Things change fast in the NBA. When Dwight Powell, signed a three-year, $33 million contract with the Dallas Mavericks in the summer of 2019, the deal was considered a value. Powell had just posted one of his most efficient seasons, leading the entire league with a 134.6 offensive rating. He also finished the year ninth in win shares per 48 minutes.
“He’s one of my all-time favorite players because of the approach, because of the consistency, because of the love of competition, because of his love of being a great teammate,” Rick Carlisle told Dwain Price of Mavs.com in April of 2019.
That love extends all the way up to the front office and ownership. “People don’t realize, Dwight Powell is the ultimate, consummate team player,” Mark Cuban told Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News. “No ifs, ands or butts. Dwight Powell you could say is the heart and soul of this team. He does everything it takes to win and nothing for his personal stats. Nothing.”
The Mavericks deployed Powell as a center in one of the statistically greatest offenses of all-time. And though his numbers weren’t eye-popping, it was clear he was a huge part of what made the Mavericks’ offense click. Then in an instant, that all changed.
Three minutes into a late January game against the Clippers, Powell went down with an apparent Achilles’ tendon injury. The next day, the Mavericks confirmed that Powell had ruptured his Achilles’ tendon and would require surgery. He was out for the season.
The delayed start to the 2020-21 season gave Powell a chance to rehab and be ready to take the floor for the first game of the year. Powell started the first six games of the season, but early on it was clear he didn’t have the same athleticism. He no longer posed a vertical threat, hampering his efficiency on the offensive end. And despite constant effort, his defense fell short as well. Powell was relegated to the bench, where his minutes have consistently fallen.
Currently, it’s tough to find minutes for Powell. The Mavericks need every win they can get, and Carlisle has banished any player who can’t contribute at a high level to the far end of the bench. The Mavericks are essentially using a playoff rotation in the middle of the regular season. With the way Powell has played this year, the Mavericks have been forced to look for contributions elsewhere.
So now Powell and the Mavericks are at a crossroads. Is his play this season indicative of what he’s become as a player? Or is he still in the midst of recovery from a devastating injury?
Powell is now 29 years old, and the track record for returning from Achilles’ tendon injuries isn’t good. It’s possible he could end up in a trade before the March 25th. The Mavericks have several holes on the roster, and Powell’s contract is extremely tradeable, even if he’s underperforming at the moment. Perhaps there’s a team out there willing to take a chance on a front court player who was once extremely efficient and always willing to sacrifice. It’s possible he’s just included in a bigger deal in order to match salaries. Maybe he stays in Dallas for the remainder of his contract.
Whatever happens, there’s no denying what Powell has accomplished in Dallas. He’s become a leader on the Mavericks, no matter what how many minutes he plays. He was involved in the discussions with the Player’s Association that sorted out the details of the bubble in Orlando. Powell has done whatever the team has asked him to do, and his absence due to Covid-19 health and safety protocols was glaring. Powell brings an energy to the lineup that other players inevitably rise to match.
Powell’s time with the Mavericks has been a success. He’s bridged the gap between the Dirk Nowitzki and Luka Doncic eras on the court. Through his hard work and sacrifice, he’s shown what it takes to become a leader in the NBA without being a superstar. That’s more than you can ask from a late first round pick thrown into a trade to match salaries.