Last season, Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Dončić tied for the NBA lead, drawing 16 technical fouls. With one later rescinded by the league, Dončić at least avoided the mandatory one-game suspension that comes with receiving more than 15. Even the 2018–19 NBA Rookie of the Year admitted he was going overboard with his complaints about the officiating last season.
It’s a mantra he repeated early this season. Dončić told reporters (while reminding himself) that he needed to control his emotions better. But in a Dec. 1 game against the New Orleans Pelicans, the Slovenian standout couldn’t help himself. In fairness to Dončić, he had a valid point.
Luka Dončić is again among the NBA leaders in technical fouls
According to NBA Media Central, Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz leads the league in technical fouls, hit with six through games of Nov. 28. Minnesota Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns join Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook of the Los Angeles Lakers with five apiece.
But in a group of 10 players tied with four, you find Luka Dončić. He’s once again on pace to flirt with the suspension threshold of 16.
Among coaches, Dončić’s former boss with the Dallas Mavericks leads the league. Now with the Indiana Pacers, Rick Carlisle has three technical this season. A group of nine coaches has two each.
The NBA has a system of escalating fines for technical fouls. Players are docked $2,000 for the first five, $3,000 apiece for the next five, and $4,000 for techs 11 through 15. Additionally, the NBA issues a warning letter after the 12th technical foul.
The fines go up to $5,000 with the 16th offense, along with a one-game suspension. Each technical after that is a $5,000 fine, with one-game bans coming for every two accumulated.
When ejected, players are fined $2,000 for the first and $2,000 for each subsequent infraction. Players are ejected after their second T in a game.
In New Orleans, Luka Dončić wasn’t wrong about the officials
On Dec. 1, the Dallas Mavericks rolled to a 139–107 victory over the struggling Pelicans. But Luka Dončić had the referees in his crosshairs late in the first half.
Brandon Ingram didn’t hit the rim with a step-back jumper. Herbert Jones caught the miss, but Kristaps Porziņģis blocked his putback attempt.
Dallas already owned a 67–46 lead when Dončić the loose ball and headed upcourt. The Mavericks had an advantage, and it looked like an almost certain fast-break basket late in the half.
But the officials blew the play dead, calling a shot-clock violation against the Pelicans. It appeared Dončić had possession on the dribble when the buzzer sounded. But the whistle stopped the play. Dallas got a sideline out-of-bounds play, Dončić missed a long 3-point try as time expired, and the half ended.
But as Luka continued to downcourt after the whistle, he shouted his displeasure close enough to a courtside microphone to be heard exclaiming:
“Oh, my God. The refs are bad.”
He wasn’t penalized for the comment, perhaps because he was half the court away from the people with the whistles. It was a bang-bang play, but the officials are trained to err on the side of letting the defensive team gain possession if it may have an advantage. After all, they played 24 seconds of good enough defense to prevent a shot. In any event, Dončić had a point. It was a poor call.
Dončić is nowhere near challenging the NBA’s king of the T
With his 16 technical fouls last season, Luka Dončić tied Dwight Howard of the Philadelphia 76ers for the league lead. What’s impressive in Howard’s case is that he accumulated as many Ts as Dončić in roughly half the playing time.
The Dallas Mavericks star picked up 16 technical fouls in 2,262 minutes last season. Howard needed only 1,196 minutes of run to get the same number.
But Dončić is nowhere close to record territory.
In 2000–01, Portland Trail Blazers forward Rasheed Wallace took his grievances to a new level. In 77 regular-season games, Wallace picked up a whopping 38 technical fouls. He added three more during a first-round sweep at the hands of the eventual champion Lakers.
The current penalty system for technical fouls came after Wallace’s demonstrative effort in 2000–01. A player getting hit with 38 technical fouls now would be suspended for a total of 12 games. The fines would be steep, even at the relatively nominal cost (by NBA salary standards.
Without taking any potential ejections into account, the fine for 38 Ts is $160,000. Plus, the player would have to get to the magic number in 70 games because of the automatic suspensions. Each would cost a game check, so the fine there would vary by salary. Using Dončić as an example, he’d lose nearly $1.5 million at a per-game levy of $124,000.
He’s in the final year of his rookie contract at $10.2 million this season. Next year, the price would increase substantially because of Dončić ‘s supermax extension. NBA charities would get more than $5.2 million of his $35.7 million salary in 2022–23 for the suspensions.
Perhaps learning to take things more in stride is the more economical approach for Luka Dončić and the Dallas Mavericks.