This is an immediate-results generation.
Nobody wants to hear about the positive steps taken in the three years since Luka Dončić became part of the Mavericks’ world – and there have been a lot of them.
Fans want to win now. And that’s certainly a reasonable request when a team has someone that just about everybody agrees is one of the top five basketball players on the planet.
But here are some raw facts:
Michael Jordan came into the NBA in 1984. He made the playoffs his first three seasons and lost in the first round each time, despite outrageous scoring averages. He didn’t make a conference finals until his fifth season and won his first NBA championship in his seventh year.
The late Kobe Bryant came into the league in 1996. It was four seasons with Shaquille O’Neal before he won a championship.
Hakeem Olajuwon was a 10-year veteran before he got a title.
Closer to home? Dirk Nowitzki didn’t reach the NBA finals until his eighth season. He won it all for the first and only time in his 13th.
So here we are watching Dončić after three NBA seasons, two playoff appearances and zero trips past the first round.
As mentioned, this is a different era than when Jordan, Bryant and even Nowitzki were in their prime. The social-media generation wants to stick their favorite NBA team in the microwave and have it be ready to enjoy a minute later.
And certainly nobody wants to hear about the dreaded “process.”
But the fact of the matter is that every team has one. And they are all different.
So where are the Mavericks in the process of building a contender around Dončić?
“I don’t think we’re that far off, just by the fact that you have a guy like Luka who can basically dictate the whole game and win it,” said Maxi Kleber. “I think it’s small pieces that we need. We’re right there.”
As Rick Carlisle said, even before the first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers, which ended Sunday in a 126-111 Game 7 loss, Dončić was considered one of the five best players in the NBA.
“This series certainly validates that,” Carlisle said. “We’ve just got to keep building the team around him. This is going to be an important offseason on many levels.
“But Luka’s an amazing player. I don’t think there’s anybody that would dispute that. We just got to keep moving this team forward. The offseason will be big.”
One of the first steps is getting Luka to sign a maximum rookie-extension contract. Since he’s a shoo-in to be on one of the all-NBA teams, he’ll be eligible for the super-max rookie extension. Will he sign it?
“I think you know the answer,” he said.
See, the offseason already is off to a good start.
However, the narrative about the 6-7 point guard isn’t so much about his greatness. He averaged 35.7 points, 10.3 assists, 7.9 rebounds and 40.8 percent shooting from 3-point range. There’s not a lot more he can do when it comes to numbers.
But the fit between him and Kristaps Porzingis is a major topic, as is the maturation of both players.
But Dončić dismissed any problems. The fact that both players are young should help as they grow into their prime as NBA players.
“He’s a great player,” Dončić said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do next year with the roster. We have a couple free agents. In the NBA, every year, you have new teammates. I don’t know what’s going to happen. But he’s a great player. I think we got to use him more. And that’s it.”
Said president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson about Luka and Porzingis:
“I do know their supposed rift, tiff, whatever you want to call it, is way overblown. Both those guys want to win. And I think as time goes by . . . you’ll see a settling down and a balancing of Luka’s repertoire.
“Not only can he put up big numbers, but I think you’ll see those assists start popping up as well and involving more and more of his teammates. That’s just part of a young, 22-year-old superstar learning how to win and using all of the chess pieces on the table. I think that’s just part of his maturity process.”
Carlisle said that was a focus of Dončić’s exit interview on Monday.
“In talking to him today, we talked about what it’s going to take to win in the playoffs,” Carlisle said. “He’s taken on such a huge responsibility and has to be so ball-dominant that we both agreed that trying to strike a balance, where there isn’t so much on his shoulders, is an important thing.”
That involves getting healthy, upgrading the roster and searching for good defensive players, Carlisle said.
And it would be nice if Dončić could have a normal offseason, although that will be difficult this summer as he plays with the Slovenian national team to try to secure a spot in the Olympics.
“Yeah, it’s my main goal qualifying with Slovenia for the Olympics,” he said. “I’m going to be heading back to Slovenia and start practicing. So no vacation.”
The Mavericks will send an entourage with Dončić that includes Nelson and director of player health and performance Casey Smith. Carlisle also will visit for part of the Slovenian training camp.
“I know he’s enthusiastic about playing with the national team,” Carlisle said.
The national commitment will have an impact on his summer, although the Mavericks will ensure that the face of the franchise gets an appropriate amount of rest along with the work that needs to be done.
“I don’t know if there’s going to be a lot of individual work because I got to go back and start practicing with the national team,” Dončić said. “But obviously, there’s a lot of work – obviously free throws. I think it’s a mental thing, too. I got to be way better than that.”
Yes, there’s always work to be done. But while the Mavericks’ process of building around Luka has been a slow one, it is making progress.
“It’s been a great three years,” he said. “For me, just living the dream every day, playing in the NBA and it’s fun for me.”
But what would life be without at least one regret, which is that the Mavericks couldn’t win just once on their home floor in the playoffs.
“I really enjoyed the crowd here in Dallas,” Dončić said. “I’m very sorry to the Dallas fans that we couldn’t give them a win, because they deserved it. They were amazing.
“But hopefully next year we’ll have the same thing and we’ll go from there.”
May the growth, and the process, continue.