Dallas Mavericks

Mavericks’ unicorn arrives, all 7-feet-3 of him. But real fun must wait to next year

You could almost see it in Rick Carlisle’s eyes.

As the Dallas Mavericks’ head coach sat with owner Mark Cuban, general manager Donnie Nelson, and the four newest players on the roster, including Kristaps Porzingis, Carlisle didn’t try to hide where his heart was.

He’s already dreaming of the ways to use Porzingis, a 7-foot-3 center/forward, and his prized rookie phenom Luka Doncic, together as a one-two punch in the NBA.

But it’s going to have to wait until next season, which was made clear during Monday’s introductory press conference for Porzingis and his three teammates who arrived in Dallas from the New York Knicks after last week’s blockbuster, seven-player trade. The Mavs sent DeAndre Jordan, Dennis Smith Jr. and Wesley Matthews and two future first round draft picks to the Knicks.

Porzingis, who tore his left ACL on Feb. 6, 2018, hasn’t played since and won’t play for the Mavs until next season. His rehabilitation, he says, is moving swiftly, but Cuban made it clear Porzingis won’t see the court in a game this spring.

“I’m doing really well. My leg is feeling great. I’m excited to get back on the court as soon as possible,” said Porzingis, a native of Latvia, who showed off his fluent Spanish during the press conference and spoke better English than most of the packed media crammed into the American Airlines Center interview room. “I’m still trying to be patient and doing all of the little things right but I’m excited because I feel great. I feel bouncy and I’m ready to get back on the court.”

The giddiness, if Carlisle could ever be appropriately described as giddy, was obvious. And so it was with Cuban and Nelson. They see Doncic and Porzingis as the nucleus of a winning franchise for years to come.

“I see two guys who are going to put their own signature on their positions,” Nelson said. “I didn’t think when we drafted Dirk [Nowitzki] he was Larry Bird. I don’t think this young man [Porzingis] to my left is Dirk. He’s going to put his own signature and have his own identity and he’s going to transform a couple of positions and I think that’s already happening in front of our very eyes with Luka. This is one of the most exciting times I think I’ve ever been a part of having potentially two young players of their caliber for our fans to watch and improve game by game and obviously we’ve got the best in the business in Rick Carlisle that will make sure they maximize their potential.”

Porzingis, who grew up idolizing Nowitzki, has already spent his first couple of days with the Mavs soaking up stories from his hero. He hopes that’s the just the beginning of story time with Dirk. Porzingis, 23, has known Doncic since both played in Spain. He senses a quick off-the-court connection moving as swiftly on the court.

“I believe if we do play together a long time, right away we clicked from the beginning,” he said. “We’re both European players, we went through a similar route and we both speak Spanish. There’s so many things that we clicked right away and I think that’s going to translate on the court also. I’m excited about the opportunity to play with him.”

No one more so than Carlisle.

“It’s an exciting time. Kristaps and I have talked a lot in a short amount of time about how I see him being integrated into what we do,” Carlisle said. “We have a lot of experience with players of his body type and his skill set because of Dirk being here for 11 years with me. The possibilities are very exciting. Next September seems like a long way away but time is flying. In today’s world of social media, things go a zillion miles an hour and we’re going to blink and it’s going to be media day in September 2019 and we’ll be ready to go.”

It can’t come quick enough.

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Stefan Stevenson has been covering sports for the Star-Telegram since 1997. He spent five years covering TCU athletics, which included two BCS bowls, two trips to the college World Series and the move to the Big 12. He has covered the Texas Rangers since 2014 and started reporting on the Dallas Cowboys in 2016.