13 February 2010
DALLAS -- Let's cut right to the chase: I like this deal better for both teams if it's not the last on they make in the final few days before the trade deadline.
From the Dallas side, the big question at the moment is this: Does the acquisition of Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood put the Mavericks over the top in the West?
If it doesn't, it seems a fairly limited impact for a $30 million expense -- the Mavs were just as capable of losing in the second round without Butler and Haywood. If it does, on the other hand, it's the kind of creative deal-making that has enabled the Mavs to extend their window as contenders despite their key players getting rather long in the tooth.
The deal -- which sends Josh Howard, Drew Gooden and spare parts Quinton Ross and James Singleton to Washington for Butler, Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson -- improves Dallas in a couple of key areas, but not cheaply. For Dallas, the bill comes to $13.6 million in payroll and another $13.6 million in luxury tax for the 2010-11 season, when they're paying the contracts of Butler ($10.56 million) and Stevenson ($4.15 million) instead of Ross' $1.15 million salary. The deal also adds $1.2 million in salary and another $3.2 in luxury tax for the Mavs this season, although they may be able to reduce those numbers if they can agree to a buyout with Stevenson. All told, the final bill should come in at about $30 million.
ESPN.com's Trade Machine breaks down the deal here.
So how much better does that lofty sum make Dallas? Based on PER, it doesn't move the needle much. Our Trade Machine analysis is that the swap improves Dallas by only one win for the remainder of the season, largely because this season the difference in performance between Butler and Howard is much smaller than generally perceived. In fact, statistically, there's been virtually no difference between the two players over the past four seasons, including this one, in which Butler's numbers have been down just as sharply as Howard's.
For the Mavs, the success of the trade might come down to the names in agate type, not the headliners. That is, Haywood and Gooden may be fairly similar in terms of PER, but look at plus-minus stats and a very different picture emerges. According to Basketballvalue.com, Dallas gives up 11.25 points per 100 possessions more with Gooden on the court, one of the worst marks in basketball. Much of that is a result of his role in the rotation -- he's either playing as an undersized center or replacing Dallas' best player, Dirk Nowitzki -- and it indicates that he's hardly a great fit on the Mavs roster.
On the other hand, Haywood's plus-numbers over the last half-decade have been spectacular. This year, for instance, Washington is 8.46 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court. The one cautionary flag here is that since he was the only Wizard who could defend to save his life, his impact was probably overstated. At the same time, he's certainly a major defensive upgrade over Gooden, particularly against the types of big men that Dallas will likely have to face to get through the Western Conference playoff gauntlet.
That said, the deal overall still leaves me with more questions than answer. How is Butler going to defend opposing shooting guards when he can't even guard small forwards? How will the Mavs juggle minutes up front between Haywood and Erick Dampier, especially when they're likely to play extended stretches without a traditional center and Nowitzki playing the 5?
And most importantly, is the marginal improvement offered by a Gooden-for-Haywood upgrade really enough for a Mavs team that had outscored opponents by only 1.7 points per game on the season and is projected to finish with 49 wins and a No. 5 seed in the West?
As a result, my follow-up question is whether the Mavs are done dealing. If they turn around and swap Dampier's mammoth expiring deal (he's technically under contact next year but his salary is unguaranteed) for a quality shooting guard, I'd feel much better about the entire exercise. But at least one front office source I talked to expects the Mavs to wait until summer before trading Dampier.
Without such a second trade, however, it appears the Mavs are spending a total of $30 million just to improve their odds of making the second round. Even after this deal, I don't like their chances to beat Denver or Utah, let alone the likes of the Lakers.
As for the Wizards, this deal is just a salary dump. They can keep Howard, who has a team option for 2010-11, if he suddenly reverts to his All-Star form of old, but more likely will let him walk and place themselves several million dollars under the cap as a result. They can save more money if they can agree to a buyout with Gooden, who is a free agent after the season, and allow him to sign with another contender by March 1. They'll also save $4.4 million in luxury tax and contracts thanks to the trade.
As with Dallas, Washington comes out of this better if they can make a second deal to build on the gains of the first. In the Wizards' case, it would be trading Antawn Jamison, which they seem amenable to doing, to create enough cap space to sign a max-level free agent.
Saturday's trade signals downsized expectations for the Wizards, who reportedly were asking for an arm and a leg for all their players in recent weeks. The expected ownership takeover by Ted Leonsis after the death of Abe Pollin may be a factor, as Leonsis likely wants to the 'Zards to cut costs and rebuild as they wait to see how the Gilbert Arenas situation is resolved.
Sum it up, and the logic appears more straightforward for Washington than for Dallas. The Wizards had a goal (cutting money) and accomplished it, though without the talent upside they might have wanted. The Mavs have committed to putting an extra $30 million toward their goal (winning a title), yet we're not certain they've put themselves much closer to the promised land.
That said, we need a few more days before we can issue our final verdicts: The Mavs and Wizards still have until 3 p.m. ET on Thursday to make trades that cast a fresh light on Saturday's big deal, and it's those follow-up trades that might change the final score.
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