DALLAS - The first "step'' already happened, and it was delivered by Luka Doncic in a way that's allowed the Dallas Mavericks to "skip a step.'' They didn't go from poor to mediocre on the way to being good; we never really had to endure much "mediocre'' during the Dirk Nowitzki-to-Luka bridge.
What's next? In the 2020 NBA offseason, in no particular order, Dallas Mavs Donuts: The Offseason Blueprint - A 12-Step Program To Build An NBA Champion ...
DONUT 1: DON'T WAIT The Mavs front office has used the word "patience'' in their plan to build around Luka.
That's the wrong word.
Even in this past year, Dallas, finishing seventh in the West, was a sliver from fourth. There is never a way to know which year is "the year.'' So don't assume that 2021-22 is going to be "the year.'' Or 22-23. Or whenever.
Make 2020-21 "the year.'' Pursue it as if true contention is a reality now.
DONUT 2: DO KP RIGHT We do know what "wrong'' is; no Dallas should not trade Kristaps Porzingis, as some disgruntled observers believe. This is a completely unique talent in his mid-20's. ... who played like a superstar most nights in his first full season here.
But we don't yet know what "right'' is. The decision starts with the medical evaluation of his torn meniscus - surgery vs. rest.
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And after that? If "minutes limits'' and "nights off'' and "load management'' is the way to keep him healthy, bite that bullet. Built properly, the future Mavs have a chance to be like other perennial contenders, for whom getting to the playoffs was the point ... because they knew once they did that, they were a legit threat.
Casey Smith and his medical team - the best in the biz - will find the right plan, whatever that is. They must.
DONUT 3: DON'T FALL IN LOVE WITH 'OUR BOYS IN BLUE' "Hey, let's just get Maxi Kleber, Tim Hardaway Jr., Seth Curry and Dwight Powell to 'maximize their abilities,' and let's therefore not change a thing!''
News flash: Those players are already doing that.
Kleber just spent two weeks guarding Kawhi Leonard ... and you wanna ask him to "do more''?
Coach Rick Carlisle this year talked a lot about Dallas' depth, and he was partly right; the Mavs have lots of guys on their roster who could be the fourth-best or seventh-best player on a great team.
That's not good enough.
DONUT 4: LUKA'S TOOLBOX Luka Doncic is, at 21, one of the handful of greatest players on the planet. Incredibly, especially in comparison to the previous Donut, he's the guy who more can be asked of.
And he is visibly getting better as he grows. It's a Dallas tradition (see: Nowitzki, Dirk) to use the offseason to "add a tool to the toolbox.''
Free throws, Luka. Free throws.
DONUT 5: ACQUIRE A TWO-WAY TOUGH GUY Carlisle knows a team needs to be top-10-rated defensively to be a title-winner; this group finished middle-of-the-pack across the board.
Last offseason's Andre Iguodala idea was a sound one. The Mavs need to pursue a replica of that this offseason.
DONUT 6: 'FIGHT CLUB? It's true that the Clippers might win the title in part because players like Marcus Morris and Montrezl Harrell either talk or act tough. But Dallas does not want (or need) a tough guy who turns basketball into a street fight; Dallas does want (and need) a tough-guy basketball player.
Old friend Jae Crowder is one name worth mentioning. Good player. Good guy. And he fights for the basketball, as opposed to trying to start fistfights with the other team.
DONUT 7: YES, THEY NEED A 'THIRD STAR' This is non-negotiable.
I'm seeing many say, "It's a two-star league now,'' as if to suggest a third star is no longer the priority it was during the super-team era.
Wrong. If the other powerhouse teams have two stars, the team that has three stars will be superior to the other powerhouse teams.
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Giannis Antetokounmpo. Explore it now. Bradley Beal. Explore it now. Buddy Hield? He's a level down from this, but he's a 20-points guy that a crummy team moved to its bench. ... who just happens to live in Dallas in the offseason. Explore these now.
