PORTLAND, Ore. – You probably have seen those T-shirts that hoop-crazed kids wear, the ones emblazoned with: Basketball is life.
And, sometimes, neither one is fair.
The worst fear became reality on Wednesday when tests confirmed that veteran big man Dwight Powell suffered a ruptured right Achilles tendon on Tuesday in the first quarter against the LA Clippers.
His season is over and he faces a long rehab that many other players, like Wesley Matthews and J.J. Barea, have successfully navigated.
You never want to see something like this happen to anybody. But when it befalls a salt-of-the-earth guy like Powell, it’s even more painful. He does everything the right way, whether it’s working to improve his craft or interacting with kids at a homeless shelter.
That’s why the Mavericks postgame scene on Tuesday was morgue-like. It was a repeat of last January 11, when Barea suffered his torn Achilles. Guys that personify the heart-and-soul culture that the Mavericks try to cultivate don’t deserve to be dealt this sort of hand.
But here we are.
As coach Rick Carlisle said after the loss to the Clippers: “It doesn’t get much tougher than this.” And he wasn’t talking about the game, but the loss of Powell.
The Mavericks sent out a news release that said Powell is weighing his surgical options. After the game Tuesday, his appearance was exactly what you would expect: on crutches with a big, toe-to-knee walking boot on his right leg.
The Mavericks will do everything in their power to facilitate Powell’s recovery. He should be basketball-ready at some point early next season, if his recovery goes similarly to Barea’s.
What the franchise must also do is look at their options now as they find themselves very shorthanded in the front court. Powell averaged 9.4 points and 5.7 rebounds. But it wasn’t just the numbers. His pick-and-roll threat with Luka Doncic compromised defenses and made so much of the Mavericks’ offense tick.
Now the Mavericks have to figure out how to go about replacing him.
Kristaps Porzingis and Powell had started most of the games together on the front line. Now, Porzingis is likely to be joined at least in the short term by Maxi Kleber. Boban Majarnovic is the only other player on the roster who can legitimately play center.
It seems likely that the Mavericks will peruse the marketplace and see what options they will have.
It could be a player from the G-League. The Mavericks have had past dealings with 6-10 Ray Spalding, who is averaging 15.3 points and 8.2 rebounds for the Greensboro Swarm. The Mavericks had Spalding for part of last season. There are others in the G-League that the Mavericks have familiarity with, such as Jarrod Uthoff and former SMU standout Ben Moore.
But the Mavericks might also prefer more experience, which would require them going for an athletic big man who is already on another NBA team.
The NBA trade deadline is two weeks from Thursday and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to identify teams that are destined for the lottery who might have big men they would consider jettisoning.
Various trade speculation reports have former Maverick Ian Mahinmi in Washington, Gorgui Dieng in Minnesota and Willie Cauley-Stein in Golden State perhaps being available for the right price. Or if you want to dream big, Tristan Thompson from Cleveland. There’s no end to the conjecture, although there also is nothing to indicate the Mavericks have inquired about any of those.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that they look to promote from within. They have Isaiah Roby who has been gaining experience with the Texas Legends in the G-League. And Justin Jackson could be in line for more minutes.
And don’t ever discount perhaps going smaller with Dorian Finney-Smith playing more power forward and Tim Hardaway Jr. moving into a small-forward role.
Clearly, there are plenty of options.
What the Mavericks can’t do is panic. They are 27-16 and in fifth place in the Western Conference. They have lots of quality assets and it’s worth seeing what this team can do in the short term without Powell. They are headed to the playoffs, no matter what.
And, for now, they have lots of options that they are keeping open.