Mavericks begin filling the void of Jalen Brunson that looms over training camp

Tuesday’s start of training camp was in effect the first day of auditions for Frank Ntilikina, Josh Green and perhaps Tyler Dorsey to vie for some of the lost Jalen Brunson production.

Twenty players. More than a dozen coaches and trainers. And a special guest onlooker, former Lakers coach Frank Vogel.

Tuesday’s opening practice of the 43rd training camp in Mavericks history was spirited, noisy and brimming with confidence behooving a reigning Western Conference finalist.

Though not obvious at first glance, the invisible elephant that has lurked within and at times loomed over the Mavericks organization for the past three months most certainly was in the gym Tuesday, too.


Jalen Brunson, at 6-foot-1, wasn’t commanding in stature, but his late-June decision to sign with the Knicks left a void that the Mavericks organization has yet to fill.


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Oh, they’ll compensate for the 16.3 points, 4.8 assists and 3.9 rebounds Brunson averaged last season. Spencer Dinwiddie will step into his starting guard spot. And coach Jason Kidd has ideas for how to attempt to replace Brunson’s playmaking, but at this point those are concepts.

Tuesday’s start of training camp was in effect the first day of auditions for Frank Ntilikina, Josh Green and perhaps two-way contract signee Tyler Dorsey to vie for some of the lost Brunson production.


If that prospect doesn’t reassure Mavericks fans, well, I share your skepticism. Until it proves otherwise, there’s a prevailing sense that this Dallas team is at least a move away from returning to last season’s elite status, despite notable interior upgrades JaVale McGee and Christian Wood.

And since Dallas is $47 million over the NBA salary cap, playmaking help will have to be generated from within, or via trade, or a minimum-salary addition. Notably the Mavericks opened camp with an open roster spot.

Kidd also notes that big men Wood and Maxi Kleber handle the ball well for their size and on occasion might be asked to bring the ball up the court – as will forward Dorian Finney-Smith, whose ballhandling responsibilities increased last season.


“We’re going to need other guys to be able to start the offense,” Kidd said. “And I think those guys are up for that challenge.”

After Dallas’ season ended with a May 26 loss to Golden State in Game 5 of the conference finals, team governor Mark Cuban and general manager Nico Harrison flatly stated that re-signing Brunson was the franchise’s No. 1 offseason priority. Both also expressed confidence in keeping Brunson.

That optimism quickly eroded as the Knicks began clearing cap space for Brunson before, during and after the June 23 draft. When Brunson days later bolted in free agency, many fans were shocked, but at least one of Brunson’s ex-teammates wasn’t nearly so surprised.

“Man, did you see how much money they gave him?” Finney-Smith said of Brunson’s four-year, $104 million New York deal. “I’d have been mad if he’d had stayed here.”

The challenge of replacing Brunson begins with Dinwiddie, who was acquired in the February trade of Kristaps Porzingis to Washington, with Cuban and Harrison reasoning that Dallas needed more playmaking and scoring after Tim Hardaway Jr.’s late-January foot fracture.

“I don’t see myself filling Jalen’s role, per se,” Dinwiddie said, adding that the roster should be looked at holistically. He noted that now-healthy Hardaway’s scoring average -- 15.7 points in four seasons as a Maverick – will largely compensate for Brunson’s lost scoring.

“JKidd, remember, said last year ‘Let Luka, JB and Spencer make plays and everybody else do their job,’ " Dinwiddie said. “I think now obviously volume goes up, but the mentality doesn’t necessarily change.”

Although Dinwiddie played alongside Doncic during spurts last season, it was Brunson who in four seasons proved especially adept at playing with ball-dominant Doncic.


“This is going to be interesting,” Kidd said of Dinwiddie pairing with Doncic, “to see how he will digest this new role that he has to play.”

It’s no surprise that Kidd considers Ntilikina to be a playmaker option because the ex-Knick primarily has played point guard during his five NBA seasons.

But the 6-foot-5 Green? In two seasons, per analytics, he has played small forward 38% of the time, 57% at shooting guard and 4% at point guard. He has 107 career assists and 61 turnovers.

“Josh had a great year for us last year and worked on his game [this summer], so we’re going to ask him to do a little more play-making, handling the ball,” Kidd said. “And Frank’s run a team before, so we’re going to lean on those two to do that.”


Kidd said Tuesday that Doncic, who had a heavy summer workload with the Slovenian national team, likely will sit out one or two of Dallas’ three preseason games.

That means more audition opportunities for Ntilikina, Green and Dorsey, whom Dallas signed to a two-way contract after a private summer workout in Dallas.

Dorsey, 26, had spent the past three seasons playing in Israel and Greece. He flew from Greece to Dallas for the tryout, then back to Europe to play for Greece in the EuroBasket tournament.

Dorsey’s scoring and playmaking while playing alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo in EuroBasket gave Mavericks fans hope that Dorsey might excel playing with Doncic, too.


“I think this is a good spot,” Dorsey said after practice Tuesday. “They’re needing to fill around Luka, still, and playing with Giannis is kind of similar, a ball-dominant superstar.

“And just learning through the summer how to find my spots with that, it helped me a lot. It’s an advantage, I think, when I get alongside Luka and all the other guys out on the court.”

It’s a possibility, as are Ntilikina and Green. Until further notice, the Mavericks will attempt to replace Brunson by committee. That probably doesn’t much excite fans, nor has it caused that elephant to vacate the Mavericks’ practice facility.

Twitter: @Townbrad

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