Josh Howard(notes) doesn't have to go. According to Mark Cuban, he's become a model teammate. He hasn't been much of a distraction recently due to any off-court nonsense. He's dealt with injury and his personal permanence in the rotation with ease.
He's also eased, as Mike Fisher mentioned at DallasBasketball.com today, into irrelevancy.
At the age of 29, when most players hit their prime, when most players have coupled that athleticism with those years of accrued intelligence and all that muscle memory put together through a thousand reps both on court and off, Josh Howard has disappeared.
Twelve points on sub-40 percent shooting. Five combined assists and rebounds in 26 minutes. The Mavericks play better with him off the court on offense, and they play better with him off the court on defense. He's Derrick McKey, in the later years, without all that nagging three-point accuracy (26 percent, still shooting over two a game) and defensive stop-o-tude.
He isn't destroying the Mavs, he's just sub-average. And that's a quality the Mavericks can least afford right now.
The team is third in the West, within sniffing distance of second place. They might not have to play the Lakers, if everything goes right, until the third round; and who knows what could happen in a seven game series? Besides the obvious, of course.
But you can't help but get the feeling that the Mavericks, even at 33-18, have overachieved.
A new brand of hoops cognoscenti consistently, and smartly, refer to the four factors. The idea that, on both ends, shooting, turnovers, rebounding and free throws (in that order) are clearly and consistently aligned with team success far above any other factor you can muster. Besides, naturally, pullin' up yer bootstraps.
And the Mavs? Despite having the third-best record in the league's best conference and the seventh overall, they come across as supremely above-average in all areas.
They are 13th in effective field goal percentage, fourth in turnover rate (yay!), 22nd in grabbing offensive rebounds (boo!). They are 19th in free throws made per field goal taken, and 11th in offense.
The opposite side of that? Eleventh in defending that effective field goal percentage, 10th in defensive rebounds, tied for 16th in causing turnovers, sixth in limiting teams to get to the line. Eleventh overall.
Not quite "meh," I dig this team, love watching its parts, and truly think they can swing a springtime upset should things fall into place, but this is clearly a team in desperate need of ... something.
So what does Howard, and his $10.8 million contract, get?
Well, for one, it has a team option for next year that no team (save for, perhaps, the Mavericks) would dare pick up. Not with his recent contributions. So it's basically an expiring deal. The Raptors and Heat have been mentioned as possible suitors, so what to get for J-Ho?
Jose Calderon(notes)? Last I checked, the Mavericks were pretty sound in the Not Turning it Over Dept., and already boast a point man with mad passing skills who also contributes mad gettin' destroyed by Andre Miller(notes) skills. And as well as Jarrett Jack(notes) has played and as significant as his relationship with Chris Bosh(notes) is, do you really think Bryan Colangelo is willing to dump Calderon just to be clear of his salary commitment? This is the man that signed Hedo Turkoglu(notes) and Andrea Bargnani(notes) to massive deals. He's made his bed.
The combination of Udonis Haslem(notes), Jamaal Magliore and Yakhouba Diawara(notes) from the Heat? The Mavs would have to dump a player, and what's the point of switching the deck chairs with Haslem's expiring deal? He'd help with rebounding on defense, but to what extent, fighting for those few minutes?
Chicago, for John Salmons(notes) and Jerome James(notes)? James might expire this summer, but I've got news for you: Salmons ain't going anywhere. He's picking up his option for 2010-11, and while it might not be egregious ($5.8 million), his production isn't (and won't) be what you'd call "stellar."
So what can Dallas do to shake this middling feeling? These semi-doldrums?
This, in raw basketball terms that actually mean something, .500 streak they've been showcasing over the last 18 games?
I'm not sure. And, if anything, this could be a bit of wishful thinking on Howard's part. After all, all this noise is coming from him.
This isn't to say the Mavericks aren't tinkering, they are, and they're listening. But the value of sustained chemistry takes center stage once you see the options available, and unless Howard is getting packaged with Erick Dampier's(notes) massive (should-be, if Damp's play continues apace) expiring contract (a total expiring load of $23 million), I'm just not seeing a superstar in Dallas' future.
Even with the deadline just weeks away, it's early. And, as Fisher accurately points out, owners can get nervous and cap crunchers can get crackin' in any sort of three way deal that could land a team like Dallas a Kevin Martin(notes) or Andre Iguodala(notes) while handing salary relief to the teams in question. And, at this stage, it would have to be a three-way, because (if the posturing continues apace), the Kings and Sixers are going to demand some cheap and young talent for their big contracts, and not just salary relief.
Then again, it's early. Teams tend to panic, both in terms of talent depravation, or making good with an owner bent on cutting costs. Look at Memphis' Chris Wallace. He was strung up for handing Pau Gasol(notes) to the Lakers for mere cap relief and Gasol's chubby younger brother two years ago. He was rewarded with Michael Heisley's unyielding loyalty in response to taking the heat for Heisley's parsimoniousness. And now, big contracts back on board, Wallace is getting all sorts of plaudits for his go-go Grizzlies.
The lessons? We never know, until the trade deadline ends.
And that these next few weeks are going to be flippin' fantastic.