In the NBA, every team is searching for a transcendent player who can be the leader of a championship team. If a team does not have that number one guy then that team is pretty much out of luck when it comes to hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the end of the year.
But when a team does secure that franchise star, either through the draft, trade or free agency, the team still needs the proper pieces around him to succeed in the playoffs.
And that second part — putting pieces around the star — is often overlooked and not addressed until that star is acquired.
So by the time teams do find their superstar — or even searching for a second star — they are always behind the curve when it comes to surrounding them with talent.
The Dallas Mavericks have one of the best, if not the best, young player in the game in Luka Doncic. But their quest was always about finding the right guys to surround him with.
They expended a lot of their resources to bring in Kristaps Porzingis only for that project to flame out due to injury and poor fit. Dallas needed a supporting case.
The Mavericks had several players step up in their surprising run to the Western Conference Finals — from stalwarts like Dorian Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber to trade deadline acquisitions like Davis Bertans and Reggie Bullock.
But in the end, the Mavericks could not find that supporting cast the team needed to score the ultimate upset despite having a leading man capable of bringing them a championship.
The Dallas Mavericks saw Luka Doncic become a fully realized star. But their inconsistent supporting cast ended their dream run as quickly as they started it.
To emphasize how historic of a run Luka Doncic was on this year, many compared his playoff performances to LeBron James in 2007 when he led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals.
It is an honor anytime a player is mentioned in the same breath as James. But when this comparison is being made it should also be an indicator to the Mavs organization that they need to surround Doncic with more talent.
Doncic is signed to a long-term deal through the 2027 season with $217 million guaranteed so the thought of him leaving should not loom over franchise decisions. But the time to strike is now because there is no guarantee they get back to this position in the years to come.
This past year coach Rick Carlisle stepped down, marking a significant change to the franchise, handing the reigns over to Jason Kidd. That move proved to re-energize the team and helped them make an improvement on their first round exits the couple years prior.
The Dallas Mavericks surprised a lot of people by destroying the Phoenix Suns in Game 7 and moving on to Conference Finals.
But they ran up against a Golden State Warriors team that killed them with their depth.
Every night somebody different stepped up for the Warriors. But when Doncic was not hitting his shots, Dallas struggled to find scoring.
Reggie Bullock went ice cold in Game 3 scoring 0 points in 40 minutes of play. And Kevon Looney dominated the offensive glass averaging a double-double for the series, seriously exposing Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber.
Dallas was not able to space Golden State out the same way the team did to Phoenix in the previous round.
Doncic led the Mavs in points, assists, rebounds and steals for the playoffs. Dallas needed to take the load off of him and it finally caught up to the team in the Golden State series.
Throughout the playoffs, Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie were the best players outside of Luka Doncic.
Brunson averaged 16.3 points per game in the regular season and increased that number to 21.6 in the postseason.
He played well against the Utah Jazz in the first round averaging 27.8 points per game. But his averages went down through the rest of the playoffs. In the second-round series against the Suns, he averaged 18.7 points per game. And against the Warriors in the Conference Finals, he averaged 18.0 points per game.
If Dallas wants to take the next step, the team will need a more consistent second option as they go deeper into the playoffs.
Dinwiddie came over midseason from the Washington Wizards in the Porzingis trade and found a home in Dallas.
In Washington, Dinwiddie averaged 12.6 points shooting 37.6-percent from the field. But in Dallas, he averaged 15.8 points per game on 50-percent shooting. He also brought up his three-point shooting 9.4 percentage points.
But his struggles came back during the playoffs. While he was still effective from the three, his shooting from the field went back down to 41.7-percent.
Dallas is happy with getting Porzingis off the books and even happier it was able to get Dinwiddie in return. But he cannot be your third best player on a championship team and the Mavs learned that this year.
In the upcoming offseason, the Mavs need to make a decision on whether they should pay Brunson, who broke out in the playoffs, or try to find a better running mate for Doncic. Searching for that running mate is going to be key to their success.
They are in a tricky position. If they lose him, the Mavs will take a step back. But if they keep him they will need to move some pieces around to keep improving.
Dallas is in the luxury tax so the team’s hands are tied. General Manager Nico Harrison has already said signing Brunson is a top priority. Re-signing him would a positive for the Mavericks, but are they willing to pay him over $20 million per year?
Especially when they are tied to Davis Bertans, Dorian Finney-Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr. (injured during the playoffs) through the 2025 season. They will all be older than 32 by then.
If they re-sign Brunson, moving off of those contracts will be important to build around Doncic and keep cap flexibility.
Dallas has 13 players under contract, including the players listed above, that are between $2 million and $19.5 million. Those are tradable contracts the Mavs will need to get off the books to sign or trade for another player if they retain Brunson.
Dallas might have to enter next season with a team that looks similar to this past year. But the Mavericks will slowly need to get rid of some of the bad contracts to then add another star or better role players.
The Mavs may already have championship players to complement Doncic. They will just need to figure out who they are and how to keep them.
For the Orlando Magic, they are still searching for their franchise superstar. That could be Franz Wagner, one of their young point guards or the player they select with the number one overall pick.
Whoever it ends up being, Orlando should put itself into a position to build around that player. And the Magic might already have the pieces that would compliment said player.
The Magic have youth on their side and they have time to develop the players they drafted rather than needing to make trades.
They need to assess which players they can envision helping them win a championship and which players to pay, such as Mo Bamba this upcoming summer.
Overpaying Bamba could hinder cap flexibility for them in the future which could put them in a similar place Dallas is in currently.
The Magic need to continue carving out roles for their younger players and be smart with their contract situations so they can be ready to provide a team when they get a superstar of their own.