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'Better than last season': Dallas Mavericks MVP-favorite Luka Doncic enters third year with new teammates but same goal

Luka and the Mavs opened training camp in Dallas on Tuesday.
Credit: AP
Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic (77) runs on the court during player introductions before Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP)

DALLAS — "This season is going to be way better than last season."

The words escaped the mouth of Luka Doncic with assertiveness and confidence.

Hyperbole is a second language for most coaches and professional athletes.

For the Dallas Mavericks superstar, hyperbole is one of the few languages he's not fluent in.

(And his English has improved since he last spoke to reporters in August.)

The 21-year-old returned to Dallas over the weekend as the Mavs opened training camp from their practice facility on Tuesday.

Entering his third NBA season, Doncic is the Vegas-favorite to win the Most Valuable Player Award.

If he fulfills the prophecy of Sin City, Doncic would become the youngest MVP in NBA history.

"[Luka] is a special player," said head coach Rick Carlisle. "He's a special person. He's a special leader on our team. I do think you're going to see continued growth."

Doncic led the NBA in triple-doubles last season with 17. 

He averaged 29 points, nine rebounds and nine assists per game. 

And he's supposed to get better?

"I'm excited about playing next to him," said newcomer Josh Richardson. "He's one of the great playmakers in the NBA."

Richardson can make Luka better. They met five years ago when Doncic was 16.

RELATED: Mavericks trade Seth Curry for Josh Richardson; select Josh Green with 18th pick in 2020 NBA Draft

"I think I can take some of the defensive pressure off him," Richardson said. "I bring leadership and toughness. A gap-filler. Night to night, fill in where I need to." 

J-Rich doesn't have a glaring weakness. The Mavs can rely on him to defend high-scoring guards like Damian Lillard and Donovan Mitchell, while providing a spark offensively.

The Philadelphia 76ers traded the 27-year-old guard to the Mavericks last month (along with the 36th pick) for guard Seth Curry.

What the Mavs lose in Curry's shooting, they gain in Richardson's defense and versatile offensive skillset.

"Josh can guard point guards and be able to let Luka work off the ball," Carlisle said. "He gives us some flexibility. He's always a guy I've felt, from afar, would be a really good fit with Luka."

Notice how these offseason moves revolve around No. 77.

Richardson isn't the only one.

The Mavs also acquired veteran forward and NBA "tough guy" James Johnson in a three-team trade that cost them guard Delon Wright and forward Justin Jackson.

Johnson —  a second-degree black belt and mixed martial arts competitor — brings toughness to a team that lacked it, especially in the postseason.

The Clippers bullied the Mavericks in their playoff series from the NBA bubble in Orlando because the Mavs simply did not have an enforcer of sorts to step in and protect Doncic.

Enter: James Johnson.

Johnson and Richardson are not instigators. But, they also do not back down from a challenge or a tussle.

Their presence brings a much-needed dimension to a Mavs team that was — to put it bluntly — soft.

Couple that with struggling to close out games, the Mavericks showed their youth.

"We were a young team," Doncic said. "This season is going to be way better than last season."

Optimism in the year 2020 feels both futile and necessary.

For Luka Doncic, it's a language he's fluent in.