The Whiteboard: 3 big questions for Luka Doncic, LeBron and the Brooklyn Nets

Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, The Whiteboard

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Coming out of the All-Star Break all eyes are on movement — fringe playoffs team trying to secure spots, fringe contenders trying to move up. To break down some of the biggest questions in the NBA this week, I tapped in two of the best minds from The Step Back and FanSided’s NBA network.

1. What is the bare minimum Ben Simmons would need to give the Nets over the rest of this season to not be a disappointment?

Tyler Watts, The Smoking Cuban: Simmons was one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA the last time he took the court. Adding that to a healthy Nets squad with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving makes them a team nobody wants to face.

Brooklyn has plenty of offensive firepower, but they need to figure out how to integrate Simmons. What the 6’11 point forward offers on this end of the floor may be the biggest question in the NBA. Will he attack the rim and look to get buckets? Is he afraid or hesitant to score? Simmons is a plus-playmaker that should still be able to provide positive value to the Nets without scoring 15 points per game.

Brooklyn needs Ben Simmons to bring them defense and playmaking to avoid being a disappointment. The 25-year-old has not played in an NBA game since June 20, 2021. How will the eight months away from the floor impact his performance? Everybody will be tuning in to find out when he returns.

Michael Saenz, Sir Charles In Charge: Considering everything that has happened over the last nine months involving Ben Simmons – from coming up short in the postseason to removing himself from the situation that was the Sixers – the bar for him has dropped significantly. In fact, it would’ve been a win for the Sixers had he just been active and available for games. I don’t think that changes for him with the Brooklyn Nets. Simmons can’t be viewed as the budding superstar that he was viewed as just recently as last season. He has some rebuilding to do – reputationally and professionally.

At least for this season, specifically in the playoffs, availability is going to be his best ability. Especially for a team that has as much star power as the Nets, Brooklyn is kind of the perfect place for him to start building and ramping back up. Simmons needs to get his career back on track, and that all starts with just returning to play in games.

Jordanna Clark, Nothin’ But Nets: To not be a disappointment, he needs to hit a 3-pointer in his first game with the Nets. Just kidding but if he does do that, Kyle Korver deserves a bonus. Honestly, even if he isn’t a big contributor on the offensive end, his defense is going to be what boosts the team the most and we all know that he’s capable of being a great defender. That’s what Brooklyn needs, especially after waiving DeAndre’ Bembry. I think that not trading James Harden would’ve been the biggest disappointment of all because he clearly no longer wanted to be on the team. It’s actually a relief to have Simmons on the roster. I know that Sixers fans would beg to differ, but I think that Simmons will surprise a lot of people (in a good way).

2. Who needs to make the playoffs more this season — the Brooklyn Nets or the Los Angeles Lakers?

Tyler Watts, The Smoking Cuban: Great question. There is certainly more pressure on the Lakers to make the postseason, and their inactivity at the trade deadline only added fuel to that fire. LeBron James is already making it clear that he was not happy with the way things went down. James is 37 years old, so every season has added importance because the King only has so many rodeos left at an elite level.

The Lakers have just three players under contract for next season if player and team options are factored out. The pressure is on them to win and do it now for fear of losing James.

Kevin Durant is under contract through 2026 in Brooklyn, and the Nets will be a team nobody wants to face if they are healthy. The same cannot be said about the Lakers, which only adds to why Los Angeles is the team that needs to make the playoffs more this season.

Michael Saenz, Sir Charles In Charge: The Brooklyn Nets need to make the playoffs more than the Los Angeles Lakers, and I don’t think it’s close. Look, for the most part, pretty much everyone knows that the LeBron era in LA is nearing its end. If Father Time is not going to be the culprit, it’s going to be mismanagement  (intentional or unintentional) from the front office. And I don’t think anything that happens over the last couple of months of the season can/will change that. The Nets, on the other hand, have to get it right – and soon. This is year three (or, technically, year two) under the Kevin Durant era and they don’t have much to show for it. James Harden forced his way out of town and Kyrie Irving (who has a player option for next season) could be a few months from doing the same.

