The Mavericks stunned the basketball world by knocking off the top-seeded Phoenix Suns in the conference semifinals -- but apparently not everyone is convinced Dallas is ready to be a perennial contender.
After the Mavs were eliminated from the playoffs by the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night, TNT analyst Charles Barkley dismissed the Mavs' unlikely run as a "fluke" and cautioned that he doesn't expect to see them back in the same position next season.
"After what you've seen this year, how do you take the next step if you're Dallas?" asked host Ernie Johnson.
"Well, they've got to get a lot better," said Barkley. "This year, to me, is kind of a fluke. Next year ... they're not going to be better than Denver, because Denver's going to have everybody back healthy. You know the Lakers are going to do something. They're not going to be better than the Warriors."
Barkley even compared this Mavericks team to last year's Atlanta Hawks team, which surprised many by reaching the conference finals.
"So, the Mavericks -- as I told you last year about the Atlanta Hawks, I said, 'that was fool's gold' last year. That was more of a Philadelphia meltdown than the Hawks beating them. And to me it was the same thing this year with the Mavs -- it was really more of a Phoenix Suns meltdown. But, they've got a long way to go to be a contender, in my opinion."
While it's true that few had the Mavericks going as far as they did, they won 52 games in the regular season and entered the playoffs as the fourth seed in the West. Last year's Hawks team, meanwhile, was the fifth seed in the East after going 41-31 in the virus-shortened 2020-21 campaign.
And no disrespect to Hawks star Trae Young, but the Mavs have their own superstar in Luka Doncic, who is quickly emerging on the short list of contenders for best player in the league.
With his incredible performance throughout his postseason career, Doncic etched his name in the record books alongside some of the greatest to ever suit up in the NBA:
Still, the question remains as to what kind of team the Mavericks can build around Doncic.
Re-signing breakout star Jalen Brunson seems to be a priority, while guard Spencer Dinwiddie, a top reserve, is under contract for at least one more season. The return of Tim Hardaway Jr. to full health would also help.
Beyond that, though, Doncic is mostly surrounded by complementary pieces. Will the Mavericks find another All-Star caliber player to pair with Doncic -- and will it be enough? Barkley, for one, seems skeptical.
"They got to get a lot better," Barkley said, adding that the Clippers are his favorite in the Western Conference next season.