Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mavs, Blazers strike early

Last year's NBA trade deadline was a tad anti-climatic.

The rumors were certainly there. If you picked up a newspaper or perused a Web site in the days leading up to the deadline, you would have thought some big names were at the post office filling out change-of-address forms.

Shaquille O'Neal, Amare Stoudemire, Antawn Jamison, Baron Davis and Vince Carter were just some of the players being floated in various trade rumors. In the end, the biggest names contacting U-Haul were Larry Hughes and "Skip 2 My Lou" himself, Rafer Alston.

This year, with the deadline looming at 3 p.m. (et) on Thursday, things are already far different.

The Dallas Mavericks made the first splash during All-Star weekend.

The Mavs started this season very well and were setting a nice brisk pace that kept them at the top of the West for most of the first half. Since Jan. 1, however, Dallas has faltered and is a pedestrian 10-10 in the new year.

Patience is not a virtue in Mark Cuban's world, so after watching his team limp into the break, the Mavs owner went to work on a blockbuster that brought former All-Star forward Caron Butler, center Brendan Haywood, and guard DeShawn Stevenson from the nation's capital to Big D for a package consisting of forwards Josh Howard, Drew Gooden and James Singleton, along with swingman Quinton Ross.

The deal was clearly designed to inject more toughness in a Mavericks team most feel is soft.

Butler was the centerpiece to the deal, a tough, hard-nosed player that averaged 16.9 points and 6.7 rebounds in 47 games this season for Washington, and is under contract through 2011.

But, don't sleep on Haywood, the Wizards' leading rebounder with 10.3 caroms per game. A former first-round pick, Haywood has never really lived up to that billing but he's a 7-foot, 263-pound wide body that could team up with Erick Dampier to make things difficult for players like Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Nene in the playoffs.

"We are more than excited to welcome Caron, Brendan and DeShawn to the Mavericks family," Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said after the deal was consummated. "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, we're ready to lock horns with anybody."

Howard, a former All-Star himself, was the marquee piece heading to the Beltway in the deal. While unquestionably talented, the Wake Forest product had found his way into Rick Carlisle's doghouse and wasn't the type of defender or rebounder the coach wanted to complement superstar Dirk Nowitzki.
"It is especially difficult to part with Josh," Nelson said. "He began his career as a Maverick and we have watched him grow."

"You just never know until you get out there and play," Cuban added. "If we can get back to where we were early in the season and get healthy, I think we're better."

The Blazers were the second team to dip their feet in the pool on Tuesday. Decimated by injuries this season, Portland was still the eighth seed in the West headed into the break.

Nate McMillan had already lost both his centers, Greg Oden and Joel Pryzbilla, for the entire season and played the previous 12 games without his top player, Brandon Roy.

With Roy scheduled to return soon, the Blazers needed some help up front to secure a playoff berth. Enter former Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Camby, who was acquired from the LA Clippers on Tuesday for injured forward Travis Outlaw, guard Steve Blake and cash.

Camby, who will be a free agent this summer, is averaging 7.7 points per game this season and 12.1 rebounds, good for second in the NBA behind Orlando's Dwight Howard. Meanwhile, the former UMass star is also sixth in the league in blocked shots, swatting 1.94 per game.

More of a weakside defender, Camby doesn't have the strength to hold up on low post and gets wiped off the pick-and-roll far too often, but he still has enough left in the tank to punch Portland's ticket to the postseason.

"We are very excited to bring an experienced big man of Marcus' caliber to the team and we feel he will help us a great deal down the stretch run," said Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard. "He's a fierce competitor and has been one of the league's best defensive players for quite some time."

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