Luka Doncic Might Be Pressuring the Dallas Mavericks Into Acquiring His Mentor
After three seasons in the NBA, Luka Doncic has gone from one of the league’s best young players to one of the best players period. The 22-year-old finished his 2020-21 campaign averaging 27.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 8.6 assists per game. However, Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks didn’t make it far into the postseason, losing in seven games to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round.
After a second straight first-round elimination, Doncic is looking for ways to improve the Mavericks’ roster. One of those ways might be acquiring a fellow Slovenian.
Adding Luka’s friend could improve the Mavericks’ roster and make them a more legitimate contender. But it could also help keep Doncic happy and committed to Dallas for the long term.
Luka Doncic is spending time with fellow countryman Goran Dragic
Doncic flew back home to Slovenia to train for the upcoming NBA season. There, he met up with Goran Dragic, a 13-year veteran now playing for the Toronto Raptors.
Luka posted a photo on his Instagram story of him and Dragic working out together. The two guards, who played together on the Slovenian men’s national team, smiled with their arms over each other’s shoulders. There was no caption other than Doncic tagging his pal in the photo.
The 35-year-old Dragic is now playing for his fourth franchise after spending the last six years with the Miami Heat. He has averaged just under 14 points and five assists per game in his career, while spending the last three years coming off the bench. The veteran was part of the sign-and-trade this summer that brought Kyle Lowry to the Heat.
Dragic is due to make $19.4 million this season before becoming an unrestricted free agent next summer. He would likely welcome a trade to Dallas, especially after saying Toronto is not his preferred destination on Slovenian TV. The rebuilding Raptors have previously expressed their decision to hold onto Dragic, but that could change with the right trade offer.
Dragic would have a positive effect on the Mavericks, as well as Doncic
The Mavericks are desperate to build a contender around Doncic, but their supporting cast has been lacking. Kristaps Porzingis hasn’t lived up to expectations since being acquired from the Knicks. In addition, role players like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dorian Finney-Smith have a limited ceiling.
Dragic, while not a superstar, is a player who could improve the Mavs in a number of ways. He is a career 36 percent shooter from three, and can still create his own shot at 35 years old. He also brings a high level of physical and mental toughness to the locker room.
Shaquille O’Neal, who played with Dragic in Pheonix, talked about his former teammate’s toughness on NBA on TNT.
“There’s only two players to ever withstand my hazing, and I had to release what I was doing to them because of their toughness: Kobe Bryant and Goran Dragic,” said O’Neal. “I was hazing him one day and he said ‘Shaq, I’m from Slovenia. I’ve seen it all before,’ so I realized he was a tough kid.”
Dragic’s ability on the court, as well as his toughness and leadership, would help the Mavericks take the next step. His presence would also help Doncic, whom he served as a mentor for before Luka came to the NBA (h/t: ESPN).
Dragic has become Doncic’s national team roommate, friend, mentor and sounding board as he goes through the pre-draft process that almost took Dragic to the brink mentally. Doncic’s situation is different. He’s a potential No. 1 pick, a child prodigy who has been producing at an unprecedented level at age 18. But Dragic’s presence is imperative for Doncic, who will likely face the criticism that goes with European prospects selected in the top five.Mike Schmitz
In the Slovenian League, a younger Dragic was teammates with Sasa Doncic, the father of Luka. During that time, he met a seven-year-old Luka, who wiped the floor and fielded rebounds during practice.
“[Dragic] loved basketball,” Sasa Doncic said. “He was first in the practice, last at the practice. He had a good, good will.”
Dragic’s hard-working mentality, seen first-hand by Sasa, makes him the type of influence who can turn Luka from a superstar to an all-time great.
Adding Dragic could be a key step to keeping Luka Doncic in Dallas long-term
Doncic isn’t leaving Dallas anytime soon, as the 22-year-old inked a five-year, $207 million extension this summer. It was the supermax rookie extension, and one that carries a player option in his final year.
But while he can’t hit free agency until 2026 at the earliest, there is growing unrest regarding Doncic’s happiness in Dallas.
“Internally, there are concerns the front office’s dysfunction has hurt its ability to do so — and that poor relationships Doncic has with key members of the franchise, including [Director of Quantitative Research and Development Haralabos] Voulgaris, could impact his current desire to remain in Dallas long-term,” said The Athletic in a report earlier this summer. “The team’s most recent postseason defeat against the LA Clippers served as a direct indictment on the roster constructed around him. Can Mavericks management remedy that in time? Or, as some team sources fear, will they pay the price for the dysfunctional dynamics that exist in some corners of the organization?”
Doncic signed his rookie supermax, but that doesn’t mean the Mavs are off the hook. They have but a few years to not only build a championship-worthy team, but to ensure Doncic is satisfied with the direction of the franchise.
The first step for achieving both could very well be trading for Dragic.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and all contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.