Instantly, the challenge was for Dallas to build a championship-caliber team around the Slovenian sensation.
When it reached the Western Conference Finals this past season by toppling the top-seeded Phoenix Suns in the second round of the playoffs, it looked like the Mavs had taken a big step towards title contention.
After all, they had been one of the league’s hottest teams down the stretch, winning 36 of their last 48 games on the strength of one of pro basketball’s better defenses.
But so far this offseason, the Mavs have been forced to go back to square one.
The Departure Of Jalen Brunson Is Huge
One of the reasons the Mavericks overachieved this spring was the emergence of guard Jalen Brunson.
After being relatively quiet in his first three pro seasons, he blossomed in 2022, averaging 16.3 points and 4.8 assists while shooting 50.2 percent from the field and 37.3 percent from 3-point range.
But the playoffs were where Brunson truly proved he was becoming an impact player.
When Doncic missed the first three contests of the first round versus the Utah Jazz, Brunson filled in ably, scoring 41 points in Game 2 and 31 points in Game 3 to give Dallas a 2-1 series lead.
When Dallas stunned the Suns in Game 7 of the second round in Phoenix, Brunson went 11-of-19 from the field and 2-of-4 from downtown to score 24 points.
Overall, he averaged 21.6 points per game in the 2022 NBA playoffs.
Once the Mavs were knocked out of the Western Conference Finals by the eventual champion Golden State Warriors, it was clear they needed to re-sign Brunson, who was about to become a free agent.
Instead, the New York Knicks made Brunson a lucrative offer, and just like that, he was off to the Big Apple.
Even worse, Brunson hinted that he didn’t want to be a second banana behind Doncic.
“I didn’t want to stand in Luka’s shadow anymore. Here [in New York] I have my own team and I’m confident that I can lead this one to a championship.”
-Jalen Brunson on why he didn’t extend his contract with the Dallas Mavericks pic.twitter.com/1dTuTv3RRA
— NBACentraI (@TheNBACentrel) July 9, 2022
The Knicks clearly needed a shot in the arm after such a disappointing season, and if what we saw from Brunson in the playoffs was duplicatable, he will give them just that.
“I thought it was great for the Knicks. They needed a steady young point guard that can go with their youth. It seems like they’re getting younger, more athletic. I’m excited about what they have in store”
— Baron Davis on the Knicks signing Jalen Brunson pic.twitter.com/ctWGJjJkNE
— New York Basketball (@NBA_NewYork) July 10, 2022
Meanwhile, the Mavs are now taking on the appearance of a malnourished patient.
Doncic Could Be In For A Rough Period
Since the Mavericks don’t have any cap space, it looks like they will go into the 2022-23 season with an under-manned squad.
Doncic gives any team a chance to beat any opponent on any given night, but over a long season, the Mavs will have trouble generating enough points to win a majority of their games.
This past season, Dallas was just 15th in offensive efficiency, 24th in points per game, and dead-last in pace.
Those are not numbers that a playoff-caliber team should put up.
The Mavs also have a lack of assets they can use to improve through trades, limiting their options even further.
Until owner Mark Cuban can figure out a way to bring him a co-star, Doncic could experience plenty of frustration for the next couple of years.