Checking in With Antonius Cleveland & His Recovery Journey

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 10: Antonius Cleveland
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 10: Antonius Cleveland /

Sidelined by ankle surgery after signing a two-way contract in Dallas, Antonius Cleveland continues to rehab for his next opportunity.

On November 17, 2017, the Dallas Mavericks signed Antonius Cleveland to a two-way contract.

Cleveland had previously spent the preseason with the Golden State Warriors and had spent time in the G-League with the Santa Cruz Warriors before the Dallas Mavericks decided to take a chance on him.

In Dallas, the need for a linky, defensive wing on the roster was evident and taking a chance on the 6’6″ 23-year-old made too much sense.

Cleveland came into Dallas and immediately made his presence known for his hard-nosed defense and athleticism off the bench. He appeared in his first game on the 17th and would spend the next month in Dallas before everything took a turn for the worst.

He would come down hard on his ankle during a game, have season-ending surgery and be waived by the Mavericks all within a few days time.

Now, a few months later, I caught up with Cleveland over the phone to talk about his time in Dallas and see how his recovery is going.

“Freak accident,” Cleveland said when describing the injury.

Cleveland jumped up for the ball and lost his balance in mid-air, resulting in him coming down on the side of his ankle. At first, he thought he simply rolled it, but it would soon to prove to be a hairline fracture that needed surgery.

At the time, Dallas needed a healthy body on the wing no matter how much they liked Cleveland. Make no mistake, they liked him a lot. Dennis Smith Jr. liked having him around too.

On a team filled with veterans like Dirk Nowitzki, Devin Harris, J.J. Barea and more, finding people at the same stage of life might have been a little difficult for the youngsters on the team. This naturally created a bond between Smith Jr. (20) and Cleveland (23) that is still strong to this day.

Cleveland says he was just with Smith Jr. recently and described him as a “good guy and a good friend of mine.”

Even though he only appeared in 13 games for the Mavericks and was only on the roster for a little over a month, it was a learning experience for Cleveland on the court and off of it also.

On the biggest thing he learned, Cleveland says it was “how to be a professional and take care of your body. It is a grind.”

The grind he is talking about is the no off days as a professional athlete. In the 31 days he was under contract for the Mavericks, Dallas had 16 games and he appeared in 13 of them.

When he was waived on December 19th, it could have been a quick goodbye from the organization, but that wasn’t the case. The Mavericks decided to take care of the entire surgery and rehab process for Cleveland.

“Yeah…I’m a rookie man. The stuff Dallas has done for me. It may be normal it may not, but I just know I am thankful man. They covered my surgery, rehab and everything,” Cleveland said.

Pretty classy move by the Mavericks.

Now, Cleveland prepares for his next step in the rehab process and getting ready for the summer.

“Right now it consist of getting my quads and hamstrings back stronger…extending that range of motion for my ankle,” Cleveland said. When I asked him about how the ankle is progressing, Cleveland says that the fracture is completely gone now.

“Doctor says you can’t even see the hairline fracture anymore,” Cleveland said.

As far as the recovery timeline, getting 100% by Summer League is the goal for Cleveland.

“Making sure I am 100% for Summer League,” Cleveland said. “I won’t get the screws taken out until later on this year.”

More from The Smoking Cuban

Even though he is eager to get back on the court, he realizes that rushing it could do long-term damage to his career. For now, rehabbing and getting ready for the summer is the only goal for him.

When Cleveland went down, Rick Carlisle and the organization praised him for his work ethic and time on the court, even expressing that they would monitor his future for a potential return down the road.

Even though Dallas hasn’t promised him a spot in Summer League yet, Cleveland would love to be back in Dallas.

“Dallas is always an option for the way they took care of me,” Cleveland said. “I would love to stay here. Just finding the right situation for me.”

Now, it’s up to his agent and rehab progression to determine what is next for him come the summer. Whether it is with Dallas or not, expect Cleveland to have plenty of interest from teams across the league as wings with his skillset are not easy to come by.

Next: Doug McDermott is the New Peja Stojakovic in Dallas

Until then, expect Cleveland to cheer on his buddy, Dennis Smith Jr., as the Mavericks finish out the season.