DONUT 1: As is so often the case, let us begin with the negative feelings bred in the emotion of the moment.
For all of our connections to Caron Butler as a human being, for the bonds that formed with him both as a contributor on the court and as one of the pillars forming the infrastructure of a deep locker-room chemistry, his injury likely removed his ability to play again this season. There's nothing not to love about his determination to return, but the odds and circumstances are stacked heavily against that occurring in a meaningful manner this year.
In light of this …
DONUT 2: The ugly truth is that Tuff Juice became an asset defined by the value of the expiring contract tied to his name, which held its highest value at this trade deadline.
Buried in the anxiety created by a cascade of trade headlines and searching for any mention of Dallas, we rode the rollercoaster up towards a Devin Harris deal that was so close, but ended with the realization that the tracks had abruptly ended while our cart had continued on with only air below, leaving us to plummet with our dashed hopes.
Still, we waited for our moment to celebrate.
DONUT 3: We heard the names, witnessed a Prince doomed to the confines of his Detroit Palace, a late rumored push for JR Smith, a hope to pick through the wreckage in Utah or Denver, to name a few avenues. And yet, when the dust had cleared, it showed that the Mavs had stood still.
Frustration mounted as many pondered how a team so close could fail to replace their fallen player, to find that single piece to push all title hopes into overdrive.
DONUT 4: How could they not match the offer for Gerald Wallace? Why isn't Stephen Jackson on his way to Dallas? How is Tayshaun Prince still a Piston? Did hesitation allow Utah to swoop in and steal Devin Harris?
With so many doing so much, how did the ever-active Mavs come away with nothing?
We have the right to be angry. Don't we?
DONUT 5: Setting emotion aside for a moment, are there any positives to be taken from the deadline inaction? As we get ready to gobble up playoff tickets from our man Ryan at MavCowTickets, can we be confident it's all worthwhile?
Over and over again you can find those claiming that this is now the same team that repeatedly failed in the playoffs. Pardon the assertion, but this is shallow thinking.
While the results may end up being the same, just as they may have if Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace, Prince or anyone else had been acquired, this is not the same team to wear the scars of playoff failures past.
For proof, one needs to look no further than Tyson Chandler … though he isn't alone.
DONUT 6: We've chronicled his defensive impact, but the reach of his influence stretches further. In Chandler, you may not have a center gifted with a traditional post-up game, but you do have something the Mavs have lacked in the Dirk era: a center the defense must account for. No longer can opposing defenses play five-on-four, as the Spurs openly admitted they were able to do in last year's playoffs. Losing sight of Chandler for a moment is likely to result in a highlight-reel dunk, and a spark of energy for Dallas.
Because the opposing defense must respect him, space should be much easier to come by for everyone. Erick Dampier was lauded for his ability to set solid screens, but with them came the ability of the defense to double team or at least show hard on the ball-handler. Jason Terry (and feel free to insert JJ Barea or Peja Stojakovic's name here) would curl around a screen to find a center willing to drift out and contest his jumper. There was no need to be concerned with Dampier.
And, not to "pick" on Dampier, but he simply wasn't capable of slowing down the pick-and-roll, something Chandler has shown a great propensity for.
We would urge you, when you become a Mavs Premium Member, to rush to check out our coaching-level analysis of TY's contributions, featuring film breakdown, photographs and the works.
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Anyway, these simple changes alone create a separation between this team and those of previous years, but they are not the sole differences.
DONUT 7: Outside of Dirk, Peja has a greater ability to rain outside gold than any recent Mav, and can do so without needing the wide spaces embraced by Jason Kidd, while having the height to ignore the charging guards capable of changing Terry or Barea's shot. It may be premature, or inaccurate, to label Peja the player he's been in the past, his last few games show signs of something more than the Mavs have known even if he can't fully recapture his youth.
He isn't the defender that Butler was, nor does he have the ability to create from isolation matchups, but again, he can be a weapon previously gone without.
DONUT 8: With the arrival of Peja, Shawn Marion is able to comfortably come from the bench, where he has formed a deadly duo with Terry. Add to this the abilities of Brendan Haywood, as long as he remains engaged (his strong recent play aside, this cannot be accepted as a given, but can't be completely discounted either) and you've got a formidable bench.
DONUT 9: In addition, should Roddy Beaubois find his legs before the playoffs arrive ... he is essentially a new weapon to deploy, considering his extremely limited minutes last year. Paired with Chandler, he provides a depth of athleticism the Mavs have not known in the recent past.
DONUT 10: Finally, in terms of individual evaluation, we come to the play of JJ Barea, who is exceeding all expectations and previous levels of contribution by averaging career highs in scoring and assists, and after a very slow start (at the end of December he was shooting 37.6 percent, 15.6 percent behind the arc), has become remarkably efficient (since Jan. 1 he has hit 50 percent of all shots, 52.5 percent from three).
Of all changes, this is the hardest to trust. Once defenses constrict their focus and begin to contest all attacks on the paint, the vertically challenged Barea may find penetrating much more difficult. That is, unless defenses fear leaving Peja, Chandler, Kidd, Roddy B, Terry or … oh, yeah, this guy, the inspiration of the most suddenly popular t-shirt at the AAC ("Take That Wit Chew!'') … Dirk Nowitzki.
There's no denying that the failure to make a move adds considerable pressure to players like Barea and Terry to perform once the playoffs arrive, something they have not been able to do recently, as evidenced by the fact that the highest PER by either player in the past two playoffs was 12.
Yet, the additions noted above may help create an environment much more conducive for the utilization of their particular skill sets.
DONUT 11: Fish has pounded this into our heads. He will probably do so again tonight on TV (4:30 pregame and postgame on FS Southwest starting at 4:30 for Mavs-at-Raps). He will probably do so in person if you come to the DB.com Get-Together tonight! We hope to see you at Esparza's in Grapevine! Famous for Tex-Mex, Notorious for Margaritas, and tonight, the iconic restaurante is hosting our Mavs Get-Together! Come get a lecture (and maybe a shot and a t-shirt) from Fish!
We understand that an asset – The Caron Coupon -- was allowed to disappear without being capitalized on, and we were hoping for that final piece to be imported as much as anyone. However, you can't force teams to part with their players, regardless of how logical it may be (Joe Dumars, how valuable was Prince on Friday while staging a mutiny against your coach?), and you can't make a move simply to make a move.
DONUT 12: That said, there's more than a handful of reasons to retain hope in what has been a very successful season despite the injuries woes endured. To loosely quote a an ideology explained near the beginning of Bill Simmons' "The Book of Basketball," as explained to him by Isiah Thomas (remember the player, not the executive who failed to embrace his own words), "The secret of basketball is that it's not about basketball."
The chemistry, drive, and thriving bonds of a family sharing a common goal while ignoring the seducing whispers of the ego, the call of fame, and the distractions that seek to interfere with on-the-court aspirations; all are traits of this team. Beyond the confines of the court, the veins sustaining this roster seem to all feed the same heart. You can see it when they interact. You can find evidence of it when players like Marion and Terry gracefully accept moves to the bench for the betterment of the team. You can hear it in their words. You can just feel that little something that hasn't been there before.
Could Butler staying contribute to keeping this, whatever this is (this, that is not about basketball), whole and intact?
Whether it leads them somewhere special remains to be seen, but it could be special in its own right.