The trade deadline is Thursday, and the Dallas Mavericks got the real action started Saturday by hooking up with Washington in a seven-player deal.
OK, so maybe it won't upstage Sunday's All-Star Game, an event where Dallas owner Cuban plans to pack more than 90,000 into Cowboys Stadium. But it sure upstaged Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki helping lead a Texas team to victory in Saturday night's Shooting Stars competition.
The big pieces in the deal were the Mavericks picking up forward Caron Butler and center Brendan Haywood and dispatching forwards Josh Howard and Drew Gooden. Also, guard DeShawn Stevenson went to Dallas and swingman Quinton Ross and forward James Singleton to the Wizards.
"You pull the trigger when the deal presents itself,'' said Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson. "Look, it's All-Star Weekend. It's not the perfect timing, but the deal was right. Both sides felt it was good so the deal got executed.''
Cuban said the trade makes the Mavericks "significantly" better.
One thing was sure. The Mavericks (32-20) hadn't been getting better as the season progressed. After a hot start, they began to slip, really falling off by having lost five of their last seven. They were walloped 127-91 at Denver in their last outing.
"Very much so,'' Cuban, who hasn't ruled out the Mavericks making another trade by Thursday's deadline, said of whether their recent swoon was a key reason for Saturday's deal.
Dallas brass said one reason the Mavericks have slipped lately is center Erick Dampier not always has been at full strength due to knee problems. But Haywood now gives the Mavericks another shot blocker at center after Cuban admitted trying to use the 6-foot-10 Gooden at center hadn't been working out.
"(Lakers center Andrew) Bynum was actually torturing us the last time we played them,'' Nowitzki said.
The Mavericks also are optimistic Butler can return to his previous form. He was an All-Star in 2007 and 2008.
''With Butler, we felt that we needed a little more offensive firepower, and I think he fills that,'' Nelson said.
It has been well chronicled how the Mavericks were desperate to part with Howard, who has struggled and had injury problems in recent years. Still, Nelson said it was a tough decision to deal him.
Howard is averaging 12.5 points, the lowest since his rookie season with the Mavericks of 2003-04, and Butler is averaging 16.9. Gooden is averaging 8.9 points and 6.9 rebounds and Haywood 9.8 points and 10.3 rebounds.
"I just want to thank the organization, the city and most importantly, the fans for embracing me and my family the way they did while we were here,'' Butler said in a statement about his 4 ½ years in Washington. "I am looking forward to my new opportunity with the Mavericks and will continue to play with the same desire and intensity that I have had throughout my entire NBA career.''
The Mavericks had the second-best record in the West in late January behind the Lakers before slipping to No. 4, behind Denver and Utah. But they now feel better equipped to challenge for the West title.
"I don't know how many of (the media would) pick us in a seven-game series against the Lakers,'' Nelson said. "In our opinion, we're ready to lock horns with everybody.''
With Kidd 36 and several other key players 30 or older, the Mavericks are aging. While Cuban wasn't about to declare them ancient, he acknowledged they're in rebuilding situation and "you try to accelerate'' the process of beefing up the roster.
"I think it gives us some more options,'' Nowitzki said. "I think Butler is definitely a guy that's very explosive offensively and can put the ball in the basket. Haywood is another presence at the rim. ... Sometimes you've got to make tough decisions. It's always tough to see a guy you've played with for a long time (go in Howard). ... Maybe a change of scenery and a fresh start (will help Howard)."
Cuban said the teams were negotiating for the past three days, and Mavericks wouldn't do the deal unless the Wizards threw in Haywood. The center, making $6 million, becomes a free agent this summer, but Cuban said he factors in Dallas' future.
Simpy put, the Mavericks feel a lot better about their team now than they did when Cuban and NBA commissioner David Stern were among those to cut the ribbon to open All-Star Weekend. It's no wonder Cuban and company didn't dare wait until the weekend was over to possibly give the Wizards a chance to change their minds.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com on Twitter @christomasson