Dirk Nowitzki is retired and things will never be the same with the Mavericks.
Despite that, life and basketball go on.
Now, the Mavericks are Luka Doncic’s team. Or maybe his and Kristaps Porzingis’ team. But we haven’t yet seen Porzingis in a Mavericks’ uniform. We know Doncic has superstardom in his sights. They will be a tandem. But Doncic already is ingrained as a new face of the franchise.
The question is what kind of growing pains he will have to go through to become the new leader of the franchise? And is he ready for all sorts of new challenges that will confront him?
Ups? Downs? There will be a lot of both. But, as the Mavericks cleaned out their lockers on Thursday and went through exit interviews with the management team and coaches, some of the folks who know Doncic best believe he’s ready for this daunting task. But like anything, it won’t happen overnight.
“It’s going to take some time,” said Jalen Brunson, like Doncic coming off a superb rookie season. “Is he ready for it? Yeah. Is it going to be hard? Yeah.
“It’s not just going to be him. It’s going to be a collection of us. He obviously means a lot to this organization. But we’re going to have to help him lead. It’s a lot to put on one person. Even with Dirk, it wasn’t just him.”
Indeed, having Porzingis will no doubt help. The 7-3 multitalented center-forward, who was acquired from New York before the trade deadline, was unquestionably the leader of the Knicks’ organization for a year or more before his serious knee injury during the 2017-18 season.
“I think Luka showed this year that he’s pretty ready,” said Justin Jackson. “KP, he was in New York and that was pretty much his team in New York. If you combine both of them, it’s very promising. Hopefully everybody else around them, including myself, can get better and do whatever we can possibly do to ease some of that for them. But I’m super-excited to see how those two and everybody else can jell going into next year. Hopefully next year we can be one of those teams that are in the playoff race and make that push.”
That’s a long, long way in the future, of course.
But the key will be how everybody handles the transition into the post-Dirk era.
“I don’t think anybody’s ready for the way Dirk did things around here,” said J.J. Barea. “With you guys (media members) with the community, everybody. He handled everything. Even this week, he handled everything perfectly. But Luka is still young. He’s got to learn. But if somebody could do it, Luka and KP together can really help this city out.”
And rest assured, Barea will be there to see them through any tough times.
As president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said: “You do it by committee, knowing that it’s probably not going to be one-two-three. It’s going to be the veterans that are going to be back in that locker room.
“We have a nice group of young, very talented players that, as Dirk, will be representative of this city for a long, long period.
“It’s been such a great first year for Luka, but he’s certainly not a finished product. Defense is a big piece of it. And now, with Dirk truly being gone, the leadership void that needs to be filled.
“He has the ball in his hands a lot, He’s our point forward, point guard, quarterback. There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with that position.