Have the Mavericks Started a New Arms Race?
Everything's bigger in Texas, and this Caron Butler swap is no exception. Before their slump, the Mavs were the surprise team of the West. Adding Butler, who when he's locked in functions like an All-Star; the hugely underrated Brendan Haywood; and loose-cannon defensive specialist DeShawn Stevenson, should get them back on track and more.
All they had to give up was injured, and expiring, Josh Howard (albeit quite a player when healthy), blotchy big man experiment Drew Gooden, and whatever nebulous shot they had at pursuing a 2010 free agent. It's a financial move by the Wizards, a team that's trying to figure out the sturdiest way to off itself. Regardless, this deal is as lopsided as everyone thought the Pau Gasol was in the spring 2008.
There's another parallel with the Gasol-to-L.A. deal that threw the league into a panic. That transaction spurred Dallas's acquisition of Jason Kidd, the Suns's wholesale conversion to the church of Shaquille O'Neal, and the Cavs trading their entire team and coming up with Delonte West where once Larry Hughes was. Gasol put the Lakers over the top, Kidd solidified Dallas, and the Cleveland did a good job of cutting costs and adding useful role players. The Suns, well, that's another story. But at the time, it felt like everyone was loading up for the end of the world.
We had expected this coming summer to be the next major shock wave. With even some of the top teams facing the possibility of coming up big or left alone, weeping, and empty, the operative idea for 2009-10 seemed to be letting teams play. But the Wizards wanted to get a jump on cutting costs, Dallas's slump put a damper on their "I told you so" start, and the Lakers, Cavaliers and Celtics find themselves beset upon by the scourge of injury.
For the Mavs, it was a fine time to make a move. Butler was there for the taking, their 2010 hopes were always slim -- locking down Dirk should be enough -- and Kidd's days are numbered. But all of us little people want to know: Will this deal set off another arms race, or be seen as an isolated case of opportunism?
Certainly, there have been rumors swirling around top teams other than the Mavs, a precedent perhaps set by 2008. The Cavaliers are now hotly linked to Amare Stoudemire; Boston's rumored to have Antawn Jamison in its sights. Dwyane Wade is pining for another superstar, and Bryan Colangelo's getting calls about Chris Bosh like never before.
Boston grabbing Jamison would involve taking on a longer commitment, just as Dallas did with Butler. But Cleveland moving up on Amare, Wade meeting his mate, or any team looking at Bosh, essentially speeds up the 2010 process. Shaq as a Cav was risky, and yet -- so the thinking went -- would be over in a season.
Suppose, though, that Dallas trade is interpreted as a sign, and every other big team moves. Cleveland pairs Amare and LeBron, Wade and Bosh become best friends in Miami. Would these be trial runs, ploys to keep these superstars close to home, or actual long-term plans that just happen to unfold a few months in advance?
Any potential arms race must be viewed against the backdrop of this coming summer, and as a result, only taken so seriously. In fact, that alone might serve as the greatest deterrent -- or perhaps the primary motivator.
Dallas has raised the stakes; ergo, Cleveland and Miami might be in a scramble to win a title and seriously contend (respectively). Or, an equally likely possibility: Dallas goes for it now, as Boston might, because their window is closing. However strange it may sound, the more cluttered this season becomes for the Cavs or Heat, the fewer promises/surprises they have to pull once 2009-10 winds down.
An arms race involves all teams loading up for the sake of the moment. Really, this description only fits Dallas. Cleveland and Miami find themselves in far more complex situations, where even a move today would be made with an eye toward tomorrow. There wouldn't be the same mad dash to the finish line, or the same kind of hysteria that characterized 2008, even if a title comes out of it. The cost/benefit analysis factors into their decisions in far ways that 2008 can only dream of.
Even Boston, while they weren't expected to make moves in free agency, have multiple factors to weigh, including their plans to phase out the Big Three and usher in a new, Rajon Rondo-lead team that needs soldiers. Kevin Garnett's there for a while longer, but Ray Allen's up for grabs this summer, and Paul Pierce has one more season remaining on a player option.
In the end, this might be why Dallas was able to step in, exploit circumstance, and walk away with a deal that could net them a title. Sometimes, only living for today can have its advantages.