Dennis Smith Jr., the Mavericks‘ lottery pick a year before the team selected Luka Doncic, quickly bonded with his new teammate upon Doncic’s arrival in 2018, forming an off-the-court friendship. However, Dallas’ front office and then-coach Rick Carlisle didn’t believe the two guards were an on-court fit and were already planning to “blow it up,” according to Tim MacMahon of ESPN, who says Carlisle had wanted to draft Donovan Mitchell in 2017 and had quickly soured on Smith.
In the months before Smith was sent to New York in the Kristaps Porzingis trade, Carlisle was hard on the former N.C. State standout — he accused DSJ of being jealous of Doncic and seemed determined to make him miserable, multiple former players and staffers told ESPN. The treatment was “appalling” to Doncic, who resented Carlisle’s apparent desire to pit him against his teammate and friend, writes MacMahon.
As MacMahon outlines, the Smith situation represented the beginning of years-long tension between Carlisle and Doncic.
“It wasn’t really about how Rick treated Luka,” a Mavs player on the 2018/19 team told ESPN. “Luka hated how Rick treated other people.”
For what it’s worth, Smith replied to MacMahon’s article on Twitter and said the details about his time in Dallas were “spot on,” adding, “Y’all don’t even know the half.”
Here are a few more of the most interesting details from the ESPN report, which is worth checking out in full:
- Shortly before he resigned as the Mavericks’ head coach, Carlisle – who had two years left on his contract – approached team owner Mark Cuban about the possibility of an extension, but was shot down, says MacMahon. Carlisle, recognizing that he’d likely enter the 2021/22 season on the hot seat if he remained in Dallas, decided to leave once he was confident he’d be able to quickly secure another head coaching job. Doncic never called for Carlisle’s dismissal, sources tell ESPN.
- According to MacMahon, the Mavericks came to regret releasing J.J. Barea prior to the 2020/21 season, since the veteran guard had served as “connective tissue” between Doncic and Carlisle and between Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, helping manage those relationships. When Doncic and Porzingis had communication issues last season, Carlisle wasn’t in position to smooth them over since he didn’t have a great relationship with either player, MacMahon adds.
- Porzingis was so disillusioned entering the 2021 offseason that he would’ve welcomed a trade, MacMahon reports. However, the big man has felt rejuvenated since Carlisle’s departure under new head coach Jason Kidd, who was the only candidate the Mavs seriously considered during their coaching search, per MacMahon.