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Caron Butler Injury Changes the Game Plan for Dallas Mavericks

SAN ANTONIO - APRIL 23:  Forward Caron Butler #4 of the Dallas Mavericks walks off the court during play against the San Antonio Spurs in Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on April 23, 2010 in San Antonio, 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)
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Alex McVeighSenior Analyst IJanuary 2, 2011

If anyone has a patellar tendon I could borrow, that would be super, because mine is currently packed in dry ice being overnighted to Milwaukee, so maybe Caron Butler could be back this season. Also, Band-Aids and Neosporin would help—I didn't do such a good job taking it out. 

But jokes aside, the Dallas Mavericks have lost Butler for at least two months, possibly the entire season. And besides driving me to self surgery, the Mavs suddenly might not be one of the top five teams in the NBA. 

Assuming Dirk comes back within a week or so (knock on wood. I'm serious. Knock on it! Knock harder for Pete's sake! DO IT!!), the Mavericks' strategy for the rest of the season has changed. Because even two months without Caron means the Mavs are in no way guaranteed to keep up their torrid start to the season. 

 

1) Rodrigue Beaubois is no longer a luxury

While some jerk wrote at the start of the season that Rodrigue Beaubois was a key to a Mavs' title this year, between the hot defense led by Tyson Chandler, the MVP performances from Dirk Nowitzki and Caron Butler seemingly finding his place in the Dallas offense, Beaubois became a luxury. 

We could wait for him to heal, and hey, the Mavs were hot, beating every contender except for the Lakers, who they've yet to play. 

But now, the Mavs are going to need a consistent, go-to scorer. Butler, despite his early struggles, was filling that role. He could get to the rim, create off the dribble and hit the three. 

Beaubois lacks Butler's physicality, but he can do those things, and he's got a quicker first step and a more natural inclination to drive to the hoop. So the Mavs need him healthy and in a hurry. 

 

2) Brendan Haywood is now expendable

The Mavs have the deepest center position in the league, with two All-Stars at the position. And despite Haywood's reputation, a suspension and goading from the media, he hasn't expressed any public frustration about being relegated to a second or even third-string center. 

And he was another luxury the Mavs had. Should the oft-injured Chandler miss significant time (in which case, I might shoot my TV, Elvis-style) they had Haywood waiting in the wings. 

Now Haywood might need to be turned into a scorer if Butler is out for the season. Kevin Martin for Haywood was floated out a few weeks ago, and while both parties shot it down, Mark Cuban better start burning up those phone lines again. 

Even with a healthy Dirk, the Mavs' offense was struggling to find a second weapon to get it done (don't even get me started on Jason Terry), and now they need one more than ever.

 

3) Shawn Marion needs to keep his stellar play up with extended minutes

I think Shawn Marion has gone unheralded during his tenure with the Mavs, but he is a delight to watch. He never has plays drawn for him, but he has a nose for rebounds and often defends the Durants, Kobes and LeBrons of the world. 

But he often splits minutes with Butler, in addition to backing up Dirk at power forward. Now he's the only true small forward on the team, and he's going to need to make his unique impact on the game. 

Marion lacks Butler's perimeter game, but he also works well away from the ball, and can finish well. He's going to need to do that, and the Mavericks are going to need to adjust their game plan accordingly. 

 

4) Dominique Jones needs to be ready to go. Now. 

It wasn't an hour after the loss to the Bucks when rookie shooting guard Dominique Jones was headed to join the Mavs from their D-League team. The guard had been impressive in his 10-game tenure with the Texas Legends, averaging 18.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and five assists. That's pretty good versatility there, which shows he could possibly bring more to the table than Butler when it comes to an all-around game. 

But Jones doesn't solve the problem of depth at the small forward position. Call me crazy, but the idea of Jason Terry or J.J. Barea at the 3 makes me break out in cold sweats at night. Brian Cardinal and Steve Novak don't help assuage that, either. 

 

5) A big trade is more necessary than ever, but also harder to pull off

Here's the catch-22: Any trade the Mavericks would make for a Carmelo Anthony, a Kevin Martin, an Andre Iguodala or a Stephen Jackson would likely have taken Caron's $10 million expiring contract, in addition to someone like DeShawn Stevenson (also expiring). 

But Butler won't be back until after the trading deadline, and there aren't many teams that are going to want to pay him to sit on the bench for the majority of the season. Especially not a team in the playoff hunt. 

 

So what does it all mean?

To paraphrase the Simpsons, this Mavericks season started on a wing and a prayer. And now that wing is on fire, and the prayer has been answered...by Satan. 

The season clearly isn't over yet, but with the Spurs rolling but old, the Lakers floundering, Kevin Garnett hurt, the Heat gaining steam but vulnerable and the Magic sorting things out with a new lineup, this was a good season for the Mavs to go deep into the playoffs. 

And things aren't looking so rosy anymore. 

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