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Caron Butler's Injury Doesn't End the Mavs' Season, But it Alters Expectations

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When Tony Romo broke his collarbone on October 25, the Dallas Cowboys' season was kaput. When Caron Butler tore a tendon in his knee on January 1, it may not have ended the Dallas Mavericks' season but certainly the bar has been lowered.

What ended as such a promising 2010 has now given way -- despite last night's gritty win over Portland -- to a grim 2011.

Says Mavs' GM Donnie Nelson of losing Dallas' second-best player for the season: "It's a blow. Those are some big shoes to fill."

Though owner Mark Cuban says there won't be a pity party - "Don't quit us on yet," he says this morning, "we're not the same old Mavs" - his team has to do something if they want to be a legit contender for a championship. Andre Iguodala? Carmelo Anthony?

The Mavs still have a mid-level salary exception and a $4 million trade exception, so they can acquire a player if they want. To get Carmelo would probably take a third team, however.

The Mavs can get Dirk Nowitzki back and Roddy Beaubois back and still win 50+ games and get a middle seed in the NBA's Western Conference playoffs, but without Butler they've lost that identity, that toughness and that chemistry that made them different, and potentially better than in disappointing years past.

With Butler here and Roddy coming, the Mavs were a real threat. Now, the Mavs are a real ... entertaining team that makes news by trading barbs -- but not jabs -- with the Lakers.

After Lakers' coach Phil Jackson talked of how Butler's injury will doom the Mavs, Cuban poked his long-time sparring partner last night.

"I love that Jeanie Buss' boy toy had something to say about us," Cuban said of Jackson, who has had a long-time relationship with the daughter of Lakers owner Jerry Buss. "I don't know if it was his thought or Jeanie's thought, but it's nice to know that she lets him speak in public about other teams."

Countered the 65-year-old Jackson, "I consider myself an old man. I'm a boy toy? That's terrific."

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