"If he would only get in shape." Too many great players have been described with this sentence. So far, the most prominent member of that club in the NBA is Luka Dončić. Every summer, Mavs fans hope "this will be the year Luka shows up in great shape." They're going to have to wait another year for that
The Slovenian superstar has been playing through a twisted ankle and is recovering from a sprained knee. Despite the pain, Dončić has been out there for the Mavs so you can't knock him for being lazy or taking it easy - at least not during the season. This year, Dallas fans hoped the fact Dončić was playing in the Olympics would mean he'll show up in better shape. Spending most of his summer with the Slovenian National Team should give Dončić just a little time to rest but not get completely out of shape, right?
MacMahon: "[Luka] has to stop reporting at 260+ lbs and playing his way into shape. That cannot be an annual storyline. He got off to a slow start last year---"
Lowe: "I'm sorry, what was the figure you just gave?!"
MacMahon: "260+. He has to stop doing that."
Lowe followed up with a logical question: How much does Zion weigh if Luka was 260? McMahon said his sources put Zion “70 pounds over Luka's number.” So while Luka isn't the main weight-watching target in the NBA, he's up there. After a dramatic loss to the Nets, Dončić was asked about his conditioning due to the fact Reggie Miller called him out for “plodding up and down the court” during the broadcast.
“People are going to talk about it, yes or no. I know I've got to do better. I had a long summer, I had the Olympics, took three weeks off, and I relaxed a little bit. Maybe too much. I've just got to get back on track.”
Luka Dončić, postgame
Rest is integral in an athlete's recovery after a grueling season, and everyone deserves some time off without total dieting discipline. But even if you take time off, putting on so much weight is problematic for a professional athlete, particularly at such a young age. Some of his habits have to change for good, and Haralabos Voulgaris mentioned one that should undoubtedly go.
Walking on eggshells
If the name rings a bell, Voulgaris was the Mavs analytics guru who left the team after a lot of drama surrounding his name started off the summer of change in Dallas. After giving it a few weeks to cool down, Haralabos gave a few podcast interviews and dropped a few hints about Luka's conditioning.
More specifically, he mentioned that after workouts Dončić would fill his water jug with sweetened ice tea and similar beverages. Drinking that stuff is like eating numerous spoons fool of sugar - not good. If you have ever tried to lose weight, the first advice anyone gives you is not to drink your calories. Just drink water, and you're already on a great path.
But there's something else that Haralabos said that is more important to this and other stories about the Mavericks. He said people in the organization knew it was a problem Luka gets "all red in the face" mid-third quarter because he's out of shape. A lot of organizations seem to struggle with how to call out their superstars and discipline them if they don't improve. Voulgaris made sure to point out Luka is no diva. The problem the NBA has is comparable to auto censorship. You see the power stars are wielding in the NBA these days, and everyone starts walking on eggshells around Luka.
That's why the fact Jason Kidd called out Luka for talking to referees a few days ago, and now Dončić being under fire for his weight are good signals. The new coach may have smartly taken his time to establish some personal dynamics with Dončić before doing what needs to get done - when others see you grill the superstar, everyone falls in line.
Luka's always owned up to criticism and questions about complaining to refs and being out of shape. That trick works for the first few times. It's time to see actual change on the court. A more fit Luka running back on defense - that's not too much to ask, right?