Ball Don't Lie - NBA

A third All-Star has joined Dirk Nowitzki(notes) and Jason Kidd(notes) in Dallas. He won't be playing in Sunday night's All-Star Game, but his presence on the Mavericks might be enough to vault Dallas back into the Western Conference finals.

Caron Butler(notes) is about to be traded out of Washington, along with Brendan Haywood(notes) and DeShawn Stevenson(notes), for a package of expiring contracts that includes Drew Gooden(notes), Josh Howard(notes), James Singleton(notes) and Quinton Ross(notes). For Washington, this is a clear cost-cutting move that will save the Wizards about $14.6 million in salary next season.

For Dallas, the move will hopefully place them back amongst a small group of teams (Utah and Denver probably acting as the others) that have at least a hope of knocking off the Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs this spring.

Butler can play. He's had a rough 2009-10, getting used to Flip Saunders' exacting offense, but the former Heat, Laker, and Wizard has long shown all-around gifts that can fit in alongside dominant players, and dominant personalities. Though his production has declined this season and he turns 30 in a month, the hope is that Butler can be a clear upgrade from Josh Howard, who was struggling through a decisively subpar season.

There's a bigger element to this trade, however, both in literal and figurative terms. Haywood has long been criticized for inconsistent play, but at 7-feet tall and in the prime of his career, Haywood is still a starting-quality center that can really turn these Mavericks around. Pared with an all-world playmaker in Jason Kidd, I think you'll see Haywood surprise a lot of people.

The Mavericks will need that, as their current also-underrated but oft-criticized center is struggling. Erick Dampier(notes) has played very well this season when healthy, but his left knee has routinely sidelined him this season, along with an unspecified illness, and his paint presence (whether he, ahem, plays or not) has been badly missed by the Mavericks of late, as they've lost five of seven games. Opponents are getting to the rim, and the defense is getting worse.

Haywood can change this. He changes shots, can rebound well on the defensive end, and can hold assuming he handles the perfectly-placed pass. Throw in the fact that his quite reasonable (around the league average) contract expires after this season, and you have a potential gem on your hands.

DeShawn Stevenson is terrible, and though the Mavericks are badly lacking in depth, coach Rick Carlisle would be well served to pass on handing this guy minutes, especially if he continues to chuck at his current rate. Just because you've heard of him, it doesn't make him any good.

Washington needed to do this deal. It's not the most creative expunging of contracts we've seen, but the Wizards badly need to rebuild, and they have no use for a player in his prime, working with an eight-figure contract in 2010-11. Losing Butler's deal and Stevenson's player option (which he will no doubt pick up) for next seasson opens up more and more cap space for this team. Especially if Gilbert Arenas'(notes) deal is voided, and (more likely than the Arenas void) Antawn Jamison(notes) is sent to another team later this week.

Drew Gooden has given the Mavericks a very good season, actually playing better defense (though he's still routinely out of position) and hitting the offensive glass hard. One wonders if he's a potential buyout candidate, though with a possible Jamison trade looming, the Wizards might need all the warm bodies they can get to keep coach Flip Saunders sane. Then again, keeping coaches sane isn't exactly one of Gooden's strengths.

Ross and Singleton are dogged defenders (Ross is about as good as it gets on that end) who will unfortunately have to ply their trade on a team that doesn't need any role players right now.

Josh Howard? He's a rental. He's slipped to the point of anonymity in the final year of his deal, and a season spent toiling away for a terrible team sounds about right. Not saying that he deserves it, it's just that Howard is sadly a nonentity at this point, and all the minutes and shots he can handle in a contract year likely won't do much to change that.

The point here is Dallas. Butler has long been a minutes sopper. He's not going to go off for 30 points consistently, but when he's at his best he brings extended all-around production, and that means a lot to a team that doesn't have much depth like the Mavericks. He's not only replacing Josh Howard's minutes, but he's taking minutes from Jose Juan Barea(notes) by pushing Jason Kidd down a position for longer stretches. And while Barea's contributions are to be appreciated, the Mavs can't be more than second round fodder if he's playing 20 minutes a night. And he's averaged 21.9 thus far this season.

This depends on Butler picking it up, however. It wasn't just his unfamiliarity with Saunders' offense, he was clearly alternately taking possessions off, and jacking up shots. He made no effort to immerse himself in an offense that could have really played to his strengths, and he'll be hooking up with another coach (Rick Carlisle) that demands that plays actually be run properly. He'll also be hooking up with one of the best coaches in the NBA, so here's hoping he's aware of his luck.

The turnaround will be on Butler. If he pulls himself above the muck of the middling and the average, and turns into the Butler of old (even with fewer shots and fewer chances to dominate), these Mavericks could have a chance.

If he pulls the same routine we saw in Washington, the Mavericks might as well be starting Josh Howard.

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