and embarrassing moments. You lose as the No. 1 seed in the playoffs to the No. 8 seed led by your former coach, you get embarrassed. Maybe even more than when you miss the playoffs altogether after a magical run to the Western Conference finals last season, which is what happened to Luka and the Mavericks this season.
If anybody can understand a young man’s frustrations, it’s an older man whose gone through the same thing.
We can only imagine what Dirk would say, but it would probably be something like: glory earned is way better than glory chased. Nowitzki had chances to leave Dallas and never did. And it took 13 often-painful seasons before he and Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and friends took home the championship in 2011.
Of course, Dončić is his own man. He’s got to do what’s best for himself and his loved ones.
But he had a great deal of positive vibes for the Mavericks as he greeted the media for the last time in the 2022-23 season after Sunday’s loss to San Antonio, which put a lid on a disappointing 38-44 season.
As he prepared to begin a longer-than-expected offseason, the Mavericks’ superstar point guard said he’s happy in Dallas and looks forward to making amends next season and beyond.
Yes, this season was frustrating. Losing usually is. But . . .
“I’m happy here,” Dončić said. “There’s nothing to worry (about). That’s normal (frustration over losing).”
That said, he knows this team needs two things that might sound like they are counter to each other: changes and time.
“Some things got to change you know, for sure,” he said. “Last year, we went to the Western Conference finals. We were having fun. I always talk about the chemistry we had. It was great. But some things got to change, for sure.”
But one of the things that he doesn’t think needs changing is his pairing with Kyrie Irving. That’s where the time comes in.
The evidence for those two growing into a monstrous tandem in the future was lacking in the two-month trial after Irving was acquired in a trade from Brooklyn.
But Luka, for one, is excited about what’s ahead.
“I wish we can continue that,” he said. “Chemistry, leadership, it’s not going to happen in a day or a week, but I would like to, yeah. I think it’s a great fit. Obviously people are going to say no, look at the results we’re having.
“But like I said, chemistry, relationships take time. And I wish he can still be here. He’s a great player. He just wants peace. And a great person.”
Dončić isn’t the only one who believes when you have a talent like Irving, you don’t take it for granted. He will be a free agent this summer and the Mavericks have stated that their top priority is retaining the 6-2 guard.
“Luka said it best: it takes time,” said Tim Hardaway Jr., who has seen and been a part of his fair share of big trades. “It takes time to get that chemistry on and off the floor. Stuff doesn’t just work overnight, for many.
“Kai was a great (in the) locker room, a great guy, a great teammate. He did an absolute tremendous job of encouraging us while we were on the floor with him to go out there and play hard, be aggressive. And we followed. It’s going to take time, like Luka said. Things aren’t going to work overnight.”
The Mavericks were 31-26 when they won the first two games after Irving joined the team. Luka did not play in those games. They would close the season 7-18 with both Irving and Dončić missing several games.
It was another example of how midseason trades do not work out like microwave popcorn.
But the seeds have to be planted before you can harvest the good stuff.
“He likes it here,” coach Jason Kidd said of Irving. “(Everyone) will talk about the record. There are other participants. Let’s put everybody in that fish bowl, not just those two (stars).
“But I think he’s excited to be here and excited to work with Luka. He believes we have a chance to win. This is a big summer, not just for us as Mavs, but for Kai. He’s going to be a free agent. Everything we’ve done is to show this is a great city, a great organization and now it’s time to continue that process of winning a championship.”
And nobody would like that more than Dončić, who will get a break thanks to missing the playoffs before playing for the Slovenian national team this summer.
He is coming off his best statistical season: 32.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, 8 assists per game. But those numbers are hollow to him.
“It’s bad,” Dončić said of his season. “We didn’t make the playoffs, so it’s really bad. Individidual (stats) don’t mean nothing if you can’t have team success.
“We’re not even in the playoffs.”
With that he arose from his end-of-season interview, saying: “See you next year.”