A short summer may have derailed many NBA star’s plans, but for Luka Dončić, it prepared him for the grueling full 82-game NBA regular season that starts in just a little over a month.
The 22-year-old superstar played a seven-game series against the L.A. Clippers. And immediately following the Dallas Mavericks’ first-round loss, he led the Slovenian national team to its first-ever Olympic Games, losing out on a medal to Australia. Yet, after the Olympic loss, Dallas provided a five-year $207 million contract extension as a consolation prize.
Clearly, it has been a pretty good summer for the man known as LukaMagic. However, the successes of this year have only push Dončić to be better for the upcoming season. And with the Mavericks’ limited roster moves, a better Dončić is the only answer to championship aspirations.
“Every time there’s a new season, I’m excited,” Dončić said to Marc Stein on The Stein Line. “Every time it’s the same goal, and that’s what we’re going to do again this year – win a championship.”
With Dallas bringing in Reggie Bullock and Sterling Brown while re-signing Tim Hardaway Jr. and trading for Moses Brown, there are more familiar faces than not in the locker room this season.
Moses Brown gives Dallas an athletic rebounder that can anchor the middle of the floor. Bullock provides defense and 3-point shooting, both of which the Mavericks need. Hardaway enjoyed an end-of-year breakout stretch that the team is hopeful he carries into the following season. And Sterling Brown adds desperately needed bench depth and shooting.
Still, the ball remains in Dončić’s hands, and with new head coach Jason Kidd wanting to run an up-tempo offense, Dallas’ point guard might enjoy more offensive touches than ever before.
Everything stops and starts with Dončić. That is why this summer was so important for his maturation and development as a player and as a leader. With Slovenia, Dončić gave a glimpse of what he could be when not hindered by a system a coach specifically wanted to run. Nearly singlehandedly, he carried Slovenia to a medal game but lost. That wasn’t the outcome he hoped for, but it did not change his approach to international basketball. He remains committed amidst the shortcomings.
“We tried to do it for our country – everybody wanted a medal – but we couldn’t,” Doncic said to Stein.
With Dallas, Dončić appears to have the same mentality; committed regardless of the outcomes because there is beauty in the process and achievement in daring to try.
Dončić’s obligations this summer left him with limited time away from the game. Two weeks to be exact. But that just comes with the territory when you have the city of Dallas on your back, as well as the country of Slovenia in your corner. Both only add to his responsibilities and expectations.
In Dallas’ case, getting most of his teammates remains the secret to Dončić’s ever-elusive quest at winning an NBA championship. One of those teammates is former All-Star Kristaps Porzingis. The pairing has been awkward for some stretches and breathtaking for others. Transcendent for one half and deplorable in the other. Victorious in one game and stifled in the next. Effective on Monday and defective on Tuesday. The two finding some form of consistency, under Kidd, is what will help Dallas take the next step towards contention.
Yet, the question remains: How likely is it that the two actually work out their on-court struggle?
With both enjoying a fully healthy offseason, the odds remain in their favor. There won’t be the need to ease Porzingis into the fold. And Dončić won’t have to play his way into shape like he did last season. From the start of training camp in late September, the two will begin building on what has the potential to be something special.
Kidd believes that the two are “the perfect pairing.” So does team owner Mark Cuban and new general manager Nico Harrison. It comes down to Dončić and Porzingis simply figuring it out on the floor.
With Dončić’s improved leadership skills and Prozingis enjoying the luxury of a summer not in injury rehab, the 2021-22 season has the makings of a breakout year for both of them.
However, it all starts with Dončić. And the good news is, he’s aware, and he is willing to bear that burden of responsibility.
“I have more responsibility now,” he said to Stein.
It was a short summer, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an effective one for Dončić moving forward.
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Feature image via Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports.