Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 24, 2010 under xOther | 2 Comments to Read

  • Brendan Haywood on the delicate balance between aggressive defense and avoiding foul trouble in tonight’s match-up with Andrew Bynum and the Lakers (via Todd Archer of the Dallas Morning News): “It’s tough matching up with Big Drew down there because he’s talented, he’s skilled, he’s athletic and he’s a load down there when they give him the ball,” Haywood said. “On the offensive end, I just try to be in constant motion, don’t let him rest. Quick duck-ins, post-ups, go to the offensive glass every play, working the baseline and trying to get open, not letting him just key on Dirk’s post-up, things of that nature. I have to be smart, but I can’t play scared. I can’t take a silly foul early on, because they’re too big for our back-ups. But at the same time, I can’t just give up layups and inside position because that’ll hurt us, as well.”
  • 48 Minutes of Hell recently started up a Spurs podcast, and I joined Graydon Gordian and Andrew McNeil on the most recent episode with to discuss the Mavs latest moves, Mavs-Spurs, how Dallas matches up with L.A., and NBA players participating in international competition.
  • This isn’t the first time that Dwayne Jones’ stay in the NBA was short-lived or over before it began, and Ridiculous Upside’s Scott Schroeder is a bit baffled as to why.
  • If somehow you haven’t heard, EA Sports is releasing a new version of NBA Jam for the Wii that will reboot the series with current players while staying true to the style of the original. I tell you this not only because it looks to be awesome (and it will be), but because EA is selecting the three-man rosters for every team through online voting. They’ve cycled through teams over the last few months, and finally come to the Mavs. So go here, and vote between Nowitzki, Kidd, Terry, Marion, Butler, and Haywood for who you’d like to see represent the Mavs in the new Jam.
  • A very happy birthday to Rodrigue Beaubois, who turns 22 today. ‘Day’ is a vestigial mode of time measurement based on solar cycles. It’s not applicable…I didn’t get you anything.
  • Looking back at Caron Butler, the Wizard, in 2009-2010.
  • Kevin Pelton’s SCHOENE projection system isn’t kind in predicting Dirk Nowitzki’s statistical production in 2010-2011 and beyond; it ranks him below Manu Ginobili, Joe Johnson, David Lee, and Rudy Gay (not to mention the obvious: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh) among the 2010 free agent class in terms of three-year production. Pelton qualifies the projections: “SCHOENE is also especially pessimistic about the group of Carlos Boozer, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce (who is fairly unlikely to opt out of the last year of his contract and become a free agent). Boozer and Nowitzki are similar in that their projections for 2010-11 are pretty solid, but things go downhill quickly from there. In these cases, I’m somewhat less inclined to believe the projections. It should be noted, though, that Nowitzki has taken a clear step back the last couple of seasons, in large part because he is no longer a contributor on the glass. As recently as three years ago, Nowitzki was grabbing 14.7 percent of all available rebounds. This year, that’s down to 11.6 percent. The gradual drop can’t entirely be blamed on the Mavericks adding Shawn Marion to compete for rebounds with Nowitzki.”
  • Via Mavs’ play-by-play man Mark Followill (@MFollowill), Dallas has only signed four players to a 10-day contract over the last decade: Charlie Bell, Mamadou N’Diaye, Kevin Willis, and now, Von Wafer.
  • Caron Butler on playing alongside Kobe Bryant in 2004-2005 (via Todd Archer of the Dallas Morning News): “I say that’s the best thing that ever could have happened for me personally for my career. To play alongside a guy like that, see his preparation, see what it takes to get to that level, that’s why I was able to be so good in Washington because I took everything I learned from him under his wing.”
  • For those still keeping tabs on such things, Kris Humphries has come back down to Earth.
  • The bright side of Josh Howard’s injury? The Wizards won’t be tempted to pick up his option for next season.
  • Howard’s history certainly makes him a nice fit in the greater context of the Wizards franchise over the last season.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 23, 2010 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

  • Brendan Haywood on the differences in coverage between the Mavs and the Wizards (via Todd Archer of the Dallas Morning News): “The difference for us a lot of times on a side screen-and-roll we used to call blue or icing, which means we tried to keep the ball on the same side of the court. They, I mean Dallas is more of a ‘show’ team. They’ll show on a screen-and-roll and try to impact the ball a little more. It’s a little different for me. That and zone coverages are different for me too.”
  • Former Mav Jerry Stackhouse apparently reached out to Chris Douglas-Roberts to console him on the Nets’ losing ways. Stack was always kind of a complicated character; he was tough on the court and when receiving clear opposition, but by all means a caring individual capable of tremendous personal acts. It’s hard to reconcile all of that with the shot-happy near-burden he aged into (especially when considering his earlier stardom), but in spite of everything that happened at the end of Stack’s career with the Mavs, it’s important that we keep a full view of him and his exploits, both good and bad.
  • SLAM’s Tzvi Twersky has a nice interview with Caron Butler up, with a lot from Caron on the Mavs and the city of Dallas itself. Here’s Butler on what he was told to do coming in by Rick Carlisle: “Coach told me to be as aggressive as possible. Told me to stay aggressive, to not switch up anything. He keeps telling me to remain aggressive at all times, to not second-guess anything. And that’s the type of encouragement you need from a coach. And we’re learning everything on the fly. I went out there and played— myself, Brendan [Haywood] and DeShawn [Stevenson]—after landing in the city and not being able to practice because of trade waivers and stuff wasn’t clear. So we just walked on the court and basically played pickup ball. So we’re learning the offense on the fly, and so far so good.”
  • Mark Cuban doesn’t quite seem content with the current collective bargaining model.
  • Rick Carlisle’s reaction to the news that Josh Howard will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL (via Tim MacMahon): “That’s terrible. Circumstances that happen in this sport and just the timing of things is crazy. I’m very disappointed obviously for him. He’s not deserving of that kind of luck at this point.”
  • If Zydrunas Ilgauskas wasn’t determined to go back to Cleveland 30 days after his buyout is finalized, Dallas would probably have a decent shot of signing him — Z and Donnie Nelson have history from when Donnie was with the Lithuanian national team.
  • Kelly Dwyer on the decidedly awful game last night: “This was one of Dallas’ worst games of the season, and somehow they still managed to win in a walk.”

Dark Days

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under News | 3 Comments to Read

If one team is covered in brilliant sunshine, another must be cloaked in darkness.

Josh Howard went down in last night’s game between the Wizards and the Bulls, and had to be helped off the court. It looked to be a knee injury, and while Josh was clearly in some pain, nothing seemed terribly serious. But according to Mike Jones (formerly of the Washington Times), Josh has torn his ACL and is done for the season.

I know Josh isn’t a Mav, and has had his fun taking a shot or two at the Mavs since he was traded. But how can you not feel for him right now? Howard’s already low value as a free agent just fell even further, and Josh’s opportunity to redeem his rough start has been completely obliterated. Nothing but sympathy for Josh, who has already fought to overcome a bucket-full of injuries in the last few years, and doesn’t deserve the hand he’s been dealt.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 22, 2010 under xOther | Read the First Comment

Dallas Mavericks 97, Miami Heat 91: Abridged

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 21, 2010 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

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Only in growth, reform, and change, paradoxically enough, is true security to be found.
-Anne Morrow Lindbergh

  • Just a lovely win. You’d like to see the Mavs really take advantage of a Miami team that’s missing Dwyane Wade, but a quality win is a quality win. After all, these are NBA players. Sometimes all that separates a benchwarmer from a contributor is opportunity, and with Wade out of the picture, the Heat’s lesser talents got a chance to strut their stuff. So what appears to be a clear victory is often hardly so simple. Case in point: Daequan Cook. Cook is averaging 5.6 PPG this season on 32.5% shooting. So naturally, with double the minutes and over double the shots, Cook caught fire and dropped a season-high 22 on the Mavs while shooting 50% from the field. Is part of that poor defense and open opportunities? Most certainly. But to throw away Cook’s performance merely on the basis of the Mavs’ faults is a bit misguided. Yes, Daequan has had a pretty miserable year, and his night definitely qualifies as a bit of a fluke; expecting 22 points from him on a nightly basis would be downright foolish. But that doesn’t mean that every once in awhile the man can’t catch fire, and on this night he did just that and had the freedom to cash in.
  • If the first half of the season was predicated on the Mavs building early leads and holding on for close wins, the post-trade Mavs’ success has been based on staying competitive and winning late with lock-down defense. Dallas used a 9-0 run late in the third quarter and a 7-0 run late in the fourth to keep the Heat at bay, and each wasn’t so much an offensive explosion as an exercise in staying in position, being patient on defense, and forcing turnovers or misses.
  • Jason Kidd was particularly effective defensively, and he’s playing with an incredible amount of energy on both ends right now. Kidd finished with 21 points (5-8 FG, 3-5 3FG), 11 assists, five rebounds, and three steals in what turned out to be a perfect cap for his impressive week. Player of the game, player of the week, and the player most essential to making Brendan Haywood and Caron Butler more comfortable in the offense.
  • Speaking of Haywood and Butler: it the Mavs had played this game pre-trade, there’s no way they would’ve escaped with a victory. With Drew Gooden guarding Jermaine O’Neal (18 points, 9-15 FG, 13 rebounds, four turnovers)? Jermaine drops 25 or 30. With the Mavs having to rely heavily on Josh Howard, considering Jason Terry’s 0-for-10 night? Josh may have scored a bit and played reasonably well, but to say that his offense has come and gone this season would be a gross understatement. Instead, Butler put together his best offensive performance as a Maverick in scoring 20 points on just 13 shots (with 54% shooting to boot!) while rounding out his line with four rebounds and three assists, and Haywood had his first double-double as a Maverick with 11 points and 11 boards. Kidd may have stolen the show, but those two were absolutely crucial to the victory.
  • I don’t know what else to say about Dirk Nowitzki (28 points, 10-21 FG, five rebounds, two assists), aside from the fact that it was one of those nights. Aside from a cold fourth quarter, Dirk was draining jumper after jumper, primarily due to Dirk finding holes in Miami’s defense and Dirk’s teammates (particularly Kidd) finding him at exactly the right moment. The chemistry is already there for those who have been Mavs all season long, and it will get there between Mavs new and old. Those feeds from Butler to Dirk will start getting crisper and crisper, and soon enough, these guys will seem like a part of the family.
  • The Dallas bench scored just six points. That kind of showing makes miserable look good, appalling look appetizing, and insufferable seem, well, sufferable. Dallas isn’t going to win many games with that type of showing from the bench, regardless of who is coming off the pine.
  • Defense is a headache from reading and re-reading scouting reports. It’s a sweet TV spot. It’s technique, athleticism, anticipation, and blind luck all rolled into one. It’s holding a team to 12 points in the third quarter on 5-of-13 shooting with six turnovers.
  • If nothing else, the trade and the All-Star break have given the Mavs a youthful exuberance. Oklahoma City may have trumped Dallas with their energy out of the gate, but since then, the Mavs have been anything but lethargic. Kidd is all over the court and swinging the ball, and Shawn Marion (11 points, 5-6 FG, five rebounds) is running the break as well as he has all season.
  • I’m greatly anticipating the first successful Jason Kidd-Brendan Haywood pick-and-roll lob. It’s coming.
  • I don’t know whether his production trumps what Kris Humphries would have been able to bring to the table, but Eddie Najera is providing some solid minutes at center for a Dallas team with few alternatives. With Dampier out (he’s still sidelined with that nasty open dislocation), the Mavs are leaning heavily on Haywood and Najera to man the middle. Both are doing a terrific job thus far.

Dallas Mavericks 95, Orlando Magic 85: Abridged

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 20, 2010 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images.

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I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.”
-Louisa May Alcott

