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February 13, 2010
Transaction Analysis
Dallas-Washington

by Kevin Pelton

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Dallas Mavericks

Traded center Drew Gooden and forwards Josh Howard, Quinton Ross and James Singleton to the Washington Wizards in exchange for forward Caron Butler, center Brendan Haywood and guard DeShawn Stevenson. [2/13]

For weeks, we've been saying that a deal involving the Washington Wizards would be the first domino to fall, kicking off the period of activity leading up to Thursday's NBA trade deadline. Lo and behold, the Dallas Mavericks livened up the All-Star Weekend they are hosting by completing a deal with the Wizards on Saturday afternoon that adds Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood to their lineup, giving up three expiring contracts but holding on to their other assets--most notably rookie guard Rodrigue Beaubois, labeled "pretty much untouchable" by Mavericks owner Mark Cuban earlier this week.

Dallas upgrades at two positions by replacing Josh Howard with Butler and Drew Gooden with Haywood. The addition of the latter player to make this a larger deal was crucial from the Mavericks' end, since Haywood is essentially a wash financially with Gooden (his contract is larger, but both end after this season) and has been the more productive of the two players. In fact, though two-time All-Star Butler is viewed as the centerpiece to this deal, I think Haywood could be just as important.

While Butler has hardly been the biggest problem in Washington this season, nor has he lived up to the fine track record of his first four seasons with the Wizards. Butler has barely rated better than replacement level this season, and his True Shooting Percentage of .506 is way down from 55-percent plus the last two seasons. Hoopdata.com reveals good and bad news in its breakdown of Butler's shooting by distance. Butler's shooting percentage at the rim, down from 63.0 percent to 53.4 percent, is the biggest culprit, and this year's figure is way out of line with the rest of Butler's career. On the other hand, Butler is also attempting fewer shots in close--just 3.4 per game after he was over four attempts a night each of the last three seasons. Is that a first sign of Butler's athleticism beginning to wane at age 29?

Even at a lower level this season, Butler has been more effective than Howard, who has been below replacement level. This is two straight poor seasons for Howard, and while injuries have been a major factor, there's no guarantee that Howard's left ankle will ever be completely healthy again, especially since he too will be entering his 30s this spring. The time was obviously right for the Mavericks to take advantage of Howard's valuable expiring contract (technically, he has a team option for 2010-11, but the Wizards will surely decline it) to make a move to upgrade their core.

Having Butler means Rick Carlisle has the kind of flexibility with lineups he anticipated coming into the season. For the most part, Shawn Marion has played at small forward, stepping into Howard's old role as a starter and rarely swinging down to the four-spot. A forward duo of Butler and Marion could be very difficult for opponents, especially with Dirk Nowitzki creating matchup problems at center at times. Butler could face an adjustment, though, if he's asked to come off the bench--something he's done just 33 times during his career.

At center, starter Erick Dampier has been bothered lately by a sore left knee that has forced him to miss six games and limited him even when he has played. The Mavericks hoped when they signed Drew Gooden last summer that he would not only solidify their center rotation but possibly usurp Dampier's starting job. That seemed optimistic at the time and proved so. Gooden was outstanding on the glass, pulling down 17.1 percent of available rebounds, and his larger role in the offense made him arguably as valuable as Dampier's more limited efficiency.

The difference was defense. Gooden is 6'10" and was a weak defender as a power forward, so expecting him to become an effective help defender was fanciful. Lo and behold, Dallas allowed 9.2 more points per 100 possessions with Gooden at center as compared to Dampier, per BasketballValue.com.

In Haywood, the Mavericks now add one of the league's more underrated interior defenders. Haywood is an above-average shot blocker who has regularly made the Wizards better on defense. He's not an All-Defensive type of player, but he's in the next echelon of defenders, and that will be an enormous upgrade for Dallas. The Mavericks started out the season as one of the league's better defensive teams, but they've slipped to 12th in the league in Defensive Rating as of the All-Star break. Expect that to improve back into the top 10 with Haywood on board.

Besides their financial situation, Dallas was in an ideal situation to upgrade at the trade deadline because the Mavericks' position in the standings has been better than their play on the court. At 32-20, Dallas is just 2.5 games behind second-place Denver in the Western Conference and fourth overall in the West, but the Mavericks' have outscored opponents by just 1.7 points per game. Even accounting for a more difficult schedule than average, their +2.2 schedule-adjusted differential is 12th in the league in eighth in the conference. As a result, you'd expect a correction in Dallas' record the rest of the way, but this trade may prevent that from happening and allow the Mavericks to take advantage of their good fortune so far.

I still don't think Dallas is on par with the Jazz or Nuggets, let alone the Lakers, but if Butler plays at his previous level the Mavericks jump ahead of anyone else in the conference and are competitive enough that they can hope for an upset or two this spring.

Washington Wizards

Traded forward Caron Butler, center Brendan Haywood and guard DeShawn Stevenson to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for center Drew Gooden and forwards Josh Howard, Quinton Ross and James Singleton. [2/13]

So, with this deal, the rebuilding project has officially begun in Washington. It doesn't appear at the moment that the Wizards will be able to get out of Gilbert Arenas' contract, but by sending the Mavericks the contracts of Butler and DeShawn Stevenson, they have cleared some space under the salary cap for the summer of 2010. Projecting ahead remains tricky because the exact salary cap won't be known until July 1 and the pick Washington gets in the lottery will affect their available salary, but assuming the Wizards pick No.4 (where they currently are), Quinton Ross exercises his player option for next season and the cap is set at $53 million (the projection cap guru Larry Coon is currently using), I have Washington with $7.2 million available for next summer.

That might not sound like much, but it would allow the Wizards to offer a player more than the mid-level exception. That's why adding Stevenson was the key to making this deal work from Washington's perspective. His $4.2 million player option was sure to be exercised, and Stevenson is worthless to a rebuilding Wizards squad. (Given he's been 1.4 wins below replacement level this season, it's dubious whether he has value to any kind of team.)

If Washington decides not to make a move with Antawn Jamison between now and the deadline, moving Stevenson was the difference between having enough money available to sign a decent free agent and being so close to the cap that the Wizards may as well have been over it. So Dallas' willingness to take on Stevenson's contract was why Washington was willing to give up Butler without getting any kind of pick or prospect in return.

The Wizards also get some financial relief this season, saving about a million in salary the rest of the way and $2.5 million in luxury-tax payments because the players they are taking in make that much less than the players they sent out. (The luxury tax is leveled based on payroll, rather than actual salary paid, so the difference is larger in the tax than salary over the final two months of the season.) There are reports Washington sent an unspecified about of cash to Dallas to complete the deal, but it is limited to $3 million and surely was less than that.

There's still a part of me that thinks the Wizards sold a tad low on Butler. Given his talent and contract, he was the most attractive wing player on the market, and I suspect that offers might have heated up a bit as pressure to make a move grew in the week leading up to the deadline. Adding Haywood into this deal means the team will not have the opportunity to move him to a team in need of a center to try to get some sort of value. The counter-argument is this: Given what a disaster this season has been for the Wizards, both on and off the court, they simply couldn't be stuck with Butler and Stevenson and bring largely the same group back next year. That would have been a disaster.

By dealing Jamison, Washington still has a chance to become real players in free agency this summer and add a piece or two to their future core. What this deal does is lessen the urgency to make a second trade and gives the Wizards a little more leverage going into next Thursday. That's why I think it ultimately works for Washington.

Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kpelton for quick takes as the trade deadline approaches.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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