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Close or not, the Luka Doncic-Kristaps Porzingis relationship isn’t reminiscent of the Mavs’ infamous Three J’s

Doncic and Porzingis’ on-court interactions, or lack thereof, have been apprehensively tracked by Mavs fans in recent weeks.

The phone call itself, from a high-ranking Mavericks official caught me by surprise. His somber, curt tone and reason for calling were shocking.

He said he heard that I had been asking a lot of questions about two Mavericks stars’ apparently fractured relationship.

“Why don’t you go ahead and write it?” the official said.

“So you’re confirming there’s a problem?”

“Yes. Write it.”

WAIT, Mavericks fans. Before you leap to conclusions, that phone call and subsequent bombshell story were not about Luka Doncic or Kristaps Porzingis, whose on-court interactions, or lack thereof, many of you apprehensively have tracked in recent weeks.

That phone call came on March 28, 1996. The feuding Mavericks were Jason Kidd and Jim Jackson.

Yeah, I’m that old, but my reason for referencing Dallas’ infamous Three J’s saga is to offer personal perspective on the seemingly altered Doncic-Porzingis dynamic.

Notice I didn’t say broken. Or alarming. Just visibly different. Restrained, not strained. Cool, not frosty. Apparent, not glaring, but noticeable enough that it’s generating buzz on Twitter and local sports radio, including KTCK-AM (1310) The Ticket, on which I recently was asked about it.

My take then, and now: It’s difficult to draw definitive conclusions during a pandemic season, when proximity to players is distant for reporters and fans alike, but I emphasized that while I see nothing remotely like Three J’s dysfunction the Porzingis-Doncic relationship always will bear watching.

Then came Wednesday night’s loss at lowly Houston, when Porzingis, asked about his zero fourth-quarter shot attempts, matter-of-factly noted: “Happened before, also.”

Thursday night against the Bucks, amid extremely positive news of Porzingis dominating with 26 points and 17 rebounds on the second night of a back-to-back, it was widely noticed that Porzingis and Doncic tapped knuckles after Doncic fed the 7-3 center for a 3-pointer late in the second quarter.

During Porzingis’ postgame Zoom interview with reporters, I decided the time was right to pose the burning question, pointing out to Porzingis that fans have noticed his and Doncic’s lack of on-court interaction. It was a question Porzingis easily could have swatted, Dikembe Mutumbo-style.

He didn’t.

“Yeah, we’re trying to play together and help each other,” he said. “We want to win. At the end, we all want to win here. We have to keep playing, keep playing together, and keep playing well and help each other.”

Again, not incendiary, but not a dousing of reassurance, either.

Social media if anything fans flames, real or imagined. During the March 21 blowout Mavericks win in Portland, fans tweeted video of Doncic leading a 3-on-1 break and, instead of lobbing to Porzingis he tossed a behind-the-back pass to another teammate.

Noting Porzingis’ drooped shoulders after the play, some fans decided that was conclusive evidence that Doncic was freezing out Porzingis — never mind the numerous assists Doncic has fed Porzingis before, and since.

Thursday night, for example, four of Doncic’s nine assists were to Porzingis. When asked about the Doncic-Porzingis relationship, a Mavericks source referenced the Portland play as fan imaginations gone amuck, noting that Porzingis was upset that night about constant hammering from Blazers center Enes Kanter.

“I think it’s [expletitive],” the source said of the recent focus on the Porzingis-Doncic relationship.

Promising signs

Dallas Mavericks forward Kristaps Porzingis (6) and Dallas Mavericks forward Luka Doncic (77) meet after practice at American Airlines Center in Dallas on Monday, February 4, 2019. (Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News)
Dallas Mavericks forward Kristaps Porzingis (6) and Dallas Mavericks forward Luka Doncic (77) meet after practice at American Airlines Center in Dallas on Monday, February 4, 2019. (Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News)(Vernon Bryant / Staff Photographer)

Porzingis, 25, is in the second season of a five-year, $158 million contract, but the fifth season is a player option.

Doncic, 22, is in season three of his four-year rookie contract, but if he makes All-NBA first, second or third team this season he will be eligible this summer to sign a five-year supermax extension for about $200 million that would kick in after the 2021-22 season.

When the Mavericks acquired him from the Knicks in 2019, Latvian Porzingis was already friendly with Slovenian Doncic from their days of competing in EuroLeague.

Hopes for a long, productive partnership further were buoyed by practice scenes of the pair joyfully competing against one another in shooting drills, playfully trash-talking all the while, and of their consistently stated mutual goal of building a strong on-court chemistry.

Last August, in the NBA bubble on the Disney World campus and mere days before their first playoff series together, I asked Porzingis about his contentment level of being a Maverick while on occasion being overshadowed by Doncic’s otherworldly production.

“At the end, it’s a team sport,” he said. “I enjoy having another guy like that alongside me. We complement each other. We take pressure off each other at the end of the day. We’re not competing against each other. We’re competing as ‘us as a team’ against everybody else.”

Without pausing and unprompted, Porzingis added: “And it’s important that off the court we get along well. That we share the same goals. That’s the main thing, really. Because we’re professionals. I enjoy playing with him. The more time we get, the more dangerous we’ll be.”

Four days later, in Game 1 of their first-round series against the Clippers, the Mavericks were leading 71-66 early in the third quarter when antagonist Marcus Morris Sr. delivered a hard foul on Doncic and, suddenly, they were chest to chest.

