KISSIMMEE, Fla. – A fast-moving summer in more ways than one has less than 50 days to go before the Mavericks open training camp.
It will be the first camp of the Luka Doncic-Kristaps Porzingis era, and while we have no clue how that era is going to evolve, coach Rick Carlisle took some time out from his coaching clinic at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports this week to give us a sneak peek into what he believes this Mavericks’ team is capable of.
In April, he said the summer would go by before we knew it. Carlisle was right. And while the days zipped by like a Doncic thread-the-needle pass, the roster maneuvering came hot and heavy, too.
Among Carlisle’s initial impressions of the team he will lead in his 12th season as Mavericks’ coach?
He’s as excited as the rest of the Mavericks’ nation to find out exactly what they have in the Doncic-Porzingis pairing.
And he’s not afraid to lavish a little praise that comes with a hint of pressure on one member of the young core as he talked about his team for the first time since the summer signings of Porzingis, Delon Wright, Seth Curry and others.
“Listen, I can’t wait for him to get on the court with our guys,” Carlisle said. “Kristaps Porzingis has been one of my favorite young players ever since he came into the league. At 7-3-plus, he combines virtually every skill that there is in basketball – shooting, driving, rebounding, shot-blocking. He’s a good passer. And at that size, there are very few guys I’ve ever seen that can do all those things.”
Porzingis, who turned 24 on Aug. 2, hasn’t played in 18 months after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in February, 2018. It will be 20 months between NBA games when he finally takes the court in the season opener in late October.
But he is without question a proven talent if his health returns to what it was before the injury. And, on paper at least, he would seem to be a wonderful fit with Doncic, the reigning rookie of the year who, at 20, is already on the cusp of stardom because of his ballhandling, scoring, rebounding and overall savvy beyond his years.
“I like the possibilities,” Carlisle said. “We’re young. We’re deep. Our young players have a level of experience now. I believe it’s a group that will grow together well. There will be ups and downs. But they’re great kids and they’re pros. And I believe they want to play together and that they want to win.”
Getting Doncic and Porzingis acclimated quickly will be one of the keys for the Mavericks to make sure they don’t dig a major hole like they have the last three seasons. They have been fighting from behind relentlessly and never made any real runs to be involved in a playoff chase.
They haven’t reached the postseason since 2015-16 and most projections have them on the outside looking in again this season in a loaded Western Conference.
“We know the West is tough, but that’s going to be the goal – make the playoffs,” said J.J. Barea, who will be the oldest player on the roster now that Dirk Nowitzki is retired. “But the first goal we got to talk about is the first 20 games, the first 10 games. We’ve got to get off to a good start and get some rhythm and get some wins and then go from there. We can’t fall behind like the last couple of years.
“But this year, I see it as different. But yeah, (the goal is) to be in the run for the playoffs the last month and give us a chance.”
Carlisle knows there are intermediate steps on the way to a fast start in the regular season.
“We got to have a great training camp,” he said. “We got to develop a mentality for consistency and a high level of competitiveness. And understand it’s not going to be perfect all the time.
“We’re going to have stick together, have trust in one another and keep working. An NBA season is really, really long. There are all kind of different things going on with the schedule. And the No. 1 thing is sticking together and keep working to get better.”
And, again, it comes back to getting Porzingis and Doncic together and hope they can form one of the dynamic young duos in the NBA.
The recipe is there.
“Porzingis hasn’t been on the court with us yet, so we don’t know exactly what we have,” Carlisle said. “But I’ve seen enough of him to know that he’s another guy who can do an awful lot of things on the basketball court.”