Leistikow: Can Jarrod Uthoff stick with the Dallas Mavericks?

Chad Leistikow

Wednesday was a very good day for Iowan and former Hawkeye basketball star Jarrod Uthoff.

In the morning, the NBA rookie signed a “multi-year” deal to stay with the Dallas Mavericks through the rest of this season. That evening in New Orleans, he scored the first two points of his young NBA career.

Dallas Mavericks forward Jarrod Uthoff (19) blocks a shot from Toronto's Fred VanVleet during a recent NBA game.

“My first goal is accomplished,” Uthoff told reporters of his signing Wednesday afternoon, which came after the conclusion of two 10-day contracts. “I look at that as a huge stepping stone. But I'm looking forward to the future.”

So, what about that future? Can Uthoff stick in the NBA beyond the rest of this season with the Mavericks?

The two-part answer: 1) It’s too early to say; 2) Things appear promising.

What Uthoff’s multi-year contract means is that Dallas will get an exclusive look at him on its summer-league team after it adds players in the NBA Draft, where it likely will have a lottery pick.

So, we won’t know if Uthoff will fit in Dallas’ plans until at least late this summer. NBA rosters must include at least 13 players, 12 of which are active. For now, he’s in that top 12. Which is a great starting point, at about $3,000 a day.

I turned to a trusted colleague, USA TODAY Sports NBA reporter Jeff Zillgitt, to get a better grip on Uthoff's chances to stay in the NBA.

His response: “It's a no-risk deal for the Mavs, and a great opportunity for Uthoff. ... The Mavs at least think enough of him to give him a strong shot the rest of the season, summer league and likely training camp to make the team next season. If they didn't think that of him, they would've said goodbye after the 10-day deal.

“There are several examples of this scenario working out for players, so it's not like some unrealistic long shot for him. Plus, teams are always looking for value contracts like this – minimum salary for a guy who can contribute in some way. (It) would give the Mavs salary cap flexibility to sign other players/free agents.”

That all sounds positive.

Having covered Uthoff at Iowa for several years, he's a unique personality who is extremely focused on his NBA dream, from work ethic to dietary and sleep habits. We all remember the stories about him not having cable-TV or Internet at home. He's a quiet guy, but he'll open up once he knows and trusts you.

So it struck me as notable to hear Uthoff speaking highly of the Mavericks being the right fit personally. I've always thought if Uthoff could find the right franchise, his game – a combo inside-outside threat who can run the floor, rebound and block shots – could flourish.

"There was a connection right from the get-go, I felt, with this organization," Uthoff said. "... It just feels right for me."

Now Uthoff has the chance to help his own case with the Mavs – and perhaps any other teams that are paying attention – as the season winds down. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said Wednesday he planned to give Uthoff more playing time down the stretch, while also mentioning the 6-foot-9, 220-pound former Hawkeye might be seen as an upgrade over the available forwards in the new crop of college and international prospects.

“There aren't a lot of high-quality stretch-4s in the draft,” Carlisle said. “So this is an opportunity for us to take a close look. And we'll have the option to look at him this summer and potentially make a further commitment. It's a win-win.

“There are a lot of things about his game that are very intriguing.”

Uthoff couldn't have asked to be in a much better position than when his agent told teams picking in the 2016 draft's later second round not to draft him. The goal all along was to find the right fit and not be tied to one organization with the likelihood of spending a full year in the NBA Development League (which barely pays $20,000 annually) or overseas.

Uthoff played three minutes off the bench in Wednesday’s 121-118 loss to the Pelicans, scoring two points on a put-back of his own miss while grabbing two rebounds and dishing out one assist.

Dallas is almost eliminated from the playoffs. The door of opportunity has swung open for Uthoff's more extensive audition to begin – for both days and months to come.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.


Friday: at Memphis; Sunday: at Milwaukee; Tuesday: at Sacramento; Wednesday: at L.A. Clippers; April 7: vs. San Antonio; April 9: at Phoenix; April 11: vs. Denver. April 12: at Memphis.