DALLAS (AP) — Now that Luka Doncic has led his home country deep into the Olympic tournament, the star point guard's next task is getting the Dallas Mavericks out of the first round of the playoffs.
His new coach happens to be the last point guard to win a postseason series in Dallas, and Jason Kidd's best bet to do it from the bench 11 years later likely means figuring out how to turn Kristaps Porzingis into the European sidekick the Mavericks always envisioned.
“The simple way to put it is I want KP to be a basketball player,” Kidd said. “Being able to roll, to be able to shoot the mid-range, to able to put the ball on the floor, I want him to be who he is, a basketball player, and not just be limited to shooting 3s or crashing from the corner.”
Porzingis was little more than a decoy in a second consecutive first-round playoff loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, this time after Dallas won three times on the road and had a chance to close out the series at home before losing that one and Game 7 in LA.
An unexpected shakeup in leadership included the resignation of Rick Carlisle, who coached Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks to the franchise's only championship in 2011.
Soon after Kidd was hired and Nico Harrison replaced Donnie Nelson as general manager, Doncic signed his $207 million extension, a rookie supermax record.
Then it was off to Tokyo, where the 22-year-old led Slovenia to the semifinals of the small country's first Olympics before consecutive losses kept Doncic and company from earning a medal.
Now Doncic and Porzingis, the 7-foot-3 Latvian, will try to rediscover the formula that led to them averaging nearly 55 points per game combined in the playoff bubble in 2020 before Porzingis was sidelined by a knee injury.
This offseason was the first for Porzingis that didn't involve rehabbing from a knee injury since before his All-Star season with the New York Knicks in 2017-18. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee not long after that All-Star nod.
“He’s in way better shape this year, especially mentally,” Doncic said. “I think he’s going to have a great season this year.”
The season opener is Oct. 21 at Atlanta.
BRING BACK THE UNICORN
Kidd was in the Eastern Conference with Porzingis as the coach in Milwaukee from 2014-18. The Mavericks traded for Porzingis when he was still recovering from a torn ACL with the Knicks, believing he could make for a potent pairing with Doncic.
The Mavericks decided to keep him out of what was left of 2018-19 after the trade. And they were always careful with how they used him on back-to-backs. Kidd isn't shy about All-Star talk with Porzingis.
“Watching KP when he was in New York, the unicorn was born,” Kidd said. “We were scared of him because of the things that he could do. He could put it on the floor, he could get to the rim, he could shoot it over anybody that was going to guard him.
“He’s always had the rehab. If you’re always rehabbing, you never can grow or your game will never expand. He’s just been hovering. It wasn’t that long ago he was an All-Star. I really believe that he’s going to have a great year.”
BRUSH WITH GREATNESS
While he's still looking for that first playoff series victory going into his fourth season, Doncic has a dizzying list of accomplishments. One of them was needing less than two seasons to break Kidd's franchise record for triple-doubles. Doncic has 36 in the regular season. Kidd had 21 of his 107 in two stints with the Mavericks, who drafted him second overall in 1994 and traded for him in 2008.
“I look at Luka as a young Picasso,” Kidd said. “I don’t know if anybody told Picasso that he had to use all the paints. I just want to remind Luka that he can rely on his teammates, that his teammates are going to be there to help him. I’m very exited to have this opportunity to work with a young Picasso whose paintings have been incredible up to this point and are only going to get better with time and age.”
All of the expected starters are returning players. Shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. figures to start consistently after being in and out of Carlisle's lineup the past two seasons. Dorian Finney-Smith at small forward and Dwight Powell at center are the other likely starters.
Jalen Brunson will be Doncic's backup again, and lovable 7-4 Serbian Boban Marjanovic is back for a third season. The fan favorite had never played two full seasons in the same city before coming to Dallas.
Harrison focused on shooting guards — and defense — while working the fringes of free agency to build around Doncic. The most significant additions were Reggie Bullock and Sterling Brown, who played at nearby SMU. Center Moses Brown came in a trade for Josh Richardson.