  • In light of everything that’s happened over the last two months (the Josh Howard Witch Trials, The Depression of 2010, and Tradeapalooza, in particular), this win should give Mavs fans a greater sense of optimism than any other this season. We’re starting to see how Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood fit in with this Maverick team, and the early returns are definitely promising.
  • The story of the game is, without a doubt, the Mavs’ 19-0 run that spanned the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth. Even more impressive: the last 12 points of that run came without Dirk Nowitzki on the floor, as a lineup of Kidd-Terry-Butler-Marion-Haywood rattled off 12 uncontested in a little over three minutes. It was also an incredibly balanced run, as JET, Kidd, and Haywood chipped in five apiece and Dirk added four.
  • Without such a terrific team-wide performance late in the game, the Mavs would’ve been doomed to a loss. Orlando put the pressure on the Dallas early by dropping 33 points in the first quarter (on 65% shooting) to the Mavs’ 23, including 20 points in the paint based on Howard’s strong start.
  • Dwight Howard (29 points, 11-16 FG, 16 rebounds, five blocks) was incredible, but Brendan Haywood’s defense was nothing to scoff at. Dwight did a lot of damage in the first quarter against the Mavs’ inferior post defenders, and though Howard ended up with some pretty incredible totals, Haywood really did bother him with his length and strength. Howard had 10 touches against the rest of the Mavs, and either scored or drew a foul on eight of those possessions. But against Haywood? On 26 touches, Howard only scored or drew a foul on 11 possessions. I know it’s not rocket science to declare Haywood the Mavs’ best post defender, especially with Dampier absent, but those numbers are indicative of not only how well Brendan plays on-ball defense in the post, but also how well he denies position and the ball to opposing centers.
  • J.J. Barea played just eight minutes, all of which came in the second quarter. But in those eight minutes, he did a surprisingly effective job of buoying the Maverick offense at a time where it looked to be in peril. The Mavs were doing a much better job defensively in the second quarter than they did in the first, holding the Magic to just 14 points in the quarter. The only problem? Dallas couldn’t score. Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry combined for five straight misses over the first five minutes of the fourth quarter, and aside from an Eddie Najera three with 7:03 on the clock, Barea had the only points of the first five minutes. Never underestimate the impact of a couple of buckets when a team is completely unable to score.
  • Another game with a short rotation for the Mavs — only seven players played 10 minutes or more, and only eight played at all. For contrast, the Magic played ten players overall, nine of which played 10+ minutes. This could change when Erick Dampier comes back from injury or as Rick Carlisle sees more situational opportunities for Rodrigue Beaubois, but given the personnel the Mavs now have, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Carlisle run a tight rotation from this point forward.
  • The key for Dallas was, again, balance; five Mavericks finished in double-figures, including 15 points on 10 shots for Haywood, 16 points on meh shooting from Butler, and a tidy 16 points, seven rebounds, and four assists from Terry.
  • Caron Butler has not shot well in any of his first three games as a Maverick, but he is showing improvement. Right now he’s showing some skill in creating in one-on-one situations, but that’s where most of his looks are coming from. Butler’s having some trouble finishing around the basket (per HoopData’s Tom Haberstroh, “Caron Butler is a crisp 3-14 on layups since he joined the Mavericks.”) and is taking too many long jumpers (six of his eighteen attempts came between 16-23 feet away from the basket, and three of his attempts were threes), but as he gets more and more comfortable with the offense, his teammates will find him in positions more conducive to scoring efficiently. Think about the way Dirk plays. He gets the ball in most efficient spots on the floor, and then capitalizes by using his height and footwork and by relying on optimal court spacing. Right now, Butler’s left to pump fakes and crossovers, and while it’s getting him some points, he isn’t nearly as efficient as he could be.
  • Re: above, it’s essentially the same for Brendan Haywood and defense. He’s playing well in one-on-one contests right now, but he clearly gets a bit lost in the rotations and in more complex coverages. It’s not a hole in Haywood’s game, just lack of familiarity with a defensive system he stumbled into barely a week ago (if that).
  • The Magic, who are 8th in the league in three-point shooting percentage at 36.3%, shot a miserable 16% (4-25) from beyond the arc. Part of that is good shooters going cold, but the Mavs also appeared to be chasing the Magic off of the three-point line by design. Many of Orlando’s shooters, however, simply refused to be chased. Credit them for their perseverance, I guess, but the result was a lot of tough, contested jumpers.

Shot distribution data from HoopData.com.

Et Tu, Josh?

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 19, 2010 under Commentary, News | 5 Comments to Read

As it turns out, that decidedly quiet period of Josh Howard’s career? Maybe not so quiet. That maturity he seemed to be showing in refusing to bow down to trade talk? A clever ruse put on by Howard and the Mavs to build up his public image and keep his trade value high.

That is, of course, if Eddie Sefko’s Maverick sources are correct in asserting that Josh Howard missed a regular season game after hitting the firewater a bit too hard:

The juicy piece of irony is that Howard ended up in Washington, which may well have been the site where he had the beginning of the end, according to several Maverick sources. They say Howard had a long night of partying on Jan. 19, the night after the Mavericks had won in Boston and less than 24 hours before playing the Wizards. The team officially said he missed the game against Washington on Jan. 20 with a stomach illness. But sources said team officials could not deny that it was a self-inflicted game off. Howard’s agent, Jeff Schwartz, did not comment on the incident.

