The Dallas Mavericks would like to host another big-time NBA event this season. So they made some changes.
With the record-breaking All-Star weekend in their back yard over, the Southwest Division-leading Mavericks will begin the final 30-game stretch of the regular season Tuesday night looking much different than they did when losing five of seven games before the break.
A seven-player weekend trade brought two-time All-Star guard Caron Butler(notes), 7-foot center Brendan Haywood(notes) and guard DeShawn Stevenson(notes) to Dallas from Washington. Often promising and disappointing Josh Howard(notes) was sent with Drew Gooden(notes) and two others to the Wizards.
“Now I don’t know how many of you out there are going to pick us in a seven-game series against the Lakers, but in our opinion the guys in that locker room, we’re ready to lock horns with anybody,” Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said. “We feel like this solidifies us a little bit.”
Enough to think about the possibility of playing Los Angeles in a Western Conference final? Or getting back to the NBA Finals four years after blowing a two-game lead and losing in six games to Miami?
“We’ll find out,” owner Mark Cuban said. “You just never know until you get out there and play, and if we can get back to where we were early in the season and get healthy. … I think we’re better.”
The Mavericks (32-20) still lead their division despite a slump before the break that included a 36-point loss to Denver, one of the three teams ahead of them in the West, in their last game.
“We were struggling here for a month, so we are excited now to have some new guys,” All-Star forward Dirk Nowitzki(notes) said. “It’s not going to be an easy ride, but we are looking forward to coming together quick and hopefully finish the season strong.”
The Mavericks will have to assimilate the newcomers without a practice. The three could only watch Monday’s workout because of a paperwork delay, coach Rick Carlisle said. Assuming the all-clear comes Tuesday morning, the former Wizards will go through a shootaround and then straight into their first game with Dallas at Oklahoma City.
An opening stretch of four games in five nights against probable playoff teams continues Wednesday night at home against Phoenix. After a day off, another back-to-back set comes at Orlando and home against Miami.
“It’s a situation that’s not ideal, but we’re going to make it work,” Carlisle said. “These guys will adjust.”
Butler, who has averaged 16.9 points a game in his eighth NBA season, is expected to move into the Mavericks’ starting lineup. Jason Terry(notes), who last year got the NBA sixth man award as the league’s top reserve, is expected to move back into that role after starting the past 11 games.
Terry said he could accept going back to the bench, and Butler said that “meant a lot.”
“Me and (Terry), we are familiar with one another,” Butler said. “He’s always been like a big brother to me. He’s just making the transition real smooth for me.”
Kobe Bryant(notes) of the Lakers, who because of a sore left ankle didn’t play in the All-Star game before the record crowd of 108,713 at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday night, said Butler will be a good addition for Dallas. They were teammates with the Lakers in 2004-05.
“You put him on a contender and I’m telling you, you’re going to love him,” Bryant said. ‘He’s tough as nails.”
Haywood provides needed depth in the middle behind Erick Dampier(notes), who missed three of four games before the break. That forced Gooden, now headed to his eighth team in eight seasons, to fill that role much more than planned when Dallas signed him last summer.
“We were running into problems. Damp is having problems with his knees and requires rest every now and then, and we really were in a spot without having a shot-blocker behind him,” Cuban said. “Drew did a great job, he laid it out there every game for us to try to go in as a five. Going into the season, we thought that would work, and it just didn’t play out as planned.”
The Mavericks also envision using Dampier and Haywood together to match up against other teams using two big men.
Howard had spent his entire career with Dallas, playing 431 games since being the 29th overall pick in 2003. The team’s second-longest tenured player behind Nowitzki, Howard played only 31 games with nine starts this season after being limited the first couple of months while recovering from offseason surgery on his left ankle.