The Milwaukee Bucks did it the hard way.
They won the 2021 NBA title without building a superteam, but by building smartly around their superstar, who rates as one of the top five players on the planet.
With any luck, the Mavericks were paying close attention.
It was 2013 when the Bucks drafted Giannis Antetokounmpo. They traded for Khris Middleton that same offseason.
They missed the playoffs the first year when those two played together, but with coach Jason Kidd leading the way, he developed the building blocks that would lead to a championship three seasons after Kidd was dismissed.
The Mavericks drafted another European in 2018. Luka Dončić was more highly regarded than Antetokounmpo, drafted much earlier (third as opposed to 15th). But the trajectory of the two players has been similar in that their first three seasons were marginal at best from a team standpoint.
But they were growing as players.
By his fourth season, Antetokounmpo averaged 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game. In the four seasons since, he’s averaged 28 points, 11.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists, remarkably similar overall production to what Dončić has had.
He’s a different kind of player, obviously. But the talent level for Dončić is right on par with that of Antetokounmpo.
Now it’s just a matter of finding the right pieces around the point guard to make the Mavericks the next incarnation of the Bucks. Therein lies the hope that Mavericks’ fans crave.
It won’t be easy, of course. Just because the Mavericks’ trend appears to be tracking closely that of the three-years-ago Bucks, many hurdles will have to be cleared.
The Bucks had three coaches in Antetkounmpo’s first five seasons before Mike Budenholzer arrived.
They had to trade away popular players like Malcolm Brogdon and Eric Bledsoe. The Bledsoe deal, in particularly, helped finish the championship building with the acquisition of Jrue Holiday.
And they added the right amount of blue-collar workers like P.J. Tucker and Bobby Portis.
Luckily, the Mavericks don’t have to look far to find a blueprint for the work ahead. They had to hammer on the rock for 13 years before Dirk Nowitzki finally got the right pieces around him to win a title. For coach Kidd, it took 17 seasons.
Hopefully, it won’t take that long for Luka.
The Bucks have shown it doesn’t have to.