It's a business.
It's a three-word refrain one hears from athletes all the time, especially young players. But even as it's repeated over and over, it doesn't feel like a worn cliché. It is fact, plainly stated. For younger athletes in their earliest professional days, the words become a mantra, something of a mental shield, when some players are, inevitably, sent careening from team to team like a commodity.
It happens to the most promising – the NBA's No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins lived in limbo last summer before he was traded to Minnesota from Cleveland – and if you happen to be the 45th of 60 players drafted last June, the journey may have a few more turns.
Dwight Powell is 23 and 6-foot-11, one of the lesser-known names in the surge of hoops talent out of Toronto. After four years at Stanford University, Powell has been on four teams in his eight months in the NBA, landing most recently on the Dallas Mavericks where he has had the chance to take a real shot on a contending team, and succeeded.
The always exuberant Mavs owner Mark Cuban has been quick with effusive praise in December: "He can shoot threes, he can rebound, he can defend."
Powell's road to Texas has filled the sports agate.
Drafted June 26 in the mid-second round by the Charlotte Hornets, Powell was traded along with another player to the Cleveland Cavaliers on July 12, in exchange for a player and cash considerations. The Cavs were suddenly the Canadians – with Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, and Powell – and Powell played three NBA Summer League games.
The Cavs signed him in late August and a month later he was moved in a multiplayer/draft picks deal to the Boston Celtics, a trade mostly about roster/contract machinations.
The Celtics were interested in Powell, adding to their depth of big men, but he didn't see much court time, scoring fractional minutes in four games, putting in a total of nine points. Along the way, he played four development league games, pouring in an average of 22 per contest.
Then came Dec. 18. The Mavericks, in the difficult Western Conference, sought to bolster their defence and traded for Boston's Rajon Rondo. Dallas insisted Powell was part of the deal.
And so Powell found a home in Texas. He lit up the development league for one more game – a gaudy stat line of 26 points and 21 rebounds – and has since seen fairly steady action for the Mavs, in between times where he sits at the end of the bench and does not hear his name called. His best stretch was a run in January, which featured an 11-point night on five-of-eight shooting in a loss to Denver and 10 rebounds several nights later in a win against Wiggins and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Much of his work occurs, as for many rookies, in practice, going up against a bevy of big men among his teammates. Tyson Chandler, represented by the same agency, has become a mentor.
Any game time is a win, said Powell's agent Mike George, noting Mavs coach Rick Carlisle can be tough on younger players.
"For him to trust Dwight for the number of games he has, it's big," George said. "It says a lot."
Powell – who lived in a hotel in Cleveland, Boston and Dallas, along with apartments in Boston and now Dallas – maintains a monastic focus, a scatter of clothing and mail and other items behind him. The Stanford graduate understands the "you as a product" rubric of pro life – and the challenge to prove one's self when drafted far outside the top lottery selections.
"There's literally nothing in my life other than basketball," said Powell by phone before practice last Sunday. A teammate passed near him, and teased, by singing the opening bars of O Canada. "I come to the gym, I work out, and then I'm just waiting to the next time to come back. I don't really know too much about what's going on in town. What I do know is where the gym is."
Powell was at high school in Toronto when he was discovered by Ro Russell, who runs Grassroots, the elite club team for teenagers. Powell then did three years of high school at IMG Academy in Florida before he scored at Stanford. He has also played for Canada, a string of games last summer alongside another sharp-shooting big man, Kelly Olynyk, the second-year pro Powell was teammates with for a spell in Boston.
The two have forged a friendship, and Olynyk praised Powell's potential. Like Cuban said: pops threes, battle son the boards, and plays D.
"He's really athletic," Olynyk said. "He's a real versatile player, which makes him tough to match up against."