Keeping Up With the Joneses
As if the Spurs’ position in the Western Conference standings and general hierarchy of the NBA wasn’t already in jeopardy with their play this season, Mark Cuban and Dan Gilbert are close to putting it on life support.
The Dallas Mavericks on Saturday completed a seven player trade with the Washington Wizards that appears to upgrade their rotation and fill some of the few holes their roster had.
The teams agreed on the principal pieces Friday: [Caron] Butler, [Brendan] Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson to Dallas for Josh Howard and Drew Gooden. Mavericks reserves Quinton Ross and James Singleton were added to the deal Saturday and are also Washington-bound, with Dallas receiving cash considerations in addition to the three players.
“It makes us significantly better,” Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said.
On paper, Cuban is absolutely right. This season Josh Howard has been a shell of the dynamic wing player the Spurs regretted passing on draft night several years ago and, at times, seemed genuinely disinterested in playing for Dallas.
And while Drew Gooden played well for the Mavs this season, Butler is a tough wing who can score and play solid defense, and enables the Mavs to play small ball if they choose. Brendan Haywood is just as good, if not better, than Mavs center Erick Dampier at half the price.
Throw in DeShawn Stevenson, a defense-first wing who can knock down three-pointers, and you got yourself a heck of a mid-season trade.
However, ESPN.com’s John Hollinger is a little more reserved (Insider):
So how much better does that lofty sum make Dallas? Based on player efficiency rating, 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-minus numbers over the past half-decade have been spectacular. This season, 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.
This doesn’t do the Spurs any favors. Though San Antonio has kept pace with Dallas in the Southwest Division, just a game and a half back at the All-Star break, the team has underachieved. Coming into the season, the Spurs were projected as contenders with the Lakers in the Western Conference.
Currently, the Spurs have fallen behind both the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz in the minds of fans and analysts, and there was talk of the Spurs just being happy to be in the playoff race. An upgraded Mavericks rotation seemingly drops the Spurs lower on the Western Conference totem pole.
But the real question is whether this deal puts enough pressure on the Spurs to do something with their bevy of expiring contracts. Manu Ginobili, Roger Mason Jr., Matt Bonner, Michael Finley, Theo Ratliff, Ian Mahinmi, Keith Bogans and Malik Hairston comprise San Antonio’s collection of deals ending this season or with a team option for next year, totaling over $26 million.
These contracts arm the Spurs with the ability to do something this week in their effort to match the deals done, and to be done, before Thursday’s trade deadline.
Also not helping the Spurs out: the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are reportedly moving closer and closer to landing Amare Stoudemire, arguably the best player sitting on the trade block this season. Stoudemire, once a rumored Spurs target, has been the talk of trade season and may soon be LeBron James’ running mate:
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns are closing in on a deal that would send All-Star forward Amare Stoudemire to Cleveland, according to sources with knowledge of the negotiations.
The Cavaliers would send Zydrunas Ilgauskas and J.J. Hickson to Phoenix in exchange for Stoudemire, one of the league’s most dominant big men.
While Cleveland remains in talks with several other teams, the club, from management down to the players, has settled on Stoudemire as its first choice.
The ball is in Phoenix’s court. The Suns are mulling whether the financial relief provided by Ilgauskas’ $12 million contract and the young and talented Hickson are enough for them to part with Stoudemire.
Though anything can still happen, these deals show that the contenders are not standing pat, despite their status in the league’s standings so far. And if the Spurs don’t do something with their expiring contacts, which are central to the two deals above, the Spurs title window may close faster than expected.