Of Paintings And Protestations: A Willie Cauley-Stein Project for The Mavs

T.J. Macias

DALLAS - Mark Cuban is painting a picture.

In his mind, the painting looks a little like a Monet. Those tiny, whimsical dots created in some sort of contained chaotic blender make absolutely no sense unless one was to step back and see the entire thing as a whole. Only, the reports are mixed. Some critics, crippled by events from another time and place, have their feet permanently glued to the floor, their noses mere inches away from the painting. Other critics are bound by lock and key and can only see the painting from the outside looking in and therefore are stemmed by a general feeling of optimism.

On Tuesday, the bright-eyed Dallas Mavericks owner spoke highly of Willie Cauley-Stein, the newest addition to the team after an accord was made with the Golden State Warriors, which sent Cauley-Stein to Dallas in return for a 2020 second-round pick.

"A steal-and-a-half,'' Cubes termed the deal.

Interesting choice of words. I have another word for you:

Spin – verb

1. To cause to turn around rapidly, as on an axis; twirl; whirl

2. To produce, fabricate, or evolve in a manner suggestive of spinning thread

However, when used as a noun, the word shifts its meaning.

1. Slang. A particular viewpoint or bias, especially in the media; slant.

Example: Mark Cuban attempted to put a favorable spin by calling his recent trade acquisition a “steal-and-a-half”

The center from Kentucky was drafted by the Sacramento Kings in 2015, going sixth overall in the first round. Kings fans, who had been slowly sinking into a wood-chipper feet-first for the good part of a decade, were thrilled. 

Cauley-Stein showed promise, which was a rare thing to see in the River City back then.

Six months before, the Kings had fired head coach Mike Malone because someone in a position of power couldn’t be bothered to look up what "viral meningitis'' was. George Karl was the head coach at the time Cauley-Stein was drafted, and thus began the roller-coaster ride from hell – for both Cauley-Stein and Kings fans.

“Before I got drafted there, [University of Kentucky] coach (John Calipari) kind of warned me what that organization was like already,” the center told NBCSports’ Logan Murdock right before he was set to play against Sacramento as a Warrior back in December of 2019. “So, I mean, I just went in there just trying to get better. Every year just try to keep on getting better, and that’s the way I approached the game and every day.”

If you happened to glance at his numbers in Sac, you’d think that his critics were attempting some form of legerdemain when it came to his level of play. He averaged 11.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game so outsiders didn’t really understand why people were constantly griping about Cauley-Stein and his “inconsistent” reputation.

“Oh, that must be because, well, the Kings will Kangz,” most people thought (the latter being a name most Sacramento fans will instantly recognize through tear-filled eyes):

Yes, fans are well aware that their team currently is a dumpster fire during an apocalyptic locust storm and has been for a little bit, but they also need to understand that even when Cauley-Stein was under more than competent coaches like Dave Joerger, something was … off.

It wasn’t all just about his stats with Sactown, it was his motivation and drive during games, especially on the defensive end of the court where he failed to protect the rim over and over. At times, Cauley-Stein seemed not to even care.

Sactown Royalty writer Omer Khan wrote a telling piece about a specific time Cauley-Stein failed to go to the mattresses for the Kings against the Los Angeles Clippers.

During the first quarter of the game, the Clippers were shooting 10 of 17 from the field when Cauley-Stein was on the court. Around the rim, they were 5 of 7. Cauley-Stein was sleepwalking through the beginning of the game and it took a vast amount of effort for him to even RAISE his hands. He eventually woke up during that game, but it was familiar behavior that Kings fans had grown used to. At the time of that loss to the Clippers, Cauley-Stein ranked last in field goal percentage surrendered at the rim out of all the 34 centers who started at least 10 games.

In interviews, Cauley-Stein shows an array of laudable intellect and his tastes are exquisite when to comes to matters off the court. (In keeping with Cuban's attempt to paint a pretty picture figuratively, WCS can do so literally. ... with art. He’s deep and daedal. He’s pleasant and complex.

But when it comes to basketball, sometimes his tone gives off a “Well, it’s only a job” note, and there are some moments when his actions reflect that while on defense.

In his debut with the Mavericks in Tuesday’s 133-104 blowout loss against the Phoenix Suns, Cauley-Stein recorded four points, three rebounds, and two steals and one assist in under 13 minutes off the bench.

When he was first acquired from the Dubs (on the cheap, to be sure), Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle said that he gave the center a “crash course” to make the transition as “simple as possible for him,” and while that sounded positive in a sense, everyone knows how easily Carlisle can get frustrated.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope WCS meant it when he told the DFW media (see the Q-and-A here), “It’s for sure a great opportunity to kind of restart my career and try to find a home. It’s a perfect spot, just the way they play kind of fits the strengths of my game and defensively, there’s a lot of freedom to just create havoc and that’s what I do. It’s going to be fun.”

That's an admission and a hope all rolled into one and I hope I’m TERRIBLY wrong and just a disgruntled girl from Sacramento who openly weeps with every Kings loss and I hope Cauley-Stein thrives with a winning team that has a solid chance to get into the postseason. I hope he meshes well with Kristaps Porzingis, and when Luka Doncic returns from his ankle woes, I hope he wows the crowd when executing a brilliant lob from Luka Magic. I hope he stays awake for the entire game and protects the rim. I hope my feet eventually un-stick themselves and I’m able to back up and see Mark Cuban’s artwork for what it really is as a whole. I hope this really is a "steal-and-a-half'' and not a verbose spin.

But until I’m proved wrong, I’m going to let them wave their brushes. And I'm not going to judge it as a positive until the paint is dry.

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

Kinda harsh on a 10-15mpg backup, if he puts up 8ppg and 4rpg with OK D I'm happy. DP is a ball of energy and hustle but not much of a defender and or shooter[still].