Porzingis that much closer to return, preps for Mavs debut

<p>
              Dallas Mavericks Luka Doncic (77) of Slovenia and teammate Kristaps Porzingis of Latvia make a photo of themselves during an NBA basketball media day in Dallas, Monday, Sept. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
            </p>

DALLAS (AP) — Kristaps Porzingis can now count in days what he once couldn’t even really count at all: his return to the court for a real game for the first time since a knee injury nearly 20 months ago.

The 7-foot-3 Latvian preparing for his debut with the Dallas Mavericks might even be willing to count the first preseason game for his new team, in about a week.

That Porzingis will be doing all that with new Euro sidekick and reigning rookie of the year Luka Doncic as the Mavericks move on from 21 seasons with German superstar Dirk Nowitzki makes it all the more interesting for a club that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2016.

“I can’t even explain in words how excited I am,” said Porzingis, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in what ended up being his final game with the New York Knicks on Feb. 6, 2018. “It’s been a long time.”

On media day Monday — the first without Nowitzki since 1997 — coach Rick Carlisle wasn’t ready for any playoff proclamations for a franchise that hasn’t won a postseason series since winning its only championship in 2011.

But the Mavericks believe the cornerstones are in place after Doncic displayed his versatility with several statistical milestones and became the club’s second rookie of the year after Jason Kidd, who shared the award with Detroit’s Grant Hill in 1995.

The 20-year-old Slovenian was good enough for Dallas to declare him the point guard of the future by trading 2017 No. 9 overall pick Dennis Smith Jr. to New York to get Porzingis, who was named an All-Star just before getting injured.

Now that Porzingis has signed a $158 million, five-year maximum contract, and the 6-7 Doncic figures to do the same on a max deal before too long, the Mavericks know who’s in charge of establishing whatever this club will become in the post-Nowitzki years.

“I’ve never played with a guy like Luka,” Porzingis said. “His vision, his passing ability, he can score and take attention off of his teammates. That’s something I haven’t really had. I can’t wait for us to actually get some NBA minutes on the court to start creating that bond on the court.”

LOAD MANAGEMENT

The Mavericks have hinted that they might ease in Porzingis a bit, even after giving him extra time to recover from the injury after deciding he wouldn’t play the rest of last season following the seven-player trade.

“I don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like,” Carlisle said. “I think it’s conceivable that back-to-backs will be something we look at early in the season.”

THE OTHER 7-3 GUY

The Mavericks also added 7-3 Boban Marjanovic, whose career began in Texas with rival San Antonio four years ago. The Serbian finished last season in Philadelphia, helping the 76ers reach the second round of the playoffs.

“Since he walked in the door about six days ago from the world championships, has been a huge breath of fresh air,” Carlisle said. “He came in smiling and hugging everybody. He said, ‘I landed in Dallas, it just feels like a great place, I love it here already.’ That’s a winner.”

THE SHOOTERS

Seth Curry is back after playing last season in Portland. Stephen Curry’s younger brother had his career breakthrough with the Mavericks in 2016-17 before missing the next season with a stress fracture in his leg. He chose the Trail Blazers over the Mavericks two summers ago. Tim Hardaway Jr., the second-biggest acquisition for Dallas in the Porzingis deal, could be the starting shooting guard.

THE VETERAN

J.J. Barea is back with an 11th season with the Mavericks after missing about half of 2018-19 with a torn Achilles tendon. With Nowitzki’s retirement after setting a record by spending all 21 of his seasons with the same franchise, Barea is the last remaining player from the title team. He spent three seasons with Minnesota after Dallas won the championship.