Initially, Howard was taking something of a silent stand, responding to 103.3 ESPN Radio’s Ben Rogers with the following message via text:

“not responding to a lie.. My lawyers ar taking action… Thanks.. That’s a response.”

Howard, however, did eventually respond to the incident. Here’s Josh’s response via Michael Lee of the Washington Post:

After the Wizards defeated Minnesota on Wednesday, Howard said he would like to “stick it to” the Mavericks. But when asked about the story, he said, “I’ll just leave it alone. I know it’s not true.” He said excessive partying the night before was not the reason he missed the game. “I was sick and that was it,” Howard said. “I don’t know where that is coming from and it’s sad they are trying to talk about me the way they are. That was over a month ago. It’s amazing how stuff is coming up like this now and I’m not even there. But I know I didn’t do anything and it’s time to move on.”

It’s tough to know how exactly to process the information. You obviously don’t want players boozing up the night before a game to the point that they’re unable to play. But Josh isn’t a Maverick anymore, and all of this is frankly, a bit irrelevant for Dallas’ purposes. The team was aware of what happened, they did their best to shield the issue from public view, and then they accomplished their objective (trading Josh). It’s really no different than a million other team issues that are dealt with in-house, despite how surprising it may be.

Admittedly, I’m a little disappointed. Even as the end was near, I was willing to give Josh the benefit of the doubt and a second (Third? Fourth?) chance. But these are the kinds of tales that can color a player’s reputation, despite the fact that he’s no longer a part of the team. We all knew that Josh was a fun-loving guy, and I readily accept that this type of thing is well within the NBA lifestyle. But that lifestyle is all well and good until it intersects with actual games. Part of me hopes that this will disappear forever in the sock drawer of the internet, but another part of me hopes for some kind blanket denial from the Mavs, Howard, and all other possible parties involved. I was ready to wish Howard well and move on to a future of Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood, but doesn’t a reveal like this make you wonder just how many times something like this was an issue?

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 17, 2010 under xOther | Read the First Comment

  • This flew around the internet yesterday, and rightfully so. Dan Steinberg did a tremendous job of giving color and context to a team that many others might have found completely unremarkable. Of course it was completely the opposite, and Steinberg’s work has given us almost a fly-on-the-wall (supposing said fly could also provide us a look inside the heads of the most interesting Wizards) view of one of the NBA’s most entertaining locker rooms.
  • Mark Cuban is looking into the possibility of playing a regular season (or playoff) game at Cowboy Stadium. Based on my experience at the All-Star game, I definitely think it’s a cool idea. But as far as playing a playoff game there, I do have a question: is playing at Cowboy Stadium, an arena with which your players are hardly familiar, the wisest use of your playoff home court?
  • Vince Thomas of NBA.com (via DOH): “It’ll be May, when [Caron] Butler is at the podium, answering questions after slapping up a 25-8-5 night in a playoff win. That’s when fans everywhere will turn to each other, shaking their heads and say, ‘Man … I didn’t know he was this good.’”
  • Here’s some video of Flip Saunders, Josh Howard, Quinton Ross, and James Singleton after Wizards’ practice. Singleton talks about not exercising his right to veto the trade, Howard says his ankle is only 75-80% healthy, and Flip likes Josh’s abilities as an open court player.
  • Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com: “I believe the new guys’ unfamiliarity of the system is the reason J.J. Barea jumped back into the backup PG role, ahead of Roddy Beaubois. I understand your ire, but think about it: Butler and Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson don’t know the plays, don’t know the calls, don’t know the signals. Is Roddy Beaubois – a rookie who himself is just now getting comfortable with the playbook, not to mention with English – fully equipped to handle the unusual requirements of this quarterbacking situation? Rick Carlisle’s decision was that he was not ready. That’s not a defense of the JJB results. Don’t even ask me to defend the long-term notion of a Jet/JJB backcourt pairing. Again, it’s just an explanation for the thinking on this night. I do want you to consider this, though: You do know, don’t you, that Carlisle WANTS Roddy to win this job, right?”


Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 16, 2010 under Commentary, Roster Moves | 3 Comments to Read

Few people on this planet watch the Washington Wizards with more attention to minutiae than Kyle Weidie of Truth About It, not to mention the (very) few that write about the Wiz so prolifically. So I jumped at the chance to pick Kyle’s brain a bit about Caron Butler, after chatting a bit about the decline of Josh Howard.

