Dallas has tipped the first domino of trade deadline season with a seven-player trade that nets them Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson while sending Josh Howard, Drew Gooden, James Singleton and Quinton Ross to the Wizards.
This trade for the Mavericks is eerily reminiscent to a six-player, one draft pick trade they did in 2002 for Nick Van Exel and Raef LaFrentz. That trade legitimized the Mavericks' postseason hopes during both the 02 and 03 playoffs, but it still didn't result in a Finals berth. The level of improvement, financial risk and end result are all likely to be similar this time around, but there is one potential caveat I'll get to later.
The differences between Butler and Howard are not out of this world, but they are legitimate and profound, contrary to surface looks you might read elsewhere. Butler has been looking much better over the past few weeks and he's actually healthy and will be re-energized by the new situation.
He isn't having an All-Star season and his offensive efficiency is down, as are his assist numbers, but I think that is more of a result from adjusting to Flip Saunders' system and the complete chaos of the Gilbert Arenas situation. Butler has always been better as a complementary scorer, which he will be to Dirk Nowitzki and he has never played with a point guard anywhere close to Jason Kidd.
I absolutely love how the Mavericks expanded this deal to include Haywood, who is one of the game's most underrated talents and is an absolute necessity to have defensively against the bigs of the Lakers, Cavaliers and Spurs. While the Mavericks have been an outstanding 10.5 points per 100 possessions better with Dampier on the floor, Haywood's defense is much more valuable than the offensive edge Dampier brings to the floor.
Haywood's defense in the post is so good that he doesn't need double-teams to guard anybody, which will make it much easier for Dallas to defend the perimeter, an area where they tend to struggle.
Dampier's TS% this season is at 65.6% compared to Haywood's 59.1%, but I expect the latter's to improve with a better supporting cast, especially being on the receiving end of a playmaker at point guard like Kidd.
Haywood is also vastly superior to Dampier as an offensive rebounder, which is an area of weakness for the Mavericks, ranking 23rd in offensive rebound percentage. This is also an area where Butler, a tough offensive rebounder, will boost the Mavs.
What is perhaps even more important is Haywood and Dampier will be sharing minutes and they will be vastly more productive in the 22.4 minutes per night that were being filled by Gooden.
The Mavericks have a lot of different lineup options depending on the matchup, giving them as much versatility as any other team in the NBA. They can go big with Jason Kidd at point guard, Caron Butler at shooting guard, Shawn Marion at small forward, Dirk at power forward and Haywood at center. They can also go small with Kidd and Jason Terry in the backcourt, Butler and Marion at the forward positions and Dirk at center.
Man for man, that rotation of six players is as good as any beyond what the Lakers have.
Wisely for Dallas, they were not forced to trade Rodrigue Beaubois, so the Mavericks managed to not sacrifice anything in terms of long term talent.
It will be interesting to see if the Mavericks are finished with this move, or will try to make another move, possibly by using Dampier's non-guaranteed desirable contract for 10-11. The Mavericks still don't have a real option offensively in the low post, though I don't see very many available options out there and they could be a little stronger defensively against point guards. The second problem isn't too worrisome either since Kidd can guard Chauncey Billups, who is the only point guard from a legitimate title contender that can take over a game offensively.
The Mavericks have an extremely small window to get back to the Finals with Dirk Nowitzki and the rest of this aging core. But even more important, the NBA lacks a truly dominant team right now, this is the caveat I referred to at the top of this article. The Lakers remain unbeatable when healthy and motivated, but I can't expect Kobe Bryant to be 100% again until August or September. When Kobe isn't physically able to be fully himself, that puts a ton of pressure on Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum, who continue to exhibit inconsistency or pure softness too frequently when called upon to take a lead role.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers and Magic both have clear chinks in their armor and the Celtics are completely geriatric compared to the Mavericks. With the impending free agency of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, I would expect LeBron to get into a situation where his supporting cast is vastly improved and he begins to win titles annually.
The Mavericks, as well as teams like the Spurs and Nuggets, are quickly running out of tomorrows.
Until this trade, Dallas was more of a gadfly on its final staggers than even a paper tiger. It was obvious on the court and even more plainly obvious statistically.
The Mavericks are currently 11th in offensive rating and 16th in defensive rating (12th overall in rating differential), which clearly shows they were not legitimate contenders as they were previously constructed. Beyond what we see on the floor in the coming weeks with Butler and Haywood added, how significantly that number improves between now and the end of the regular season will tell us everything we need to know about the legitimacy of their title hopes.
The financial risk is obviously huge, amounting to between $26M but the Mavericks are now contenders that every team must now consider dangerous.
Grade for Dallas: A
There really isn't much to say about this trade from Washington's perspective, because this deal was purely about saving money. They were attempting to package a Haywood rental into young talent, but instead found someone to take the remainder of Butler's contract while not accruing any additional salary. Now that they have begun the firesale, they cannot afford to not trade away Antawn Jamison to Cleveland, regardless of whether they get J.J. Hickson back or not.
The past couple of years have been brutal for the Wizards and their fans, as their bold moves have not only failed to work, but also have backfired. This trade exhibits their wise unwillingness to continue with their sunk costs.
Grade for Washington: C+