LOS ANGELES — Mark Cuban took part in a venture Sunday afternoon that was once a pregame Mavericks tradition, but had become obsolete when the COVID-19 pandemic started.
He sat just off the court before the Mavericks played the Clippers and answered a wide range of questions from curious reporters who gathered around.
Dirk Nowitzki’s jersey retirement — and the Mavericks legend’s new office digs? Cuban covered that.
Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis’ evolving relationship? The re-emergence of the ‘Unicorn’? He dished on those topics, too.
“I didn’t think I’d miss this,” Cuban quipped midway through the interview.
Below are highlights from the courtside chat, lightly edited for length and clarity:
How do you feel about the Mavs being in the middle of the pack for Western Conference playoff contenders so far, but not looking like they’ve reached full potential yet?
Cuban: “It’s too early on the standings because other than Golden State and Phoenix, everybody else is kind of battling it out. A lot of things can change. We’ll get our guys back, but I really, really, really like the fact that each game is part of the development process, and between [new general manager] Nico Harrison and [new head coach] Jason Kidd, they’ve really set standards and goals for each of the players and put together a program that I think gets us there.”
Jason seems to have taken a really player-first, positive approach to start his tenure? What made you decide that was the right way to have a coach conduct the team?
Cuban: “Players are different today. I mean, you go back five years, it’s a different beast. My oldest daughter is 18 and going on 45, and our young players are more like her than they were like Dirk. When you talk about what Jason’s doing with player council and all that, that’s really trying to be proactive to recognize you don’t communicate and teach and push players today like you did five years ago. You’ve got to be adaptive.”
Kristaps Porzingis is one player who’s really seemed to take to those changes. What have you thought about his strong play the last couple weeks?
Cuban: “His confidence is growing, how he fits in the team, the leeway he has. KP isn’t going to feel right every time, just like Luka or another player is not right every time. But KP has really been able to take his approach to really build his confidence, and you see it, and when guys have confidence and feel like they’re enabled to be themselves, they play harder.
“When KP admitted his legs were gone the other night, that’s a big step for any player, let alone for KP, to say ‘You know what? I’m taking full responsibility.’ Again, I think JKidd deserves a lot of that credit, and you just see it. This is the ‘Unicorn’, and he’s doing more and more ‘Unicorn’ things, and now that Maxi Kleber’s back and as Reggie Bullock gets his game together, he’ll revert to the mean, the court’s going to open up more for KP.”
What do you think Porzingis has learned from having to navigate his injuries the last few years?
Cuban: “It’s hard for anybody. It’s going to be hard. There’s nobody that gets hurt who doesn’t have it in the back of their mind. I don’t care what you do. If you’ve gotten sick, if you feel something hurts a little bit, you’re wondering: Are you sick again? When you’re playing in the NBA where it’s so fast and so athletic and so physical, especially this year, so physical, then you just have to work through it, and I think KP, game by game, has worked through it. I think KP will get even better.”
How have you liked Luka’s chemistry with KP when they’ve played together this year, and what do you envision that becoming?
Cuban: “The whole team, the chemistry is great. The dynamics are different than last year. With Nico and JKidd both taking a more active role, like I said earlier, communicating with players is different now. Nico and JKidd, they’re fortunate. They get a fresh start, so they get to define the relationship based on how it starts as opposed to how things have changed over the decades. I think that fresh start really helped with team chemistry.”
Speaking of other star players, how did you decide on Jan. 5 as the night to retire Dirk’s jersey?
Cuban: “I didn’t. They checked to see when Dirk could make it and when all the people he wanted to show up could make it, and it was Jan. 5.”
How much are you looking forward to all those festivities?
Cuban: “Oh, I’m incredibly excited to get it over with because he bothers the [expletive] out of me about it. I love Dirk to death, and I’m thrilled for him, and every award he gets is awesome. We’re not going to have a statue unveiling or anything like that. We might tease what it looks like, but it’s pretty obvious what it’s going to look like.”
How do you sense Dirk is handling retirement?
Cuban: “I think he is getting a little bit antsy, but I can tell you this. I’ll break you one piece of news: Dirk has an office in the new practice facility.”