DONUT 8: BE A BUYER We're happy to announce that Mavs owner Mark Cuban has already, via DallasBasketball.com, stated this as his intent.
Said Cuban: "If it comes down to (spending) money, I'm a buyer. Always. Always.''
What does it mean to "buy''? It can be a willingness to take on a fat contract (as the Mavs did in accepting the Tim Hardaway Jr. ballast in the KP trade, which worked out wonderfully). It can be a "Nuclear Winter'' trade in which the centerpiece is "overpaid'' in his present city ... but deemed "worth it'' here. It can be giving up multiple "little assets'' for a biggie.
"Be a Buyer'' is about aggression and risk.
DONUT 9: DRAFT PICKS AS CAPITAL Over the years, Dallas has been accused of "not valuing the draft.'' Sometimes, it was the trading-away of picks that drew the accusations.
But trading picks is "valuing the draft.'' As long as what you trade them for brings back value.
Dallas traded picks for Luka and for KP. And now we see the value.
This year, the Mavs hold picks Nos. 18 and 31. As long as they are not frittered away ... they can be used in a variety of ways.
DONUT 10: BE LUKA-FRIENDLY It's a million years away, but when we talk about potentially-unhappy stars, we tend to skip over the possibility that one of Dallas' stars could ever be unhappy.
The Mavs generally do a brilliant job of this. Dirk didn't just stay here because he's a "loyal guy''; Cuban and Donnie Nelson earned that loyalty.
What does Luka want? What does he need? I'm not talking about coddling him (though you'll notice how Luka-friendly Carlisle immediately became; that "clashes with point guards'' reputation never happened here, did it? I am talking about surrounding him with a supporting cast that allows his BBIQ a vote in the process.
Goran Dragic would be one shorter way for me to express this concept.
DONUT 11: CAP SPACE IS NOT KING AND 'FREE AGENCY' ISN'T ABOUT WHO IS FREE This has been a hard lesson for many of us (including me) to learn: The way to lure players to Dallas isn't with cap space. They don't care about your cap space, and in recent offseasons, teams without it (Miami and Golden State especially) acquired stars without seemingly having the room to do so.
The way to create the foundation for deals isn't cap space, it's assets. Be ready for when it's time for some disgruntled star to want out of his present city ... by possessing enough assets to be a real bidder.
And that has nothing to do with who is "free.'' If and when Giannis wants to ever leave Milwaukee, you know when he'll forge his escape?
Whenever he damn well pleases. Not when his contract is up, but rather, when his patience runs out. That's it.
DONUT 12: THE FINAL WORD - LUKA AS RECRUITER Mark Cuban fancies himself as a premium salesman ... but in terms of luring big-fish stars, he'll admit that historically, not enough of them bite. Nelson and Tony Ronzone are masterful in what they do, and they are recruiters.
But one thing that's never come to fruition here in the Cuban Era: A prominent player as the Vice President of Recruiting. Dirk never wanted the job; Jason Kidd took the job and then became a Basketball Benedict Arnold.
But now? Luka Doncic is universally seen not only as "the face of the franchise,'' but also as a "face of the league.'' How many times during the bubble games did a national broadcaster say it is so? Meanwhile, how many times after games did opposing players, win or lose, rush to greet and console/congratulate Doncic?
This kid is a charismatic magnet who is egoless enough to let a teammate lead the NBA in scoring and to let a teammate get the MVP votes; in that scenario, Doncic will simply lead the NBA in assists.
As I've said often in the Mavs' roster-building battles with New York, Miami and Los Angeles: Not even Mark Cuban has enough money to provide Dallas with oceans, starlets, Broadway, mountains, Malibu, Hollywood and glorious tradition.
But Dallas now boasts a basketball equivalent of all of that. Luka Doncic, ‘Recruiting Magnet’, is oceans, starlets, Broadway, mountains, Malibu, Hollywood and glorious tradition.