Porzingis, who had been whistled for a first-half technical foul, stepped between Morris and Doncic. Morris briefly grabbed Porzingis by the neck. Porzingis was whistled for his second technical foul, meaning automatic ejection. Dallas lost 118-110.

“I saw him getting into Luka’s face. I didn’t like that. That’s why I reacted,” Porzingis said afterword.

“He had my back,” Doncic said. “Not just me; the whole team appreciated that.”

Seven months later, do I believe Porzingis would have Doncic’s or any teammates’ back under similar circumstances? Absolutely.

At their core, Doncic and Porzingis are proud, ultra-competitive athletes with, from all indications, a shared passion for winning. Often in sports, such passion bubbles forth in less than friendly ways.

As Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle noted when asked about Porzingis’ comments after his shotless fourth quarter against the Rockets, “When that happens and we don’t win the game, this kind of thing’s going to come up.

“So as a coach, I’ve got to reconcile and balance all these things, and try to make sure we’re doing the right things during all stretches of the game.”

What matters at the moment is that Dallas has won six of its last seven games, and that when Carlisle’s preferred starting lineup is able to take the court the Mavericks are 15-4.

Will it ultimately matter whether Doncic and Porzingis are as close off the court as, for instance, Doncic and Boban Marjanovic? Not particularly.

Recall that Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant won three NBA titles together and also played in a fourth NBA Finals. And that Michael Jordan butted heads with, well, pretty much every teammate he had, as we vividly saw in The Last Dance.

Given their respective ages, there’s certainly cause for hope that Doncic and Porzingis will continue to mature, individually if not jointly.

As a beaming Porzingis told Bally Sports Southwest viewers after the Mavericks’ victory Thursday over the Bucks: “We just played beautiful basketball in the fourth here at home, and I think the fans enjoyed it.”

Feuding J’s

In eleven days on the job as the new Dallas Mavericks general manager, Don Nelson, sent the team's starting lineup to the New Jersey Nets, Monday night, Feb. 17, 1997, in what is believed to be the largest trade between two NBA teams in the last 25 years. Guard Jim Jackson, right, is one of five players sent to New Jersey. Nelson traded forward Jamal Mashburn, left, to Miami on Friday. Guard Jason Kidd, center, was traded to Phoenix in December. Mashburn, Kidd and Jackson sit on the bench in a game in Dallas in this Nov. 12, 1996, file photo.
In eleven days on the job as the new Dallas Mavericks general manager, Don Nelson, sent the team's starting lineup to the New Jersey Nets, Monday night, Feb. 17, 1997, in what is believed to be the largest trade between two NBA teams in the last 25 years. Guard Jim Jackson, right, is one of five players sent to New Jersey. Nelson traded forward Jamal Mashburn, left, to Miami on Friday. Guard Jason Kidd, center, was traded to Phoenix in December. Mashburn, Kidd and Jackson sit on the bench in a game in Dallas in this Nov. 12, 1996, file photo.(ERIC GAY - AP)

The headline in The Dallas Morning News on March 29, 1996, read, “Feuding Mavericks still apart: Kidd doesn’t plan to talk with Jackson.”

Earlier that season there had been a rift between Jackson and the third J, Jamal Mashburn. Soon after, though, discord began between Jackson and Kidd.

By late March, they weren’t even making eye contact on the court. Sources had told The News that the reason for Jackson’s and Kidd’s feud was disagreement over a woman. Team management’s decision to confirm the rift was a last-resort attempt to fix it: Public shaming.

“A Mavericks franchise already stung by a recent 11-game losing streak and an early season feud,” The News’ story began, “scrambled Thursday to analyze and diffuse Feud II: Jim Jackson vs. Jason Kidd.

“But from all appearances, the Mavericks’ latest time bomb is still ticking.”

Initially, the story seemed to have a positive effect. Kidd and Jackson spoke to one another for the first time in weeks.

A night later, after a home loss to San Antonio, coach Dick Motta stepped atop a chair in the middle of the locker room and announced to reporters and his players of Feud II: “It’s dead. We’re having a funeral tomorrow.”

It wasn’t dead. Three months later, Kidd publicly demanded that either he or Jackson must be traded.

Amid those turbulent months, a crazy but persistent rumor kept bubbling forth, that the woman at the center of the Jackson-Kidd friction was singer Toni Braxton.

This resulted in a certain Dallas Morning News reporter phoning Braxton’s agent, who, smelling opportunity, laughed and patched the reporter through to Braxton’s limousine as she rode to a concert in Los Angeles.

“I’ve at least heard of them, I’ll tell you that much,” she said with a giggle of Kidd and Jackson. “As far as dating, whether it’s true or not, a girl will never kiss and tell. You know that.”

She had just released an album: Secrets.

Obviously we’ll continue to watch the evolving Doncic-Porzingis relationship, as will Mavs Twitter, but if the Mavericks continue on their recent arc, the process won’t matter nearly as much as the results.

Regardless, it’s highly doubtful there will be a need to interview, say, Dua Lipa — not that I would mind.

Find more Mavericks coverage from The Dallas Morning News here.

In This Story

Brad Townsend, Mavericks beat reporter. Brad covers the Dallas Mavericks and the NBA. He has been a Dallas Morning News sports reporter since 1993. Prior to that he worked at The Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Light.

btownsend@dallasnews.com /brad.townsend.311 @townbrad
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