Sneaker free agent Luka Doncic playing his way into becoming next NBA star with signature shoe deal

Mavericks star guard Luka Doncic can't buy a beer but just so happens to be laying down the foundation for an MVP-caliber season. The 20-year-old is nearly averaging a triple-double while making Dallas a surprise playoff contender. 

Doncic is also taking his game to another level this season as a sneaker free agent. His Nike deal expired over the offseason and he's currently in negotiations with a number of brands for his services, according to ESPN. A new sneaker deal isn't expected anytime soon, so that leaves the possibility of Doncic playing this season out as a sneaker free agent.

Uncharted territory is the proper way to describe Doncic's current situation for a number of reasons. He's a top five pick in the early portion of his second season in the NBA. The typical young player this early in their career is still in the middle of a standard shoe deal with a major brand. 

For context, let's examine the players drafted near Doncic in the 2018 class: Deandre Ayton, the No. 1 overall pick, is in the second year of a four-year deal with Puma. Marvin Bagley III, the No. 2 pick, is in the second year of a five-year footwear and apparel deal with Puma. Jaren Jackson Jr., the No. 4 pick, is in the second year of a multiyear deal with Nike. Trae Young, who will always be linked to Doncic as a result of a draft-day trade, is in the second year of a multi-year footwear and apparel deal with Adidas.

All of his draft day counterparts still have years remaining on their shoe deals while Doncic is a free agent and looks to be raising the bar on what exactly it's going to cost a major brand to make him sign on the dotted line. 

How did we get here? Unlike his peers, Doncic was a professional basketball player for a long time before stepping on an NBA court. He inked a two-year deal with Nike during his final season overseas with Real Madrid, with that deal extending into his rookie season in the NBA.

Free to wear any sneakers on the court this season, Doncic made a statement on Monday against the Spurs when he broke out the Under Armour Curry 7 "Sour Patch Kids" and became just the second 20-year-old with a 40-point triple-double in NBA history. The shoe selection almost seemed calculated, a pivot away from the Nike kicks he's worn every time he's hit the court during his career. The shoes even caught the attention of two-time MVP and three-time champion Stephen Curry, who's the face of Under Armour's basketball presence. 

Of course Curry is endorsing Doncic to Under Armour. Every major brand executive with a pulse should be salivating at the notion of signing a 20-year-old phenom who's aiming to top a debut season that ended with him as the Rookie of the Year with a sophomore campaign that ends in the MVP Award.

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Luka Doncic wearing the Under Armour Curry 7 'Sour Patch Kids.' USATSI

A major endorsement deal is a certainty, but the question then becomes whether Doncic should get a signature shoe within this deal. Signature shoes are reserved for the top-tier players across any sport. And when it comes to Nike, their team of signature players is stacked like no other brand. The Swoosh boasts this roster as its signature athletes: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Paul George and Giannis Antetokounmpo

Nike was the overwhelming favorite to sign Zion Williamson to a signature deal ahead of the 2019 NBA Draft but that never came into fruition. Williamson signed a five-year deal with Jordan Brand, a subsidiary of Nike, in what will be the richest annual rookie shoe deal ever. Reading between the lines suggests Nike felt its roster of players was already too stacked to add another major name into the mix. This also seems to be proven with the switch of promising second-year player Jayson Tatum from Nike to Jordan Brand this offseason. 

Doncic, with the incredible start to this season, has the ball in his court, though. If he continues to produce triple-doubles at a record pace and propels the Mavericks to the playoffs for the first time since 2016, he'll be squarely in the mix for Most Valuable Player. 

What does every single player to win the MVP since 2008 have in common? They all had signature shoe deals with their respective brands.

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