The NBA is a game of haves and have-nots. Certain teams seem handicapped from the top down, with a cheap and/or stupid owner who hires cheap and/or stupid GMs who hire stupid coaches who draft stupid and/or bad players.
GMs like R.C. Buford (Spurs), Sam Presti (Thunder), Kevin Pritchard (Trailblazers), Daryl Morey (Rockets), and Danny Ainge (Celtics) are universally praised for their ability to find good free agent bargains, draft well throughout the entire draft, and put together winning teams.
And as a Mavericks fan, I have to ask: Why can't us?
Why is GM Donnie Nelson and Co. never mentioned in the same breath as these geniuses, despite a 25-win season from Presti, disappointing playoff exits from Pritchard and Morey, or years of failure followed by a gift-wrapped trade like Ainge?
Sure, the Mavericks aren't necessarily draft-day wizards, as only Josh Howard has really been effective this decade. A trade for Devin Harris is about the only other bright spot before the last year.
But in the past year, the Mavericks brass has done an incredible job of drafting, signing and trading in order to make the Mavs contenders now, as well as into the future.
They turned stale assets and non-contributors into players that are helping them climb the Western conference standings and pose a threat to the defending champion Lakers.
Over the past year, the Mavericks front office has turned dead weight into contributors across the board, so let's take a look at what they've done.
Jerry Stackhouse into Shawn Marion
I have been a big Stack fan for a while, but with a lingering foot injury the past few years kept him off the floor much of the time, his time in Dallas was coming to a close.
Due to a unique buyout clause in his contract, Stackhouse was a trade chip last summer, and the Mavericks front office claimed that "All-Star or bust" was their slogan in getting rid of him.
So what did they do? They turned him into Shawn Marion, an All-Star. Sure he's on the down side of his career, but look at Stackhouse's contributions and look at Marion's, and you'll see the steal the Mavericks got in that deal.
Shawn Marion has been absolutely gold for the Mavericks this year, guarding the other team's best defender, playing extremely well off the ball, and providing a lot of those little hustle plays (blocks, offensive rebounds) that help good teams become championship-caliber teams.
He has changed his game from a legit second offensive option to a defensive stopper and energy guy. He doesn't have plays drawn up for him, ever, he just works in the offense and does what he does to help the team.
Coach Rick Carlisle himself has said that Marion has sacrificed the most in terms of touches, but Marion seems to be motivated by what all players should be motivated by: a championship.
Josh Howard into Caron Butler
I like Josh Howard, and the Mavs wouldn't have been to the second round last year without him, but it was clear his time was done.
He struggled after the Kidd trade, he struggled with the move to shooting guard, and as talented as he is, sometimes the Mavericks seem to take on his flaws on the team level, and that's something a contender just can't do.
So the Mavericks found themselves the opposite type of player, and by doing so shored up a few problem areas that need to be fixed.
Where Howard had a tendency to hoist up bad jumpers, Caron chooses his shots very well. He is good at creating off the dribble, and he's much more accurate with those shots than Howard has been.
Butler also has a more natural inclination to go to the rim, something Howard struggled with. Butler is big into getting to the paint, pulling down an offensive rebound, and putting the ball right back up.
Howard was a little too much of a finesse player for that. In fact, most of the finesse aspects that the Mavs lost with Howard they got back with Marion, who provides all the defense of Howard, with less liability on the offensive end.
Butler plays a part in the Mavs' future, whether in a sign-and-trade this summer, or as the shooting guard/small forward for the next few years, and he's a good enough player to be a legit second banana to Dirk for extended periods of time.
Drew Gooden into Brendan Haywood
When you think about the implications of this heist, it's staggering. Drew Gooden was signed to a one-year deal to provide a big body behind Erick Dampier, but as Damp struggled with an odd assortment of injuries, Gooden filled in well, putting up 10 and 10, and keeping the knuckle-headedness to a minimum.
But Brendan Haywood is a legit center, one of about 10 in the league, and therefore is a precious commodity. Myself and others have written a whole lot in the last few years about the holes the Mavericks have at shooting guard and center, and now they have a center for the foreseeable future, at the cost of a journeyman like Gooden.
In a perfect world, Drew Gooden would have been bought out by the 'Zards and been on his way back to Dallas, but it wasn't to be.
But I would say a trade for a journeyman second-string center for a starting center who could anchor the team for the next few years is a pretty good trade, yes?
Drafting Rodrigue Beauois
If you're like me, then in addition to being really, really good looking, your jaw dropped when the Mavericks drafted B.J. Mullens, a big white center of which the Mavs have drafted plenty.
When they traded Mullens for some Guadeloupean (?) kid named Rodrigue Beaubois, I was even more flummoxed, if because nothing else I had previously imagined Guadeloupe as being some sort of melon.
But Beaubois has made believers of us all over these past months, with a dizzying display of athleticism, combined with a knack for solid play on both ends of the floor. With the clock ticking on Jason Kidd's career, Beaubois is turning into the point guard of the future.
When you've won 50 games for each of the past nine years, it can be hard to re-stock your team with quality draft picks.
Josh Howard qualified as a steal in 2003, and Beaubois as of now can be counted as a steal.
Erick Dampier into LeBron James?
And now we've moved into the hypothetical. Even as the Mavs were inking the coveted free agent center to a long-term deal in the summer of 2004, they built themselves a way out in the future.
Dampier's contract was incentives laden to the point where he could become an instant expiring contract in the summer of 2010, and that's just where we are.
Dampier could be used to get LeBron away from Cleveland, and instead of losing him for nothing, they get $16 million in cap space, as well as someone like Beaubois or Caron Butler to fill the LeBron void.
Sure, cap space and Caron don't make up for LeBron, but it's better than nothing.
And if the Mavs brass are able to get LeBron to come to Dallas, you better believe they won't be under the radar for long.
And they'll have a shiny new free superstar to back that claim up.