Being an NBA star is unfair.
The expectations are always lofty. People ask you to be superhuman, and when you’re not, they want you out of town. It’s a no-win game. The fans love you when you’re great, and they hate you when you’re just good. And if you’re any worse than “good,” the fans will want their money back.
Doncic’s need for offensive help:
So, it’s no secret that after averaging 13.1 points per game in the playoffs, Kristaps Porzingis didn’t live up to his five-year $158 million deal signed in the 2019-20 season. Dallas hoped he’d be the secondary scorer Luka Doncic needed. That hasn’t been the case. And in an offseason of drastic change in Dallas’ front office, team owner Mark Cuban wants a secondary scorer to be the primary concern during free agency.
“Trust me, nobody wants to get Luka more help than I do,” Cuban said to The Athletic’s Diamond Leung. “What do we need is really the question, and we need a second scorer. There’s no question about it.”
Getting Doncic help has been the primary focus during the front office shake-up. The Mavericks brought in Jason Kidd, the definition of a players coach. As general manager and president of basketball operation, they hired Nico Harrison. Being a former Nike executive, he is one of the most connected people in the league. And according to numerous reports, NBA teams have vied for his services for several years. He has a pull with players that Cuban believes will lure top-tier free agents to Dallas.
He did transform Doncic from a Nike athlete to a Jordan Brand athlete if that counts for anything.
The Porzingis problem:
As for the vilifying of Porzingis, Cuban doesn’t believe that it is entirely fair. Dallas asked him to fulfill a certain role, and he did so to the best of his abilities. It is not the role that Porzingis nor Dallas originally dreamed of, but it gave the Mavericks their best chance to win.
“I think people were unfairly giving KP a hard time. KP is who he is,” Cuban said. “We didn’t think our need for a secondary scorer would be as great as it was honestly. We thought we needed more defense and that would balance out things.”
It’s so easy to forget. When Dallas made the move to trade for Porzingis, he was regarded as a unicorn because of his adept defensive abilities coupled with a smooth offensive game.
The back-to-back injury-riddled seasons clearly affected his mobility and movement. And the lack of offensive creativity on Dallas’ roster forced his hand at creating his own shot more than what was originally planned.
Who is available:
Cuban stating that Doncic needs offensive help is one thing. Going out and finding it is another.
The Mavericks can create max cap space by renouncing the rights they have on their free agents. However, this free agency class lacks the headline players of years past. Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard both have player options to enter unrestricted free agency this offseason. With both player’s teams playing in the Western Conference Finals, it’s believed that they are staying put.
Outside of Paul and Leonard, there is DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Mike Conley.
DeRozan offers a scoring punch but adds little to an already ailing Mavericks defense. And at 32-years old, it’s unsure how many years he has left as an elite one-on-one scorer.
Lowry brings leadership, veteran savvy and a championship pedigree, but he’s 35. Typically with point guards of his size, that is when they fall off the proverbial “cliff.” How much he would be able to offer Dallas both offensively and defensively is in question. However, he still remains an intriguing player if placed as the third option within Dallas’ offense.
Conley also adds an intriguing dimension, but there is very little belief that he leaves the Utah Jazz for a place like Dallas this offseason.
An in-house option is banking on the improvement of Tim Hardaway jr. He emerged as a key offensive creator at the end of the regular season. And in the playoffs, he played his way into a big payday. Still, it is unsure if he is even the answer for Dallas.
“Now Timmy Hardaway did a great job emerging as a catch-and-shoot guy and even improved his off-the-dribble game, but we do have to improve there,” Cuban said. “And that’s what we’re going to look for this summer. How do you get a star who can create his own shot so the responsibility isn’t completely on Luka?”
Here is what to expect:
The perfect solution for Dallas isn’t necessarily clear. To build a contender on the fly, the Mavericks have to bank on Porzingis improving, and the front office providing insurance around the edges of the roster.
With Kidd now calling shots, Porzingis’ role within the offense will change. There is a hope he can rediscover his offensive confidence when not relegated to being a spot-up shooter. If Kidd can find the best way to deploy Porzingis alongside Doncic while pairing them with a secondary ball-handler, Dallas’ offense may be a scary sight in the 2021-22 NBA season.
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Feature image Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports.