DALLAS - Rather than engaged in a non-productive argument about the early-season conditioning level of young superstar Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavs coach Rick Carlisle is taking a higher road - and a wiser one.
“He’s learning,'' Carlisle told us on Tuesday, "that greatness is a year-round proposition.”
Carlisle recently was aboard a flight when he came across a film called "In Search of Greatness,'' featuring the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Jerry Rice and Pelé. It inspired the coach to inspire his star in a certain way.
"There is talk about his conditioning and those kinds of things,'' Carlisle conceded in our interview on 105.3 The Fan. "It's ongoing, but as we move forward, I see more maturity.''
It is easy for some to forget that Doncic coming off of a breakout sophomore season in Dallas and now the betting favorite to win the NBA's MVP award, is but 21 years old.
Carlisle, clearly, does not want us to forget that.
But the coach is also realistic about the precious nature of time as it relates to this shortened 72-game NBA schedule that creates less margin for error. And he's realistic about the failings in Dallas' 1-2 start to this season, including a pair of frustrating road losses to the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers, games in which the coach believes his team didn't play with enough "hit-first force.''
Maybe Dallas fixed some of that on Sunday afternoon, setting a shot-clock-era NBA record with a 50-point lead over the Kawhi Leonard-less Los Angeles Clippers, in a game where Dallas eventually won by 51 points.
In that outing, Doncic - who has, despite some struggles, posted big numbers in all three games - finished with 24 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, with just two turnovers in 26 minutes of action.
Carlisle believes Doncic's learning curve, at his young age, is essentially unprecedented in basketball history. That's one reason he's not as worried as some about Luka's present fitness, which Doncic himself admits is less than optimal.
"He's figuring all of that stuff out, and he's getting closer and closer to getting his legs,'' Carlisle said. "But this is quite a different year. I think that goes without saying, and the challenges are very high."
Said Doncic on the subject: “I mean, people on Twitter say every stuff. But it’s true I’m not in my best shape. I will get there for sure. But, you know, I’ve never been a muscular guy, so what can I say?”
"Fat Luka'' is more funny than fair. And to be sure, the "challenges'' to perform on a level with the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Jerry Rice, and Pelé, not to mention LeBron and Giannis and Kawhi - are no joke, either.
But the teacher is teaching. And the pupil is learning.
"He's learning that greatness is something that is a year-round proposition,'' Carlisle said, in words worth repeating. "You've got to really bust your tail to keep yourself in the best form possible all year long."