For the first time in 21 seasons, Dirk Nowitzki wasn’t the face of media day to start off a new season for the Dallas Mavericks. He wasn’t the last to speak at the podium in interview room 1 nor was he making jokes in the depths of the AAC with a new batch of teammates. The only resemblance of Dirk came from a new on-court graphic that will be debuted this season on both ends of the court depicting his signature fadeaway.
As Rick Carlisle took the podium in his first season without Nowitzki leading the way, he recognized this is a whole different world now without one of the greatest to ever play the game. “It is different for sure,” Carlisle said. “I have been saying this for the past two or three years. When Dirk is no longer here, it would be the end of the world as we know it.”
That world as we know it is gone, but a new age of Dallas Mavericks basketball has begun. And it began before training camp or media day even took place. With media day being the first official day that players have to report to “camp,” a lot of players see their teammates for the first time on this day. But for many of the Mavs, their training camp started weeks ago when a couple of the veterans on the team threw out the idea of a team bonding trip overseas.
With conflicting schedules making an overseas trip unlikely, the group of Mavs decided to look at spots on both coasts for them to spend time together and start their camp a little early. They landed on Miami. It had the weather and beaches, but it also is the host to players like Barea and Hardaway Jr. who have houses there.
They hit the weight room and court every day while also taking time to eat together as the infamous Miami meal photo was dispersed throughout social media as fans marveled seeing their favorite team already spending time together. For a fan base craving any news around their new young team, fans analyzed the team dinner photo like a kid who just bought a new I SPY book at his school book fair. Fans were excited, but the players were even more excited.
Squad goals. 🙌 pic.twitter.com/QT26uShOSL
— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) September 12, 2019
“It was a great and enjoyable trip for us,” Hardaway Jr. said. “It was great for team bonding and getting to know everybody as a team. Hopefully we can do it many more years to come.”
At first, it might be easy to dismiss the “many years to come” remark by Hardaway Jr. as the Mavericks have turned over the roster so often these past few summers. But this is a new age of Mavs basketball from top to bottom. From the end of last season, the Mavs are returning 11 players. On top of that, 12 players are under contract past this season and of those 12, only Boban Marjanovic is over the age of 30. The Mavericks have built a core that not only is full of youth, but under contract for multiple years.
“We really enjoy being around each other,” Dorian Finney-Smith said. “This is one of the younger teams I have been around because we have always had an older team. This is the first time I’ve been around a bunch of guys my age.” When Finney-Smith first joined the Mavericks in 2016, he was one of the youngest players on the team on a roster with seven players that were at least 30 years old. Now, nine of his 19 teammates are younger than him.
The team is different now. There is a youthful, energetic feel that was contagious even from a media standpoint at Media Day. There were more smiles than normal and a sense of energy that didn’t really feel like a professional sports franchise. It felt more like a family and, which is exactly what they’re shooting for.
When talking with Jalen Brunson as he scarfed down food in between photo stations, he said that a family atmosphere is crucial to a team’s success that is trying to be as great as they can be. “If we are winning, I think it is because of how close we are,” Brunson said. “It’s how well we can come together on the court. I think our chemistry off the court is definitely chipping in.”
It started with the Miami trip, but it didn’t stop there. Since the trip, numerous Mavs have been back in Dallas earlier than normal getting time on the court together before training camp gets underway. Justin Jackson described the scrimmages over the past couple weeks as “very competitive.” Jackson and the guys realized that one trip to Miami wasn’t going to be enough. “You have to spend a lot of time with each other,” Jackson said. “It can’t just be a three-day trip. I think the group of guys we have; everyone enjoys being around each other.”
Jackson continued by saying that the vibe around the team is great heading into the season. Brunson echoed that statement by adding, “Team chemistry is going really well and going the right direction. We are really jelling and it is showing.”
One of the reasons for the “jelling” and good vibe is the international atmosphere surrounding the team as the English language has taken a backseat at times. Both Kristaps Porzingis and Boban Marjanovic cited the multiple languages at scrimmages as a huge benefit for the team, and that having players able to speak multiple languages adds a layer of communication that not many teams have.
But no matter the language being spoken or how many team bonding trips they take, team chemistry, and ultimately the culture, begins with the players at the top: Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.
“We are starting to see an identity being built around these two guys,” Hardaway Jr. said. “It starts with those two guys.”
About midway through Rick Carlisle’s media session on media day he was asked about Dirk not being around. Carlisle gave his answer like a normal question and another reporter started to ask the next question, but Carlisle politely asked for them to hold on for a moment. Unprompted, Carlisle wanted to talk directly about Doncic and Porzingis stepping in as the leaders of this young Mavs team.
“One thing that is a little scary and exciting is that this group of guys, led by Doncic and Porzingis, has a chance now to define what Mavericks culture is going to be like going forward,” Carlisle said. “We talked about it last night and talked about the importance of family. They are going to have to be a brotherhood. They have the opportunity to chart their own course on how they want this culture, or their culture, to be defined.”
For the past two decades, that culture has been set by the greatest player in franchise history. And now, that responsibility lands at the feet of a 20-year-old in Luka Doncic and a 23-year-old in Kristaps Porzingis. When asked about that responsibility, Doncic had the best answer you could possibly think of.
“Follow Dirk’s steps,” Doncic said.
Doncic and Porzingis will never be able to wear the same exact shoes that Nowitzki wore for the past two decades, but they can grace their own shoes. They can establish their own era of Dallas Mavericks basketball. Their own culture. And it starts with them creating a family, a family that has been forming long before training camp and a family that looks to do something special on the basketball court this season.