DALLAS - It’s widely known that Media Day for NBA teams comes with a sugar-coated scoop of giddy anticipation as fans squeal inside the pink puff of their own high expectations for their particular team. ... Though sometimes that optimistic effervesce just turns out to be a nasty burp that explodes a few regular-season games in.
Sure, some fans attempt to cry as they shove themselves into the bottom of a bottle of vodka where they’re greeted by the afterthought of the 2006 NBA Finals, while others remain cautiously positive – but which emotion will end up winning when it comes to this season?
According to the Dallas Mavericks, the latter will end up skipping away happily thanks to the wildly anticipated paring of wunderkind Luka Doncic and the unicorn Kristaps Porzingis.
“We’ve seen a lot of them in pick-up games,” a chipper coach Rick Carlisle expressed during this first week of training camp when asked about how Doncic and Porzingis will complement each other during the season. “They both have tremendously high level of skill. They complement each other because Luka is great with a ball, KP can screen-and-roll, he can screen-and-pop, he can slip screens and catch-and-shoot, he shoots with long range, he drives the ball.”
After any given game during his long reign here, the Mavs head coach will stare down the media as if one of them had run over a litter of kittens with a lawnmower. But on this particular day, at the dawn of the new season, he was … happy. He was optimistic. He was smiling.
It was freaking weird.
“Both of these guys can create problems on their own (but) when you get them together,'' Rick said in a delighted tone, "we feel like they can create some even bigger problems for opponents."
In a lot of cases, Media Day is like the first day of school. Puzzling, electric, and mystifying as we all mull about, trying to figure out which new players have the personalities of motel lobby art (spoiler alert: charisma is strong with this batch of young Mavericks so it’s safe to say that no one falls on that side of the snooze spectrum). While a Dirk Nowitzki-shaped void echoed off the walls of the divided AAC practice court below the Jack Daniel’s bar, Doncic, Porzingis, a healthy-looking J.J. Barea (minus shoe lifts), Dwight Powell, Jalen Brunson, Tim Hardaway Jr., and the rest of the roster posed for photographs and buzzed through interviews while joking around with mini-basketballs.
They did it all amidst injury-plagued minds and poked and prodded doubts.
It’s been almost two years since an ACL tear brought down the lengthy wall that was Porzingis when he played for the New York Knicks, and for the first time since that night, he’s feeling like himself on the court. (See our Dalton Trigg's terrific look at where KP is now - "Bigger, Bolder, Better'' - here.) Armed with a fey shrug, Kristaps, tugged at his uniform slightly as he answered the press’ questions about his injury.
“I feel great,” he answered when asked the typical query regarding his health. “In my mind, I obviously wanted to come back when I was 100 percent and I didn’t want to halfway do it. I made sure I’m 100-percent healthy and now I’m back.”
A couple of weeks ago, a NASA space telescope made a stentorian find when it stumbled upon a gargantuan black hole just going to town on a passing star in what appeared to be scene worthy of "CSI: The OMG WTF is Up With the Damn Universe'' edition. The gravitational forces ripped apart the star in a tidal disruption event, which means the hole’s gravity yanked gas from the star while tossing fragments of it into space.
Basically, the universe is reenacting what went down with Kevin Durant during the 2018-19 NBA playoffs in terms of his strained right calf that eventually turned into an Achilles tendon injury when he came back during Game 5 of the Finals. The media had pulverized the Golden State Warriors medical staff, blaming them for rushing KD to make an on-the-court appearance during the Finals when it was Durant himself who said that he had pushed himself to come back, saying that Game 5 was the goal date. Injury took hold of the star and ripped it apart fragment by fragment.
The Mavericks players and medical staff have done their absolute best to side-step the parlous gravitational forces that managed to rip apart their stars' former tidal disruptions on the hardwood - like keeping Kristaps, who told us that at times he couldn’t see the finish line when it came to his own injury, firmly placed on the sidelines. Even though the thought of not playing with NBA icon Dirk Nowitzki during his final season was needling at him.
“I was super-tempted to play for the last 10 or 15 games of the season,” Porzingis said as he calmly rubbed his hands together at the lost notion of pairing with a giant. “I’m glad I had the chance to play against him; that was also an experience. He was one of my idols growing up and to be able to guard him and score on him … He scored on me more than I scored on him and just to have that experience was pretty awesome.”
With Porzingis’ rehab being complete, the Mavericks are implacable in pitching the idea of their young, and healthy, core with Barea now being the veteran presence that gives wise-old Gandalf advice in the locker room. Ah, Barea, who has also fallen victim to that fetidly exasperating black hole. On January 11, 2019, Barea ruptured his right Achilles tendon and was sidelined for the rest of the season.
That black hole was working overtime last season.
And with the first preseason game (Tuesday at Tulsa vs. OKC) coming up rapidly, the Mavericks are working hard to separate their own bright stars from the gravitational pull of those disconsolate black holes that manage to hide in a plethora of places.