Are Luka Dončić and Kristaps Porziņģis enough to make the Mavs a contender?

Are Luka Dončić and Kristaps Porziņģis enough to make the Mavs a contender?
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When Googling the phrase “Dončić Porzingis,” the first hits all direct you to stories about their relationship, chemistry, and beef. [As of this writing, at least.] That’s not to say there’s friction between the current two Dallas Mavericks cornerstones, but rather, the outside hunger for there to be some, or the need for clarity whether there is or ever was any.

Mark Cuban sat down with The Athletic’s Tim Cato for a question and answer, and the Dallas Mavericks CEO said of Luka Dončić’s and Kristaps Porziņģis’ relationship that such curiosity is to be expected.

“I’m not surprised about anything being scrutinized,” Cuban said. “That’s the way the NBA works, and more often than not, it’s the work of one team or another trying to invent the rumor mill so that players and teams have to respond. Whether it’s trade rumors or whatever.”

Additionally, he likened their relationship to a productive one between two coworkers at any job.

“And as far as their relationship, it’s a good, solid business relationship, like two coworkers in any other business may have. You may not go to happy hour with your peers all the time. You might go out to dinner with them now and again, and you are work friends and get along great at work. That’s pretty much how they get along. Over time, relationships improve, particularly if a team is winning.”

Later on, however, the conversation shifted to Dončić — and justifiably so, since he’s the franchise player. But it’s that fact that leads to a lot of speculation surrounding the Mavs’ future.

And not necessarily in a bad way. Asked about the belief that star players want to play with Dončić, Cuban said, “From what I’m hearing from them, a lot.”

It’s an issue the Mavericks will need to resolve at some point, but that crossroads may arrive sooner than anticipated. The ever-changing NBA landscape is now constantly opening itself up to the idea that there are many legit contenders at any given time. But, simultaneously, championship windows aren’t what we perceived they once were. Case in point: The Boston Celtics, despite eventually landing Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, always seem to be a year or so away, but by now, they should’ve been in the NBA Finals after the Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry swindle, one would argue.

In this league, you may think you have 10 years, but you don’t. Guys don’t stay on teams the way they had in previous generations, and if you can’t ascend to the upper echelon in your conference, players get unhappy. It’s actually a natural human reaction. Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and the Portland Trail Blazers are outliers today.

And, as we know, the biggest issue with the Dončić-Porziņģis tandem — from what is publicly known, at least — is not even whether or not they’re compatible, it’s whether or not they’re good enough. It’s not to say Dončić isn’t already a top-five offensive talent because he is. When right, Porziņģis is a top… something — not nearly as high, but a borderline All-Star. But is that alone ever going to be truly enough in the Western Conference?

This year, at least, probably not, even with the injuries to the other Western Conference contenders, for example, like … all of them (except the Phoenix Suns, so far). Porziņģis is expected to be fresh off another ankle sprain tonight in Detroit, so he’s healthy for now, but the injuries are always a concern. Dončić is extension-eligible this summer, and we don’t even need to speculate on how that’ll go. But Porziņģis is guaranteed around $65 million for the next two years after this season, not including a $36 million player option for 2023-24. In his NBA career, he’s played in 282 games, but has missed 182 regular-season games in his career, and his meniscus tear in last year’s first-round series with the Clippers took him out of three playoff games on top of the first three weeks of this season. Even so, per HoopsHype, the KP intrigue was there last month, but Cuban shot it down.

For now, being in the mix is good enough. But at some point, maybe even this summer if they wish, the Mavericks will have to decide if Porziņģis is theee max player to have next to Dončić in order to compete in a conference with the Lakers, Clippers, Nuggets, Suns, Jazz, and Trail Blazers in the immediate future. A Dončić extension would kick in to begin the 2022-23 season, which may allow another year to see if the experiment with Porziņģis could lead to a contender, along with rotation players led by Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jalen Brunson. With the right rotation player additions, it may, but in a league where the Nets went from Quincy Acy to Kevin Durant in four years, we’ll see. Shit just happens.