The Dallas Morning News
Postdirk transition launches
Doncic set to be next face of franchise; Mavs warn he’s not a finished product
Shortly after noon on Thursday, Dirk Nowitzki emerged blearyeyed from the last seasonending team meeting of his career.
Remember last week, when Nowitzki’s wife, Jessica, said he told her he looked forward to having ice cream for breakfast? Turns out, after his careerending game Wednesday night in San Antonio, Nowitzki indulged in beer and wine and cookies and awoke Thursday too late for breakfast.
“Day one of the rest of my life starts where I don’t have to think
about basketball at all times,” he said. He added that walking out of the AT&T Center and landing back in Dallas to a water canon salute mostly left him with “relief it’s over.”
For the Mavericks franchise, Thursday’s exit meetings and locker cleanouts at American Airlines Center was day one of Life After Dirk, following 21 legendary seasons.
Whether planned or coincidence, after Nowitzki spoke to reporters Thursday, the next player to speak was rookie point guard Luka Doncic.
The Mavericks’ entire 3349 season was in many ways a passing of the torch from 40yearold Nowitzki to 20yearold Doncic, so why not another symbolic moment?
Statistically, Doncic was a morethanworthy torch recipient, and he also consistently showed a willingness to take gameontheline shots — and often make them.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle called Doncic, “the best rookie I’ve seen since Lebron James, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan.”
Lofty praise, supported with historical evidence: Doncic joined Oscar Robertson (196061) as the only NBA rookies to average at least 20 points, seven rebounds and six assists per game.
Doncic on Thursday was named Western Conference Rookie of the Month for March and April, completing the first season sweep of the monthly award since KarlAnthony Towns in 20152016.
Electric though Atlanta’s Trae Young has been this season, especially in recent weeks, if Doncic doesn’t win the Rookie of the Year in a landslide, a whole lot of voters should lose that privilege.
Still, Carlisle and Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson spoke of potential improvement areas for Doncic, especially in the franchise’s A.D. (After Dirk) Age.
“It’s just been such a great first year for Luka, but he’s certainly not a finished product,” Nelson said. “Defense certainly is a big piece of it. And I think ... with Dirk truly being gone, the leadership void that needs to be filled.”
Nelson noted that Doncic “has the ball in his hands a lot. He’s our pointforward, point guardquarterback. And so there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with that position.”
Carlisle, who just finished his 11th season as Mavericks coach, said responsibility also extends to himself to get Doncic to understand the possibilities.
“He’s one of those rare players that is going to have the ability, when he really applies himself to the greatest extent that he can, to allow every player around him to achieve beyond what many people thought their means would have been.
“So this is heavy stuff, but I have a huge belief in this kid.,” Carlisle said. “But, it’s going to be a lot of work, and this is going to be a huge summer for him to get in the best condition of his life and position himself to lead this franchise going forward on the floor, along with Kristaps Porzingis.”
Carlisle reiterated that he intends to travel to Doncic’s native Slovenia and Porzingis’ native Latvia to visit this summer.
Not surprisingly, Doncic said that, though it certainly is a goal to win the Rookie of The Year award, he’s soon going to retreat to Slovenia and “turn off all of my social media. You’re not going to find me.”
The truth about the leadership void that Nowitzki leaves behind is that it’s simply part of a Grand Canyonesque chasm that his departure creates.
Asked whether he is ready to take the keys to the franchise from Nowitzki, Doncic shrugged.
“I mean, I wouldn’t say it’s mine,” he said. “There’s a lot of players, they play big roles. I think it’s our franchise. Like I was talking about before, the young guys.
“I think it’s our franchise.”