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Darkest cloud hanging over Mavericks: Fear of potential Dončić trade request in a couple of years

Michael Holley explains why he does not think Dallas should have traded for Kyrie Irving, while Natalie believes that Mark Cuban and Luka Doncic are to blame for the Mavericks' poor play.

Luka Dončić will not be traded this summer.

He is just one year into a five-year max contract in Dallas (with a player option in that final year), Dončić has shot down talk of him leaving, and there is zero chance owner Mark Cuban will trade the Mavericks’ superstar until forced to do so.

But he might be forced to if the Mavericks have another season like this. Dončić was clearly frustrated as the Mavericks fell from the Western Conference Finals a year ago to missing even the play-in, and the fear he could force his way out in a couple of years if the team doesn’t turn things around — as he gets into the back half of that max contract and the leverage shifts — is real. From Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

There’s a strong sense of urgency within the organization to expedite the process before Doncic loses faith in the Mavs’ ability to build a contender around him... Team sources have acknowledged to ESPN that fear exists that Doncic, who publicly and privately expressed extreme frustration this season, could consider requesting a trade as soon as the summer of 2024 if Dallas doesn’t make significant progress by then.

“He’d like to be here the whole time,” Cuban said this week when asked about Doncic’s long-term optimism. “But we’ve got to earn that.”

The problem is the Mavericks have backed themselves into a corner where building that contender around Dončić — the way Milwaukee did around Giannis Antetokounmpo, the way the Mavericks once did around Dirk Nowitzki — will be very difficult.

The Mavericks have a couple of draft picks they can trade — including the No.10 pick this year they tanked to keep, if they hold on to it through the lottery process (the pick is owed to the Knicks from the Kristaps Porzingis trade but is top-10 protected) — but very little cap space, and they sent most of their tradeable players out to acquire Kyrie Irving. The Mavericks intend to re-sign Irving (for how many years is the question) and retool the roster around their two superstars to bring in defense, shooting, and better fits.

Front office personnel with other teams have Dončić on their “superstars who might become available” watch lists. His frustration was evident this year, right down to getting benched at the end of the season when Dallas still had a chance at the No.10 seed. Everyone noticed. If that frustration rolls over into the next season in Dallas, then things get really interesting.

It’s going to be a wild off-season in Texas.