DALLAS — The first preseason together for Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving will include long flights overseas and a herky-jerky schedule with fewer games than usual for the Dallas Mavericks.
They'll take that over the rushed effort for the All-Star pairing to click last season after the blockbuster trade, which went bust when the Mavericks faded late and missed the playoffs a year after reaching the Western Conference finals.
“It was so quick last year,” Irving said. “There was so much pressure on us to win now, win big. ‘It’s Luka and Kyrie. Why can’t you guys win games?’ So we were answering a lot of questions that honestly I don’t think we were ready for.”
They weren't ready, Irving surmised, because they weren't healthy. Both battled injuries, and in the first 18 games of the first pairing of All-Star starters in franchise history, Doncic and Irving shared the court just nine times.
Irving sat the last two games of the season when the Mavericks openly tanked — and were later fined $750,000 for it — because they didn't think they would make the play-in tournament even if they won.
Dallas also was trying to protect a first-round pick from the 2019 Kristaps Porzingis trade with the New York Knicks, and succeeded. The Mavs ended up with two first-round picks on draft night.
Irving re-signed with Dallas on a $120 million, three-year contract with a player option in the final season, so he and Doncic have at least two seasons to see if the tandem can work.
“He came in the middle of the season last year. We didn't have much time. We went straight to playing games,” Doncic said. “It takes time to build chemistry, especially on the court. We have the whole training camp and the preseason, too. I think it's going to be way better.”
Camp and preseason will be a little tricky, starting with a thigh injury that bothered Doncic during the Basketball World Cup with Slovenia in the Philippines.
The Mavs will play Minnesota twice in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, before an exhibition against Doncic's former EuroLeague club, Real Madrid, in Spain. (“Gotta talk to Luka, he'll probably want to play the whole game in Madrid,” coach Jason Kidd said).
No matter how the preseason unfolds, Doncic and Irving figure it'll be better than what they went through six months ago.
“I’m looking forward to starting from day one like we’re doing now,” Irving said. “And we have the pieces out there. We have some young guys that are incredibly active.”
The roster was another issue late last season. To acquire Irving from Brooklyn, the Mavericks gave up Spencer Dinwiddie, an important piece of their playoff run in 2022, and Dorian Finney-Smith, their best defensive player.
Dallas simply couldn't find the same defensive formula from the run the West finals, and kept giving away games it should have won.
The Mavericks have a new mix of veterans and young players.
Grant Williams came in a trade with Boston, a frontcourt addition championed by Irving after competing against him with Brooklyn.
Seth Curry, the younger brother of Golden State star Stephen Curry, returned to the team that kick-started his career seven years ago.
The Mavs traded down in the draft and ended up with two first-rounders in Duke's Dereck Lively II and Olivier-Maxence Prosper of Marquette, both defensive-minded prospects.
Tim Hardaway Jr., promising second-year player Jaden Hardy and 2020 first-round pick Josh Green should be rotation players in the backcourt, and a healthy Maxi Kleber should be a boost to the interior defense.
Kidd never worried or wondered about Doncic and Irving. His bigger concern was the roster around them. He believes it's better.
“If you have the right pieces around them, they're going to co-exist,” Kidd said. “After day one, they co-exist at a high level. When you talk about two of the best players in the world, they're going to play at a high level and they're going to put us in a position to win.”
Irving said he and Doncic were too passive with each other at times in their debut. There was a glaring example in a loss to Minnesota in their first home game together when they passed back and forth three times in the final seconds without getting off a shot in a 124-121 loss.
This time, they'll have several more months and dozens more games to work out the kinks.
“We’re both killers on the court. Everybody knows it,” Irving said. “We just have to continue to have a consistent mentality together and lead the team as best we can alongside other guys that have experience in this league or young guys that we have to coach even more so.”