Mavericks fans are probably familiar with the team’s portable backdrop, a royal blue fabric with the team’s logo and corporate sponsor smattered across it in a consistent pattern that’s ever-present behind the heads of players when watching news conference streams and postgame interview highlights. It serves its purpose well when one person sits in front of it, eliminating whatever dull background might be behind them, creating visual consistency in any setting. It’s not intended for multiple NBA athletes standing in front of it.
Last Friday, at the team’s final media session following exit interviews, the players insisted on that anyway. It was mostly circumstance; Spencer Dinwiddie was several minutes into answering questions when a quartet of Mavericks noisily barged in. “I guess you’re done,” one reporter joked. Dinwiddie answered a few more questions before ceding the backdrop — and the attention — first to Tim Hardaway Jr. and Theo Pinson, then to Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock.
We don’t often see the Mavericks’ players interact organically in these otherwise-scripted media situations. While some teams send multiple players to the postseason podium — remember the backpack-clad Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook? — the Mavericks never have. Scott Tomlin, the team’s public relations head, told me he believes it’s easier for media questions to be asked when there’s only one person represented at a time. (He’s right, and it’s appreciated.) He also trusts the players individually to answer any questions asked of them. But on the rare occasions players have converged this season — Pinson’s postgame interruption after Game 5 was another recent example — it offers clear reminders this team truly likes each other.
These indications are visible everywhere. The multiple fines occurred by the bench celebrating too much, the social media jabs at each other, how often the players themselves express mutual appreciation for their teammates. “Man, this team, we had a really good time together,” Pinson said. “There’s not one team that had more fun together.” But if you needed another reminder, this camaraderie was visible when Dinwiddie, asked for one word to describe the team, answered “sexy.” And in how amused his waiting teammates were after he said that. And when Theo Pinson half-jokingly stormed off when too many questions were directed at Hardaway, rather than him. It’s visible everywhere, even more than you or I will ever see publicly.
It’s not required teammates like each other to win basketball games. Many locker rooms have had feuds and squabbles even throughout championship runs. But it’s always worth noting when they do, when an office place becomes more of a brotherhood.
The only thing spurned by this chemistry was that poor backdrop. But who knows — it might have been enjoying all this, too.
Here are some more things said during the exit interviews I found compelling enough to highlight:
The team’s going to rest. Most players are spending weeks away from the court, catching up with family members and taking vacations while only maintaining conditioning in the gym. “It’s time for them to get away,” Jason Kidd said. Luka Dončić, asked about what moves he might work on this summer, said he wasn’t even thinking about basketball. He has a loaded summer schedule, featuring two Slovenian national team events, the main one being the EuroBasket competition in early September. Slovenia’s the reigning champion from 2017. It’ll be seen how far he can lead the team in a title defense.
These exit interviews weren’t conducted like past ones. “I don’t believe in end-of-year meetings,” Kidd said. “We’ll continue to talk throughout the summer.” Where Rick Carlisle and Donnie Nelson preferred sitting down with each player individually, Kidd has demonstrated all season his approach is more hands-off, that it’s about trust and accountability. He plans to visit Dončić in Europe, and he’ll keep up with other players by calling and FaceTiming while they’re away from Dallas.
Jalen Brunson isn’t thinking about his upcoming free-agency decision just yet. He said his agent, Drew Morrison of CAA, called him Thursday night after the team’s season ended, and Morrison told him to take time off before they began seriously contemplating his future. I’ve been told there’s mutual interest on both sides to re-sign him, and Mark Cuban told Bally Sports the Mavericks can offer him more money than anyone else. It’s a statement that indicates intent. Kidd, for his part, feels the team’s pitch to stay here had been made not just by the Western Conference finals run but the totality of the season.
Nico Harrison doesn’t want to build this team in any specific vision. “Really good teams are versatile; they can play different styles,” he said. “If you only have one style of play and someone takes that away, where do you go?” Kidd, at one point, mentioned the team could increase its offensive tempo. But the Mavericks’ decision-makers understand they’re ultimately building a roster around Dončić, and they’ll involve him in offseason conversations. “It’s two-way conversations with Nico (Harrison), Fin (Michael Finley) and J (Kidd),” Dončić said. It’s what sensible franchises do with their star players. “From a leadership standpoint, you want your best player and you want your coach involved in decisions,” Harrison said.
Harrison has become more comfortable giving interviews throughout the course of the season, and with that, he might have picked up the misdirection and half-truths that nearly every general manager employs. When he said, “Getting people who fit around Luka, I think that’s more important than getting All-Stars,” I believe him. But it’s also my understanding that the team does believe another All-Star player would be the preferred path to build around Dončić. “It all starts with Luka and how you build players around him that complement him,” Harrison said. That’s the smartest approach: seeking out elite talent but not at the expense of any poor on-court fit.
And, yes, it’s almost certain the Mavericks will acquire another center. “If you look back on the series (we played), we lost some games on the boards,” Harrison said. “We need to get someone who can help us on the rebounds. Get a rim protector, we need to figure that out.” As valuable as Maxi Kleber was this postseason, there are various reasons — age, injuries, inconsistency, ineffectiveness when playing heavy minutes — that rule him out from being a realistic starting center on a team with title aspirations. Getting someone to complement him is the team’s unquestioned priority this summer. Anything else they can do to improve this roster is a bonus.
(Photo: Kate Frese/NBAE via Getty Images)