Dallas Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd has promised UAE basketball fans will get to witness his team’s star duo Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving on court together during next week’s NBA Abu Dhabi Games.
The NBA returns to the capital for a second straight season, as part of the organisation’s multi-year deal with the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi), and will see the Mavericks take on the Minnesota Timberwolves on October 5 and 7 at Yas Island’s Etihad Arena.
Irving was traded from Brooklyn to Dallas in February and got to play just 16 games alongside Doncic last season as the Mavericks failed to make the play-offs – and the play-in tournament altogether – by finishing 11th in the Western Conference.
The Mavericks re-signed Irving to a three-year deal over the summer and expectations are high for the eight-time All-Star point guard and his on-court partnership with Doncic.
While the star pairing did not have time to build chemistry last season, Kidd is confident things will be different this campaign, and fans in Abu Dhabi will get an early taste of what this Dallas team will look like for 2023/24.
“We didn’t, as a team, finish the way we wanted to [last season],” Kidd said during a Zoom call on Thursday ahead of the team’s upcoming trip to the Emirates.
“But this being a new season and being able to start in Abu Dhabi, when you see them [Irving and Doncic] play on the floor that they do co-exist and that we’re going to play at a high level and we’re excited.
“Being able to have training camp, to have a full year together, their relationship is only going to get stronger.
“I will tell you that we will play both of those guys, so from there we’ll see what happens. We’re not going to play them 48 minutes with the guys that we’re playing, we’re going to play the whole team. Because it wouldn’t be fair to travel with so many of the guys and not play them. So Abu Dhabi will get to see our two stars playing both games.”
Doncic’s off-season was cut short due to his participation in the recently-concluded FIBA World Cup with Slovenia, during which he aggravated a thigh injury he had picked up at the end of last season.
Kidd assures the 24-year-old guard will be good to go when their new NBA campaign tips off against the San Antonio Spurs on October 25.
“We already started training camps [on Wednesday], so he has participated in training camp. He feels great, he looks great, his attitude, he’s in a great place. So we’re excited,” said Kidd.
“I think he’s excited to get to Abu Dhabi to showcase his talent and then I think he’s excited to go home, where he started basketball at Real Madrid. I think this is an incredible trip for him, to be able to showcase and show us where he lived and all the fun things that he was able to do in Madrid.
“He’s ready to go. He might not be 100 per cent but we’ll take 90, 91, 92 per cent from him, that’s still pretty good.”
In this current era of the NBA, marquee players have become more and more inclined to put in trade requests as the pressure mounts for them to secure a championship ring.
The Mavericks have bolstered their roster by trading for Grant Williams, signing Seth Curry and drafting Olivier-Maxence Prosper and Dereck Lively II, and Kidd is hoping the new additions can add depth to the team and alleviate some of the pressure off of Doncic’s shoulders.
“I think there is a sense of urgency [to win a ring] but I think it’s a sense of urgency of building a championship team,” explained Kidd, who won the NBA championship as a player with Dallas in 2011 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame two years ago.
“As much as every year there’s only one championship team and the defending champs are the Denver Nuggets and they’ve been very good for the last couple of years and have fallen short [before winning] and so for us, we have to focus on building championship habits and putting the right pieces around Kai [Irving] and Luka.
“Yes players ask to be traded, that’s just part of the business, but I truly think Luka believes that he can win a championship here in Dallas and that’s our goal.”
Kidd and his team are excited to visit Abu Dhabi as top-tier basketball continues to take centre stage in the capital. In August, the United States national team held a training camp in the emirate as part of International Basketball Week, and played exhibition games against Greece and Germany ahead of the Fiba World Cup.
USA had a disappointing World Cup campaign, missing out on a medal as they lost to eventual champions Germany in the semi-finals and fell to Canada in the battle for bronze.
“The game has been globalised over the last 30 years. These games are difficult. This is not 1992 anymore. Players are better all over the world. Teams are better. It's not easy to win the World Cup or the Olympics,” said USA head coach Steve Kerr following his side’s exit.
Kidd agrees with Kerr’s statements and believes we will soon see high-calibre talent emerge from all corners of the globe, including the Middle East.
“It’s just being able to have the right teachers and patience to be able to develop an NBA player, doesn’t always have to be an NBA star,” said Kidd.
“I truly believe, when you talk about the Middle East, they will be able to produce, not just one or two NBA players, it’s just a matter of the resources and time, and also being patient, because it doesn’t happen overnight. I truly believe that the world will have a player from each country at some point playing in the NBA.”