"I mean better for sure," Doncic said after Wednesday morning's practice. "He came in the middle of the season last year, and we didn't have much time. We went straight to playing games. It takes time to do chemistry, especially on the court, so we didn't have the whole training camp and then I mean the preseason too. So I think it's going to be way better."
Dallas traded for Irving in February with the hope that the eight-time All-Star guard would help elevate the Mavericks to contender status in the Western Conference. The results fell far short of expectations, as the Mavericks fell out of the playoff picture and finished 11th in the West.
Doncic and Irving both missed significant time due to injuries in the second half of the season, but the Mavericks struggled when they were both in the lineup as well. Dallas went 5-11 in the games that Doncic and Irving played together.
The Mavericks considered re-signing Irving, who is scheduled to speak to reporters after Thursday morning's practice, to be their top offseason priority. He agreed to a three-year deal worth up to $126 million, including a player option for the final season, in the first hour of free agency.
"We like things that happen right away, but we will continue to grow that relationship," Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. "There is a relationship, and so they had the summer and now they have a preseason to bond. But that's the big question: Can they coexist? And it is not that they don't coexist; it's the group around them. I think sometimes we are misinformed. If you have the right pieces around, they're going to coexist, and after day one, they coexisted at a high level."
Kidd noted that the Mavericks were "one of the best offenses in the league" with Doncic and Irving on the floor together. Dallas averaged 119.2 points per 100 possessions in 444 minutes with that duo playing together, but the Mavericks' dreadful defense destroyed their playoff aspirations.
"I don't think that's going to be an issue for us scoring points," Kidd said. "It's about getting stops and being consistent. That's the thing that we'll talk about in the film room and on the floor."
Mavericks general manager Nico Harrison vowed to upgrade the supporting cast around Doncic and Irving, prioritizing adding intelligent, defensive-minded role players. Forward Grant Williams, acquired in a sign-and-trade deal with the Boston Celtics, arrives in Dallas as a starter. Kidd said he would also give the Mavericks' pair of rookie first-round picks, center Dereck Lively II and forward Olivier-Maxence Prosper, opportunities to earn immediate starting roles.
Doncic took ownership for Dallas' defensive issues late last season and again on Wednesday, emphasizing that the team's stars need to set the tone.
"The two leaders of the team, what we do, us two, other people are going to follow," Doncic said. "We've got to set an example, and that's everybody. It's not just us. We got to play. There's five players on the court. We going to play everybody, so everybody got to help each other."