No one seems to be talking about how important this postseason could be for the Nets. What Brooklyn does or doesn’t do in the playoffs this season could very well shape the immediate future of the franchise.

Jordanna Clark, Nothin’ But Nets: Without a doubt, the Brooklyn Nets. The Lakers have been shockingly bad this season and I think that people have already lowered their expectations for Los Angeles. Brooklyn was part of the biggest trade of the year and has a lot to prove over the next several weeks. The Nets can’t help that they’ve been without Kevin Durant and Joe Harris but if they don’t make the playoffs, it’ll be a shock. Time isn’t on Brooklyn’s side but you won’t catch me counting a team with KD out.

3. Is there a future where the Dallas Mavericks are a contender and Luka Doncic doesn’t need to do everything on offense? How do the Mavericks get there?

Tyler Watts, The Smoking Cuban: The Mavericks traded away Kristaps Porzingis for two primary reasons. One, they realized he was never going to blossom into the second star that they envisioned when they acquired him from the Knicks back in Jan. 2019. KP could not stay healthy or create shots for himself. Two, the Mavs wanted more roster flexibility to pull off a trade for that second star.

New general manager Nico Harrison and head coach Jason Kidd want more playmaking and ball-handling on the court with Luka Doncic. It is why they inserted Jalen Brunson into the starting five and acquired Spencer Dinwiddie at the deadline. Dallas also explored a deal that would have sent KP to the Raptors for Goran Dragic. The Mavs realize they have a dearth of playmaking on their roster, and the new front office wants to remedy it.

Expect the Mavericks to chase every second star that becomes available, but they will likely be unable to acquire one until after their 2023 first-round pick conveys to New York from the original Porzingis trade. Dallas does not want Luka doing everything on offense, and they will be exploring every avenue to get him help.

The Mavericks desperately want a second star to pair with Luka Doncic, but they have been spurned numerous times in free agency dating back to Dirk Nowitzki’s prime. Can they acquire one with Luka in the superstar role? If not, can Dallas assemble a roster around Doncic like their 2011 championship squad? The team has made an incredible defensive improvement under coach Kidd, and Luka is the best young talent in the league. Mavericks fans should be hopeful about their future, despite the team’s history of falling flat in free agency. Expect Dallas to remake their roster through the trade market, and it will be fascinating to see if they can build a title contender around Luka over the next two offseasons.

Michael Saenz, Sir Charles In Charge: There’s a good chance that the Dallas Mavericks are looking at another first-round playoff exit with Luka Doncic. If it’s not a problem now, it could evolve into one soon. The desire is there for Dallas to swing for the fences but, for one reason or another, they always seem to come up short. You’d think that eventually, the front office would be able to deliver. However, I’m not sure that’s something that can be assumed.

I have to trust history and precedent here. And that suggests the Mavs likely won’t land that second star that is on equal standing or close to Luka. If they couldn’t do so with Dirk late in his career, I don’t have much faith they can or will with Luka. If the Mavs are going to win a championship or even make a deep playoff run over the next few years, it will be on the back of Luka.

Jordanna Clark, Nothin’ But Nets: Luka Doncic has been great but the Mavericks just don’t have enough. Dallas still needs to add a few key pieces to be a contender and who knows if that’s going to happen. It’s too bad that Kristaps Porzingis couldn’t stay healthy because he was the team’s second-leading scorer behind Doncic. Sure, the Mavericks are fifth in the West, but they’re still missing what they need to make it over the hump. Dallas isn’t in the same conversation as Phoenix and Golden State, although Doncic deserves more recognition and NBA fans deserve to see more of him.

Other NBA stories:

Every team has its own order for player introductions. At 538, Jared Dubin broke down which teams lead vs. finish with their stars and the logic behind these tiny decisions.

Marvin Bagley has only played three games for the Detroit Pistons, but he’s already making things much easier for Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes.

Chris Paul is out but the Phoenix Suns still have the best record in the league and all the momentum in the world. Is this a chance for Devin Booker to insert himself into a crowded MVP conversation?

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