Cauley-Stein is In And Mavs Powell is Down - But DP Will Come Back Stronger Than Ever, Just Watch
DALLAS - No contact.
The shutter was almost intimate in nature, moving in slow motion. The shutter, the sigh, the pain collided in a split second as gravity rebelled against Dallas Mavericks big Dwight Powell, dragging him to the ground. In front of a sold-out crowd of thousands, the forward from Stanford writhed in pain as he went down, twisting his body slightly.
No contact except for the air around him. He turned his face to the hardwood as he moved to rest on his stomach. Fist to the air, fist to the floor and suddenly Luka Doncic and J.J. Barea swarmed.
The Dallas Mavericks knew.
The crowd knew.
Powell, hands desperately covering his own eyes in pain as he was laid out on the court, knew.
Rajon Rondo scanned the Mavericks locker room with a nonchalant blink, his boredom peaking with every shift of his facial expressions. He looked directly over the large media group that had managed to cram themselves in the small space like trapped lemmings. It was one of Rondo's first games in Mavericks blue and he had no desire to lean into the eager microphones shoved in his face. He turned to peer into the training room that was attached to the home locker room in those early 2015 days, looking for the familiar face that was yanked out of Boston with him.
Rondo drifted in and out of the room, looking for the man who was somewhat faceless at that time thanks to his teammate's manic mania that hopped from fan to fan. The Mavericks had just been crotch-punched by the Chicago Bulls 102-98 and Rondo, who had been benched during that last crucial minutes of the game, was doing his best to keep the media waiting as long as humanly possible.
In that specific game, Powell played 21 minutes, a hefty heap for the Dallas newbie, but had zero rebounds. Though no one cared. The media was eager to get answers during that "Coach's Decision: Rondogate" time. Coach Rick Carlisle fumed. Rajon Rondo removed his own spine. And Powell just was.
Rondo disappeared from view, both figuratively and literally, having found Powell somewhere in the back.
It would take at least a couple more years for the Mavericks and the fanbase to finally find Powell themselves and, more importantly, to finally see him for who he is as a player in order to separate the man from the shadow who brought him to town.
Five years later, the man who is a pivotal part of this specific Mavericks' culture is suddenly looking at the very raw end of his own NBA season. During Tuesday's loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, the 28-year-old suffered a ruptured right Achilles injury during the last three minutes of the first quarter.
There was a realization in those brutal seconds: not only would this loss affect the team's performance on the court, but that this was a needle to the neck of the hand-picked family that formed tightly around Powell in the years following the shaking of the shadow.
“In many ways,'' Carlisle said while acknowledging that Dallas will be searching for a replacement, "he’s un-replaceable.''
Well, the irreplaceability didn't last long in the sense that 45 hours after DP's injury, the Mavs played Checkers to find a replacement in center Willie Cauley-Stein. (The full story on the trade - two trades, actually - is here.)
Dwight Powell will now have to watch and we will watch Dwight, who is a paradox of sorts. ... A complex conundrum who can go from being cat-like in his polite mood shifts to laser-focused with his court vision. This year, his value was packaged neatly in the pick-and-roll with Luka Doncic along with him being a mercurial rim finisher. His weaknesses fell in his defense when it came to guarding the rim and more often than not, Mavs Twitter wallowed in gripes regarding him in that area.
He wasn't putting up a spectacular array of numbers (9.7 points, 5.7 rebounds) but he had a 73.9-percent finishing rate around the rim when starting. Yet, that's not the point.
Just a couple years ago at the end of the Mavericks' damning 2017-18 season when Powell was shooting a career-best of 59.3 percent from the floor and finished with 8.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.2 assists in over 79 games played, I wrote about how his modesty and conscientious nature held him steady:
"In physics, 'the observer effect' happens to be a theory in which one can change a phenomenon's outcome just by simply observing it. For a few seasons, Powell was an afterthought because the lid was closed. He was a written-off known unknown of sorts. He fed off that. But the course has now shifted and the observer stepped in and took note that someone who once was invisible is now in plain sight thanks to an atrocious season. Because of Powell's conscientious nature, this could possibly alter his future performance on the court because there's now a different type of expectation weighing on his shoulders."
Now, a new expectation is weighing on his still-young shoulders - one that teammate Barea bore a year ago when he went down with the same injury and came back stronger than ever. Powell's absence will be seriously felt, both on the court and off within the walls of the community he loves dearly.
“I was looking for something,” said Barea of finding a way to honor DP in Portland on Thursday, where the Mavs outscored the Blazers. “I don’t know what to put. So this (scribbling “Powell” on one of his shoes and “DP 7” on the other) will work. ... He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever met in my life, in basketball and as a person. We got to keep him around some way, somehow.”
The man who many thought was just a "free gift with purchase" in the Rondo trade has come a long way since those very first days in Dallas, and while he has a long road to recovery ahead of him, if history has proven anything when it comes to Dwight Powell's work ethic, we know that he'll be up to the challenge and eventually shake this new shadow.