Sources Say Mavs Express Interest In Prince

Tayshaun Prince calls what is happening to his Pistons team "buffoonery.'' The Mavs are calling it an "opportunity'' and has learned the Mavs have let Detroit know of their interest in Prince should the in-turmoil franchise shift into fire-sale mode.

The Mavs are "juggling a hundred ideas in a hundred different ways,'' a source tells us, certainly evidence that at this early stage, Dallas is gearing up to be as active in exploration as it is every February.

Among the "hundred ideas'' is a way to use Caron Butler's $10.8-million expiring deal in a "major'' trade that would replace Caron in the lineup with a superior player – one who could "put us over the top,'' as one team executive says.

But another of the "hundred ideas'' involves Prince (and others who will find themselves in his situation) because he is:

*A workable commodity in the sense that he, too, is an expiring contract worth $11.1 million.

*Skilled in ways that, if he's in a Dallas uniform, can match Butler's overall effectiveness.

*Possibly available without paying "blockbuster'' prices in order to acquire him and return the Dallas talent level back to where it was before Butler's season-ending knee injury.

When the Mavs had Butler (and Dirk Nowitzki, of course) at their disposal, they were a 24-5 team. They are reeling now, having lost five straight entering Monday's afternoon game (2 p.m. Dallas time for the pregame on FS Southwest) at these same Pistons.

Of course, they are not reeling like the Pistons are reeling.

Detroit is involved as a possible "facilitator'' team in the Carmelo Anthony talks that propose to send ‘Melo from Denver to New Jersey. The pivotal name there for Detroit is Rip Hamilton, who would (in one form of the deal) move to the Nets to join ‘Melo.

But Detroit is botching the period between "talks'' and "fruition'' by putting Hamilton in the deep freeze. In the Pistons' last two games, Hamilton – one of Detroit's standouts and a respected veteran there -- has been issued consecutive DNP-CD's.

When Prince talks of "buffoonery," he speaks specifically in regard to the awkward benching of a player who is destined to be traded sometime between now and Feb. 24. But what is the organization's plan? To keep Rip on the bench for five more weeks?

A friend of who is also close to Pistons GM Joe Dumars acknowledges that both Hamilton and Prince are now in deep conflict with coach John Kuester. Meanwhile, the franchise has deep conflicts of its own – a terrible local economy combined with attempts to sell the team and commissioner David Stern even mentioning the possibility of the club fleeing Detroit -- problems that could stand in the way of the Pistons letting go of Prince.

"If Hamilton is gone,'' a source tells us, "they may want to keep Prince around as a mentor to the other guys and even as a symbol of continuity. In general, that is a loyal organization. They feel like Prince is part of the family there and should be treated right. I bet (Dumars) would even talk with him before trading him to make sure he'd be going someplace he'd like.''

We can only assume that Prince might like to escape a 14-26 team (even though it's been his only NBA employer) for a team that is trying to win 50 for an 11th consecutive season. And we know that Dallas likes his numbers, which are quite Caron-like: Butler was at 15 ppg, Tayshaun is at 14.5. Butler was a 4.1-rebound guy, Prince is at 4.6. Butler averages 1.6 assists and Prince is at 2.7. Butler's reputation is as a shooter, but his percentage is 45 and Tayshaun's shooting 49 percent. The 6-9 Prince, who turns 31 in February, has appeared in seven postseasons in his eight seasons, has started 106 playoff games and played in 118, and has played in five Eastern Conference Finals and two NBA Finals, winning one.

Most of all, of course, Prince is a defensive stopper. He's a four-time member of the All-NBA Defensive Team (second team).

Connections? Prince's first NBA coach was Rick Carlisle (though that wasn't always the smoothest go). And when Tayshaun was a superstar high-school player at Dominguez High School in Compton, Calif., he had a 14-year-old freshman teammate by the name of Tyson Chandler.

We played with the concept of Prince-to-Dallas last week, connecting the dots in the ‘Melo trade and coming up with ways Dallas could sacrifice Butler's expiring and land Devin Harris or Prince. We don't believe Mavs management has laid down those sorts of specifics with Detroit (yet). Indeed, it's important to remember how preliminary all this stuff is, while also havine a base understanding of what is telling you about potential targets such as Iggy (comes with too much baggage in the form of salary and teammate Elton Brand), Stephen Jackson (the Mavs presently share our view that he is an imperfect get and Devin Harris (an idea we break down here that remains a "viable fantasy.'') More names coming on our list of Mavs considerations include Corey Maggette, Troy Murphy and Gerald Wallace ... oh, and of course, 'Melo himself.

But for now, we do now officially know that Dallas would be interested in acquiring Prince as a move that would not necessarily vault them above the Spurs and Lakers, but would at least return their rotation to what it was with Butler.

We're busy crafting ways that overpaid Mavs pieces might be sent away in such a deal. We're also working on details of how much money Caron Butler's new team can save because of issues of insurance payoffs. (If a good portion of Caron's deal is now paid by insurance, Detroit's true payroll being reduced would be attractive to the present owner Karen Davidson and the prospective buyer, Tom Gores, too.) Worth noting, though, in regard to Butler-for-Prince as deal centerpieces:

*As mentioned above, Dallas would like to keep its powder dry in regard to using Caron for something even bigger than might be available at market come mid-February.

* Beyond the insurance issues, there is not great motivation for the Pistons to move one expiring for another. That doesn't preclude Detroit from asking for an expiring and a pick, or Butler and a young throw-in like Ian Mahinmi or Alexis Ajinca or even Dominique Jones.

* In theory, Detroit would seem to have an incentive in keeping Prince for sign-and-trade value if he doesn't fit in their future plans as an elder statesman of sorts. But that advantage is probably minor to nil, inasmuch as swapping Prince for Butler would give them similar sign-and-trade value, plus the uncertainty of the new CBA in which no one even knows if sign-and-trades will exist, or work the same way.

Dallas will hope that Detroit decides to get what it can for him now. And figure that the Pistons' DNP'ing of Rip is a sign of coming ‘Melo involvement and offer to take on big man Johan Petro's three-year, $10-million contract (likely part of what the Nets want the Pistons to absorb) as ballast for the reward of nabbing Prince.

Ultimately, is there a way to make this work? Maybe that loyalty thing isn't as ironclad as some think. (Prince might be watching the Rip story unfold and not think much of "loyalty.'') Maybe Detroit can improve their return for Prince by doing something sooner rather than later. Maybe Detroit involvement in a Melo trade will alter the needs and wishes of the Pistons' front office and produce opportunity in different ways that fit the Mavs' needs..

"Something needs to change," said Prince of the Detroit situation. "Whether you think it's a Rip trade or Tayshaun trade, something needs to be done."

When Prince mentioned himself as trade bait, he chuckled.

When the Mavs mention Tayshaun Prince as a mid-range trade target, they aren't laughing.

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