Decisions, decisions, decisions. Over the past seven months, Dallas Mavericks center Willie Cauley-Stein definitely faced more than his fair share of life-altering choices.
Around the time the Mavs were slated to fly to Orlando last July to start practicing in the bubble, Cauley-Stein opted to remain in Dallas for the birth of his daughter — Kendrixx Marie Cauley-Stein. The Mavs all agree that the 7-footer did the right thing, although a part of him wishes he could have been in two places at the same time.
Also, once the offseason came around, Cauley-Stein had one year remaining on his contract at a player’s option. The six-year veteran has a strong affinity for the city of Dallas and had become very comfortable in his new surroundings after arriving here via a trade with the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 25.
The Mavs were Cauley-Stein’s third NBA team — and his fifth season wasn’t even over yet. And he wasn’t trying to pull up stakes and move again.
But while seeking a larger payday, Cauley-Stein decided to opt out of his contract and bank on the Mavs signing him to a longer contract. The gamble paid off as Cauley-Stein signed a three-year contract with the Mavs on Dec. 1.
“I knew for certain that I was having my daughter on the 7th (of July), so that took definite priority over it all,” Cauley-Stein said. “Knowing that my livelihood and the way we eat is to go to that bubble and make my name by helping this team win, I knew that was the reason why I got traded and that was the reason why I was in that position was for that moment.
“And to sacrifice that for the greater good was easy to bet on myself because I know it was the right play on the return. I know good energy comes back around.”
Cauley-Stein created all of that good energy for himself by working extremely hard while the Mavs were in the bubble. He saw that period of time as that proverbial fork in the road where he could show the Mavs how committed he was to them.
Cauley-Stein even brought his newborn daughter to the Mavs’ practice facilities to several of his workouts.
“By doing that and doing all the right things in between that and not chilling while they were (in Orlando), I was still going in and working every day,” Cauley-Stein said. “I got equity in that from them. I think that’s why I’m back here.
“I could have easily just chose not to go (work out) and chill and wait until (the season) plays out and try to sneak in on the team (this season). But I love it here in Dallas, I love the way that they were letting me rock. It was an easy fit for me, so I was glad that it all got to work out at the end.”
So, too, are the Mavs, who play in Milwaukee on Friday at 6:30 p.m. and are 4-0 with Cauley-Stein as a starter.
In the Mavs’ current four-game winning streak, Cauley-Stein is averaging 7.5 points and 9.3 rebounds and also has made 10 of his 15 field goals. Additionally, he has been a solid rim protector while helping the Mavs with the type of sticky defense which has become their calling card this season.
“His length is a real positive factor for us at both ends,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He gets a lot of offensive rebounds, he gives us a real strong rim presence as a roller offensively. He’s just got a great nose for the ball and he goes after it with tenacity.”
During Wednesday’s 104-93 win over the Charlotte Hornets, Cauley-Stein finished the game with four points, 14 rebounds, two assists, three blocks and one steal in 30 minutes. While he knows he doesn’t have the cache of a Luka Doncic, he knows his value to the Mavs.
“It’s pretty easy what my role is on this team,” Cauley-Stein said. “I just try to go in there and make all the energy plays and get us second-chance points and do all the stuff that people don’t want to do and take pride in that. And defensively, just being a dog.
“I know we preach about it every day — the only way this team is going to make it far is if defensively were locked in. Just about everybody on the team can score. It’s just about how many stops are we going to pull together to try to win a game? Right now we’ve been doing that consistently and that’s why we’re rolling, so we just got to keep on building.”
Thanks to the defensive assistance from Cauley-Stein, the Mavs rank second in the NBA in fewest points allowed (104.4), lowest field goal percentage allowed (43.8 percent) and lowest 3-point percentage allowed (30.9 percent). They’re also first in fewest made field goals allowed per game (37.5).
“I feel good out there,” Cauley-Stein said. “When you put in that much work it’s easy to go do your job. There’s no gray area on what you’re supposed to do.
“Coach Carlisle and (assistant) coach (Jamahl) Mosley, they do a really good job of having us prepared.”
With Kristaps Porzingis (7-3) back in the lineup for the first time this season on Wednesday, Cauley-Stein believes that gives the Mavs plenty of length.
“Me, KP – that size in that group, I feel like defensively we can just be really crazy not giving up points in the paint,” Cauley-Stein said. “I think both of us have the ability to guard guards and just use our length to create havoc.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of blocks on that group, too. You’re going to have a 7-footer on the weak side each time. It’s exciting to see it all kind of pull together.”
Carlisle can certainly see how the addition of Cauley-Stein in his starting lineup has helped pull things together for the Mavs (6-4).
“He’s been a very positive factor for us at both ends of the floor,” Carlisle said. “And even though he’s considered a non-spacing big, last night he did a great job of finding the nooks and crannies and spacing the right way with KP out there.”
Cauley-Stein also does a lot of positive deep thinking. He knows the stakes are high.
“When the cause is bigger than you, you’re not thinking about what you’ve got to do any more,” Cauley-Stein said. “All I think about is where do I have to get to financially for us to just live and not have to worry about working ever again and (Kendrixx Marie) don’t have to worry about work ever again. Just generational wealth.
“The easier way to do it is to take care of the job I’ve got ahead of me. It’s just that constant grind — and it’s constant in the back of your head. When I come into the game it’s like, there’s a reason why I’m coming into the game. I’m not just playing basketball. I’m trying to feed my family and keep it rolling.”