The Dallas Mavericks' Ace In the Hole: The Joy of Playing for a Winner

Tom DelamaterAnalyst IFebruary 25, 2010

DALLAS - FEBRUARY 17:  Forward Caron Butler #4 of the Dallas Mavericks during play against the Phoenix Suns on February 17, 2010 at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Even before the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Los Angeles Lakers Wednesday night, it was clear the Mavs were big winners among teams that were active before the NBA trade deadline.

Dallas pulled off a great deal to acquire Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, and DeShawn Stevenson from the Washington Wizards. If it doesn’t make them instant contenders for the Western Conference crown, it puts them on the cusp.

Butler and Haywood have merged seamlessly with Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, and Shawn Marion to give the Mavericks a potent starting lineup. After a bump in the road for one game after the trade, the Mavs have won five straight, including impressive victories over Phoenix, Orlando, Miami, and the Lakers.

It’s a good sign, particularly since Haywood might have been viewed as a long-term, rather than short-term, key to the deal. Initially expected to back up Erick Dampier in the middle, Haywood was immediately pressed into the starting lineup when Dampier mutilated a finger against Oklahoma City.

All Haywood has done in the five games since is average 12 points and 11.6 rebounds while averaging more than 36 minutes a contest. Against Indiana he hauled in a startling 20 rebounds.

What’s the key to Haywood’s rapid emergence, and Butler’s likely resurgence?

They’re happy.

It’s all about the joy of playing for a winner, and the former Wizards are getting a taste of it again.

It’s also ironic, because both the Wizards and the Mavericks had their share of struggles before the trade was completed. Washington’s disaster of a season was well documented. The Mavs, meanwhile, were at a standstill.

After racing to a 22-9 start, Dallas went 10-11 over the next six weeks before pulling the trigger on the big trade. Owner Mark Cuban went so far as to say, just a week before the deal was made, “We suck right now.”

Things appeared to be pretty dismal at that point; now, however, they’re looking up again in the Big D.

“It’s a breath of fresh air,” Butler said of his arrival in Dallas. Expanding on those comments, he called it “a great situation for me now with a Class-A organization.”

Contrast that with what he had to say about the situation in Washington. “I felt like after you work, when you go home, that's a time when you get away from your job, and that wasn't the case in Washington,” he told Dana Jacobson on ESPN 2’s First Take. “After basketball, we still had to go deal with court issues and things like that, and it was just wearing on all of us.”
Haywood, meanwhile, could barely contain his excitement about the trade.

"It's a great city. I'm going to be playing with great teammates,” he gushed. “You have an All-Star in Dirk Nowitzki, and you have a Hall of Fame point guard in Jason Kidd. I don't know any big man who wouldn't want to be here."

So the Mavericks have made their move, and the early returns are encouraging. Even though the Lakers, Nuggets, and Jazz have been ahead of them in the standings, keep an eye on Dallas as the league’s presumed frontrunners prepare for the postseason.

If any of them fail to pay attention, it may just be the Mavs who move to the head of the Class of 2010—strengthened for the stretch run by their happy new teammates, those Wizards of old.