DALLAS - Luka Doncic issued the statement in his usual speaking style, staccato and understated, But by God, he said it. “Dirk’s been here 21 years,'' the Dallas Mavericks' young star said. "I want to stay here. If they want me, I'll be here.''
The Mavs Media Day question was about Luka's desire to take the franchise-leader baton from the retired Dirk Nowitzki. And had Doncic's answer simply been about that -- he also said that what he wants is to "just follow Dirk’s steps'' -- that would've been weighty enough. After all, Nowitzki cultivated one of the most special relationships ever been seen between an athlete and his community, a relationship that lives on.
Emulate that as an off-the-court citizen of North Texas? Wonderful. Emulate, too, the on-court brilliance that makes Dirk a cinch Hall-of-Famer? Wonderful.
But make a verbal commitment to chase those goals year after year, contract after contract, in a Dirk-esque "forever'' manner?
Luka Doncic is emerging as a star in an NBA era in which such a marriage is virtually unheard of.
After being taken with the third pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Doncic signed his three-year rookie contract worth a fully-guaranteed total of $22,293,360. In 2019-20, Doncic will earn a base salary of $7,683,360. He'll make just over $8 million next year, and then, as the Mavericks exercised their 2020-21 club option, he'll make about $10 million that year. After that he's eligible for restricted free agency in 2022.
And if you are an NBA fan who in the last decade has watched superstars jump from team to team, has watched entire franchises seem to shrivel up and die in the wake of a star's departure, and has watched Dirk (and only a handful of others, like San Antonio's Tim Duncan) be lauded for the simple act of loyalty ...
You are scared. Scared that Luka will want to play in L.A. Scared that he'll become best pals with a star on another team. Scared that Dallas won't be good enough, fast enough. Scared that the Mavs might somehow goof up this good thing.
Coach Rick Carlisle this week used the word "scary'' in discussing having to move on without Dirk.
“One thing that’s a little scary but also very exciting is this group of guys, led by Doncic and Porzingis, has a chance to define what Mavericks culture is going to be like going forward,” Carlisle said.
But it's substantially less scary if Doncic and Porzingis (the 24-year-old with his new five-year, $158 mil deal) are committed to being here, year after year, contract after contract.
DallasBasketball.com reached out to Mavs owner Mark Cuban for his interpretation of Luka's comments. But just as we did so, Cuban handled it via Twitter (and via the NBA-favored emojis):
Cuban has lived it. We've all lived it. Things change. Jason Kidd should've been here forever. Steve Nash should've been here forever. What a delight it would be if this thing, this time, is Dirk-like, and doesn't have to change.
Doncic made an immediate impact on the NBA landscape in Dallas as a teenager as he averaged 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists en route to winning Rookie of the Year. Now just 20, the idea is that he grows and grows, for years and years.
As much as his basketball skill, Dirk's unique brand of loyalty and selflessness is his legacy. Luka Doncic's desire to emulate all of that -- in ways that include "contractually'' -- all but eliminates the "scary'' from the Dallas Mavericks future.