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The Dallas Mavericks have no picks in the 2021 NBA Draft, the best free agent from a thin class is on their own roster, the head coach is not going anywhere, and the solutions are toilet bowl messy.
It starts by taking the ball out of Luka Doncic’s hands.
It includes with Kristaps Porzingis being trusted to do what he’s paid to do, and then actually doing it.
It ends by adding an adult in the room.
Step 1. Stop the James Harden routine
When it comes to ball hogs, our Luka Doncic is a ball hippo.
The NBA tracks how much time players have the ball in their hands, and in the playoffs Luka led the entire league in touches, time of possession, and was third in average seconds per touch.
Russell Westbrook could only be so lucky.
In the regular season, Luka was at the top of those categories, too.
But ... Luka’s assists.
In the regular season, Luka averaged 8.6 assists per game. In the postseason, that figure jumped to 10.3.
The day after the Mavs’ season ended, however, with their Game 7 loss to the LA Clippers on Sunday, “ball movement” was a theme for a reason.
The Mavs were third-worst in the playoffs in assists as a team, and 26th in the NBA in the regular season.
All of those Luka triple-double stats are intoxicating, but they come with a price. And limits.
“Part of his maturity is, again, knowing how to balance all of those kill shots with involving teammates at the right time,” Mavs GM Donnie Nelson told the media on Monday. “That’s part of the maturity process. As we move forward you’ll see more of an inclusive effort on those fronts.”
The Mavs have seen how far they can go with Luka doing everything but selling Texas Dawgs on the concourse at halftime, and it looks similar to how far the Houston Rockets traveled with Harden.
You can’t win it all built around a player who holds the ball this much.
Step 2. Figure out the KP Issue.
What Rick Carlisle did to KP in the 2021 NBA playoffs is akin to what happens to what they do to race horses when they no longer want it to be a boy horse.
There is no good explanation for this, other than they must think Porzingis is hurt and will never be the player he was before the knee injuries. Either that or he’s prepping for the Cowardly Lion role in “The Wizard of Oz” at summer stock kids’ theater.
Carlisle praised KP throughout the playoffs, because unless your last name is Odom or Rondo he always does that. Carlisle also said immediately after the series that Porzingis is moving better and is “finally healthy.”
If that is the case, then where is the logic in turning a 7-foot-3 unicorn into a 6-foot-3 small forward who sits at the 3-point line and doesn’t shoot the ball?
KP’s field goal attempts per game went from 15.9 in the regular season to 10.3 in the playoffs. And in the final month plus his value as a defender diminished to “meh” status.
Carlisle told 1310 The Ticket on Tuesday, “KP has great value as a spacer. He also has great value as a basketball player that cuts, moves, rolls and does those kinds of things.”
That’s probably worth $30 million alone.
“We’ll study it very closely over the summer and see where this roster goes,” Carlisle said.
That’s not a red flag, but sounds more like a checkered flag on KP’s time with the Mavs.
Expect rumors to fly the Mavs are trying to trade KP, who is signed for three more seasons at $30 million plus. Good luck with that.
Doncic said he wants to get KP more involved, and that is the only solution.
If it isn’t, then KP will soon stand for KaPut.
Step 3. Find a veteran point guard.
This goes in conjunction with Step 1.
The Mavericks need an adult who knows what’s what, and is not afraid. They need a point guard who can take the load off Luka.
If for some reason Phoenix Suns veteran Chris Paul were to opt out of his contract — which he won’t — he would be the ideal fit.
Jalen Brunson played big-time ball in high school and at Villanova, but winning in the NBA playoffs is not like beating Kansas in the Final Four.
When Carlisle opted for reserve Trey Burke in the second half of Game 7, it wasn’t panic time as much as it was give up time.
Brunson is a nice player with upside, but this position is a need.
Other than the Mavs keeping Tim Hardaway Jr., free agency presents no real solutions.
The path for the Mavs to improve is messy, and it starts by taking the ball out of their best player’s hands.