What’s next for Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks?

Luka Doncic announced himself as the NBA’s next superstar with a stellar first-round performance versus the Clippers, but what does the future hold for him?

Dallas Mavericks wunderkind Luka Doncic announced himself as the NBA’s next superstar in this year’s first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers, nearly averaging a 30-point triple-double and hitting one of the most memorable buzzer-beaters in recent postseason history.

However, with the Mavericks now eliminated and a long offseason ahead, owner Mark Cuban, general manager Donnie Nelson, and head coach Rick Carlisle need to look toward the future. Doncic, just 21 years old, is expected to be an MVP front-runner next season, and while Dallas took a step forward in 2020, it still has work to do to become one of the premier teams in the West.

Doncic is set to become a restricted free agent in 2022, at which point the Mavericks will assuredly offer him a max contract. With running mate Kristaps Porzingis already on a max deal, Dallas seems to have zeroed in on its top two options. Now, the challenge is building the right kind of roster around them.

Team brass made it clear this season that offense is a priority, surrounding Doncic and Porzingis with sharpshooters like Maxi Kleber and Seth Curry along the 3-point line. Adding more talent along the wings in 2020 could be the smart play, but Dallas is likely more inclined to set its sights on 2021.

A weak upcoming free-agent class is followed up by a star-studded one potentially including LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Paul George, and Blake Griffin, among others. While Griffin and George may fit the mold of Dallas’s offense, both have concerns. Griffin is still nursing a knee injury that kept him out for most of the 2020 season, while George struggled mightily against the Mavericks in the first round. James and Leonard are both likely unattainable, and luring Antetokounmpo away from Milwaukee might be nothing more than a pipe dream.

With plenty of money coming off the books ahead of the 2021 offseason, Dallas could be positioned to offer a max deal. But the likelihood of them landing a player of the caliber who would actually complement Doncic and Porzingis is fairly small.

The Mavericks may be best-served surrounding Doncic with high-end role players

Signing a third star may be tempting, but a closer look at the free-agent classes the next two seasons offers plenty of attractive mid-tier options that align with Dallas’s vision. Davis Bertans, Danilo Gallinari, Joe Harris, and Bogdan Bogdanovic could all give good value at a reasonable price, as stretchy forwards who can knock down 3-pointers.

Raptors guard Fred VanVleet is another intriguing option, but in a weak 2020 class, he is likely to be overpaid by a struggling team looking for a starter at point guard (see: New York Knicks). More likely, the four players listed above are the most reasonable options.

Harris is just a year removed from leading the league in three-point percentage, and all four can absorb some of the scoring load, with each averaging over 15 points per game.

For our purposes, let’s narrow this list to Bertans and Harris. Bogdanovic is a restricted free agent, and Dallas should be reluctant to overpay on an offer sheet with a Doncic extension quickly approaching. Gallinari, meanwhile, likely commands a figure similar to his current $21 million salary after a good season in Oklahoma City, which is likely a bit too rich for Dallas. Jordan Clarkson could be another attractive option off the bunch after excelling in that role with Utah, and could be a name to keep an eye on.

However, as Tyler Watts of The Smoking Cuban points out, Tim Hardaway Jr.’s player option will likely dictate how much flexibility Dallas will have in 2020, with an opt-out giving the Mavericks the flexibility to sign one of those pieces. If Hardaway opts in, all eyes shift to 2021.

Gordon Hayward and Victor Oladipo are both good fits outside of the top tier, but paying either the max would be reckless. Both have failed to return to form after recent leg injuries, but could be really nice complementary players on a team like the Mavericks. J.J. Redick and Kelly Oubre Jr. also fit the mold that Dallas seems to be looking for, and would be cheaper than Hayward or Oladipo.

Of course, Dallas could always run it back and bank on continued improvement from its young superstar. The Mavericks made the playoffs despite both Porzingis and Doncic missing time, and internal improvement could wind up being the way forward due to financial considerations and other factors. If Hardaway opts in, Dallas is forced in that direction anyways.

All things considered, entering the Antetokounmpo sweepstakes and looking at perimeter and wing players as a backup option in 2021 looks like the most likely path. Dallas is somewhat cap-strapped in 2020 but 2021 presents a great opportunity to build up the roster before a Doncic extension kicks in.

Dallas already had the league’s best offense in 2020, and the future is bright as is. However, even marginal roster improvement could elevate the Mavericks to a new level. Doncic’s play style lends itself to elevating the guys around him, and his continued improvement is the most important factor in Dallas.

As Luka goes, so do the Mavs, and while a plethora of options exist regarding future roster construction, the most important piece is already in Dallas. Any new additions are just icing on the cake, and upgrades at complementary positions could make the Mavericks a true contender in short order.

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