Dallas Mavericks

What’s behind Mavericks’ trade bonanza? It’s all about Luka

The emergence of Dallas Mavericks’ rookie Luka Doncic has altered everything about the organization.

Most notably, it has inspired the Mavs to make the moves to build a roster to complement their star rookie and return the team to a title contender sooner rather than later.

Wednesday night’s trade of Harrison Barnes to the Sacramento Kings for Justin Jackson and Zach Randolph opens up a massive amount of cash for the Mavs to go after another top free agent or two in July.

The move came just five days after they acquired former All-Star Kristaps Porzingis in a seven-player trade with the New York Knicks.

Doncic, who recorded his third triple-double in Wednesday’s win, has stunned the league with how quickly he has acclimated to the NBA at 19.

Even the Mavericks, who were convinced of Doncic’s talent enough to trade up two spots to take, him third overall in last year’s draft, have been amazed by the speed of his transition.

“If Luka would have taken a more traditional trajectory and gone through your typical rookie season, you may not have seen some of these moves,” Mavs general manager Donnie Nelson said. “That was definitely a factor with the timing.”

No one knew Doncic’s potential more than Nelson, who scouted him extensively in Europe. But even he admits to be in awe of the quick-rising star.

“It took [Dirk Nowitzki] a good year and half to figure the league out,” he said. “I think it has surprised a lot of us seasoned veterans who have done business on the other side of the pond.

“That’s a very rare thing we’re seeing happen. A 19-year-old young man that’s able to compete at this level and do the things that he’s doing at his age, [is] in a lot of ways unprecedented. So I think that expedited some of our decision. It was a factor for sure.”

The Mavs think they have a transcendent player in Doncic and it’s hard to argue that he’s not. He’s doing things that no teenager has ever done in the NBA. And he’ll only improve, which has already been evident through less than four months in the league.

“Seeing this young man every single day kind of push the envelope, It’s exciting, it’s inspiring, its taken our franchise and really opened up a lot of doors,” Nelson said. “We’re riding the Luka wave and the Kristaps wave and trying to surround those guys with the right young core. The future is really, really bright.”

And now they have the financial ability to add another key component or two on the free agent market, which owner Mark Cuban has never shied away from. A shooting guard who excels at defense and a big forward who could help fill the rebounding void left by DeAndre Jordan’s departure to New York would be at the top of the list to be part of next season’s starting lineup, along with Doncic and Porzingis.

“It gives us historic exception that’s going to give us a lot of flexibility,” Nelson said with a grin. “Those exceptions can be used for a single player or you can chop it up anyway you want. It gives us a position to be very active in the July market.

“We like stars and lots of them. Mark is a gunslinger, man. Some things never change. That’s why it’s really fun to be a part of his posse.”

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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.
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