The Dallas Wizericks, of course, are former Washington Wizards Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and Deshawn Stevenson, who were traded midseason to the Dallas Mavericks as part of GM Ernie Grunfeld's decision to break up the team and get as far under the 2010-11 salary cap as possible.
The trade brought Josh Howard, James Singleton, Quinton Ross and Drew Gooden to Washington, though Gooden was almost immediately shipped out to the Los Angeles Clippers for Al Thornton. With Butler a relatively recent All Star and Haywood having the best season of his career in 2009-10, the trade seemed horribly one-sided at the time. It still seems that way from a talent standpoint, of course, but the Wizards made the deal for financial reasons. In addition to the salary cap relief next season, the Wiz got a $6 million trade exception as part of the Haywood deal and another $4.5 million trade exception as part of the Al Thornton deal.
You can't accuse Mavericks owner Mark Cuban of not trying to win a championship. With the arrival of Butler and Haywood [Stevenson has done nothing for two seasons now] many thought Dallas had its strongest team ever, one capable of equalling or exceeding the accomplishments of the 2006 Mavericks team that won the Western Conference and choked lost the NBA Finals in six games to the Miami Heat. Those beliefs were given early credence when Dallas ran off 13 straight wins and the new guys seemed to fit in perfectly with the talented cast Dallas had already assembled.
The Mavs stumbled a bit down the stretch, but nevertheless entered the postseason as the #2 seed in the West and with reason to believe they could knock off the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers. The first round match had Dallas facing a #7 seed and no seven seed had ever toppled a two seed before. However, this seven seed was the San Antonio Spurs, a team that has won four NBA championships in the last 12 years under head coach Gregg Poppovich and star forward Tim Duncan. Despite age and creaky bones, the Spurs jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the series.
That's when Caron Butler scored 35 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to send the series to a game six in San Antonio. But that was it for Dallas. The Spurs closed out the series and moved on to face the Phoenix Suns in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs. Butler, Haywood and Stevenson had been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs...again.
What happened? Well, Butler was just as inconsistent in Dallas this year as he was in Washington. He was the second-leading scorer for the Mavs in the playoffs and his play in Dallas' two wins in the series were huge. However, his play in the four losses would have looked depressingly familiar to Wizards fans who saw his game take a step backward this season. Stevenson was mostly ignored because his play made that inevitable -- he was a throw-in and the Mavs never wanted him anyway. Haywood, for reasons I still don't understand, never won the confidence of head coach Rick Carlisle, who benched him in favor of Erick Dampier, who never did a thing to justify a starting spot.
To be fair, it wasn't Butler and Haywood who cost Dallas the first round series, though. Jason Kidd and Jason Terry were horrible and it looks like Kidd is finally showing his age. I'm not sure how Kidd will hold on to his starting job next season with Rodrigue Beaubois knocking on the door.
Looking back on it now, the trade didn't work out quite as expected for anyone, though Washington's hopes were far lower so they haven't been dashed. The Mavericks failed to do what they did last year -- advance to the second round of the playoffs by beating the Spurs in the first round -- and they spent a big chunk of change to do worse. Haywood will be a free agent and it isn't clear if Dallas even wants him. [I'd love to have him back in Washington, where I think he'd be a perfect center for Andray Blatche. However, I believe it is more likely that I will wake up tomorrow morning with my head sewn to a pillow.] Butler and Stevenson are both under contract for next season.
Washington was hoping to get a look at Josh Howard to see how much money, if any, they should spend on him this offseason after inevitably declining to pick up his $11+ million option year. That didn't happen, since only a few games into his Wizards tenure Howard was injured in the first quarter of a game against the Chicago Bulls. He blew out his knee and his season was over. It's unknown if he will be healthy in time for the 2010-11 season. Whatever the case, he will be taking a substantial pay cut, wherever he is playing.
James Singleton looked great at first and then faded towards the end of the season. However, I liked his physical nature and willingness to play defense, rough people up, grab rebounds and block shots. I think he's exactly the sort of player the Wizards need in the front court coming off the bench. Whether he will be back next season is anyone's guess.
Quinton Ross is under contract for another year at over $1 million. He looked like a throw-in to me, someone to make the salaries work under the CBA. He'll be back with the Wizards in 2010-11 but it is hard to see it mattering one way or another.
Thornton started out wonderfully, scoring 21 points on 12 shots in his first game as a Wizard. He scored in double figures in his first six games with the team, putting in at least 20 twice and grabbing 11 rebounds to go with 16 points in another early game. Then the wheels came off a bit and he was not the same. He still had good games, but he also had bad ones, and his shooting percentage declined. Thornton got injured and missed 7 games at the end of March and beginning of April and scored only 17 points in his final 5 games of the season. Essentially, Thornton reverted to what he had been with the Clippers -- an inconsistent shot-jacker who got his points very inefficiently and didn't play a lot of defense. However, since the team got him for a player they didn't want anyway [Drew Gooden], it's hard to be too upset about that.
At the end of it all, the trade left the Mavericks mostly back where they were before -- an underachieving squad clearly on the decline in the cutthroat Western Conference. The Wizards were a horrid team before the trade and they were a horrid team, eventually, after the trade, too, often struggling mightily to score 90 points in 48 minutes of play.
The Wizards did get two things out of the trade, though, even if Singleton and Thornton never provide a lot of help for the squad. The Wiz got a ton of cap space, if they choose to use it this summer, and the opportunity to look at players like Andray Blatche, who came through in a big way for his team, despite personal conflicts with the head coach and the weight room.
If Washington uses their cap space well the trade may be looked at as the beginning of Washington's long road back to respectability. For the Mavericks, it looks like another failed shot at the big time.