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After 7-Player Trade, Your Mavericks are Better. But How Much Better?

Three years ago to the day

I loved Josh Howard

. But this morning I'm thrilled that he's no longer a Dallas Maverick.

Why?

Because lost in the parties and record-setting crowd of NBA All-Star Weekend was a seven-player trade that both re-shaped the Mavs' roster and re-booted their hopes for contending for a championship this year.

To the Washington Wizards: Josh Howard, Drew Gooden, Quinton Ross and James Singleton.

To the Mavs: Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson.

"The Mavs have made a great deal," said TNT analyst and notorious Mavs' critic Charles Barkley. "It was time for Josh to go. In Caron Butler they've got a better player, let's face it. They're a tougher team."

At first blush seems like the Mavs are better today than they were on Friday. But let's break it down shall we?

What Dallas loses: Howard was an All-Star in '07 but has spiraled downward since. From his play to his health to his off-court gaffes (drag racing, dissin' the National Anthem, etc.), he was no longer close to being Robin to Dirk Nowitzki's Batman. Gooden was better than I expected in Dallas, but at crucial times he couldn't guard bigger players in the paint. Ross and Singleton were afterthought throw-ins who had no present or future in Dallas' front-line rotation.

What Dallas gets: Butler is an athletic, feisty, aggressive forward who's been an All-Star. Not as good an ad-libber as Howard, but a better, more polished basketball player. Since his best position is small forward, the Mavs should - will eventually? - keep Jason Terry at shooting guard, play Butler at small forward and have Shawn Marion come in as an energetic, change-up sixth man. "You're going to love Caron," says Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant. "He's tough as nails. Makes Dallas a better team. Competition in the West just got tougher." Haywood is an athletic 7-footer who can play above-average defense against elite centers and give the Mavs a decent alternative to the inconsistent and injured Erick Dampier.

Bottom line: The Mavs gave up only Howard, and he was undoubtedly in decline. In return they got two players who will immediately be injected into their 8-man rotation. And, since they still have Dampier and since Butler has an impending expiring contract, the Mavs did this without compromising their plans to land a major free agent (LeBron James or Chris Bosh?) this summer.

Not saying the Mavs can now beat the Lakers in a seven-game series. But they can compete with the Nuggets.

Three thumbs up.

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