If you feel I’ve left anything out in my analysis of Josh, I’d encourage you to jump over to Truth About It and impart your wisdom on Kyle and his readers.

Without further ado:

Kyle: Tell me about Josh Howard. I know about all of his off-court stuff. I know about some of his “can’t control what the ball do” statements regarding on-court stuff. I know about a debate between you and Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com over whether Cuban and the Mavs were coddling/babying Howard too much. Any other reasons why Howard fell so far from grace in Dallas? Did you get any indication that he was a disturbance in the locker room? Or can his down year mostly be attributed to injury issues? The Wizards likely see J-Ho as just an expiring contract, but he certainly will play. How healthy is he now? How motivated do you think he will be to contribute to his new, yet very, very bad, team?

Rob: Howard’s decline has been truly bizarre. From 2005-2007, Josh was a rock; he ignited the Mavs’ offense in the first quarter, played solid perimeter defense, and showed tremendous versatility in terms of scoring the ball. It looked as though Dallas had come away with a complete steal with the 29th pick in the 2003 draft, and Josh was named an All-Star in ‘07 to commemorate his rise. But Howard was injured virtually throughout the ‘07-’08 season, and even when he returned to action for the Mavs, he was visibly limited.

That I understand; there’s a lot of pressure to return from injury early, a fact made even more clear when Howard attempted to do it earlier this season only to be pulled from the rotation again a few days later for rest, rehab, and treatment. These are limitations that make sense for a player.

But when Josh finally returned to action for good in early December, his play didn’t seem visibly altered by the injury. He seemed to be moving well, was putting in the effort, and looked to be — at the time, at least — to be shaking off a bit of rust. He airballed some jumpers, turned the ball over, and took every mid-range jumper he could find. But again, this made sense for a guy recovering from injury. Every move is made a bit more tentatively, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Except it didn’t go away. Josh just continued to slump and slump, putting up some truly awful shooting nights in what was likely the worst stretch of his Maverick career. He looks healthy and he insists that he’s healthy, so what excuse can you really offer a guy who suddenly plummets to the worst shooting percentages of his career? Who starts drifting on defense, and sacrifices the end of the floor where he could have (at least partially) redeemed himself? The most infuriating thing about Josh’s decline is that it really does seem random; part of it is shot selection and part of it is effort level, but so much of Howard’s woes have simply been based on execution.

To Josh’s credit, he’s been a true professional through the entire ordeal. He hasn’t pouted or made demands, didn’t say a peep when he was moved to the bench, and kept his concerns about himself and the team in-house. Howard has finally grown up (many can recall some news-worthy PR disasters that reeked of immaturity), and though his game hasn’t been what it was in seasons past, I think that’s a good sign. I’d expect Howard to arrive with something to prove, for sure; the guy has a long history of playing with a chip on his shoulder, and off-court events like this have typically triggered an on-court response from Howard. But the intent to prove his point and actually doing it are two very different things.

One of the things Josh has struggled with a bit this season is producing at the 2…which seems particularly relevant now that the Mavs intend to put Butler in a similar situation. I know Caron has played a lot of minutes at the 2 and 3 both this season and previously — is he demonstratively more effective in one spot than another? Does Butler have trouble keeping up with the quicker wings locked in at the 2?

But beyond that, I’m just as curious about Butler’s drop-off as you are about Howard’s. It’s definitely been a down year by Caron standards, but I haven’t seen any clear indication why. He didn’t seem to mesh well with Gil (in any sense), but he’s struggled even with Arenas out of the lineup. What gives? Is there some mystical secret to Butler’s drop-off that’s hidden in plain view? And do you consider his season an actual regression of his game, or simply a momentary lapse in his otherwise solid career production?

Kyle: Caron Butler’s struggles this season have been almost as baffling as Howard’s, but after reading what you wrote, there seems to be more evidence I can cite for Butler’s downturn. For one, let’s talk system. For his entire time in Washington, Butler served under the pro-style Princeton offense of Eddie Jordan. His version of the Princeton involved a lot of passing and cutting, as does the more traditional college version, but in Jordan’s scheme, you also saw a lot more shots taken as the coached depended on his talented players, especially his guards/wings, which would obviously incorporate Butler but also Jamison at the stretch four, to make basketball plays, taking it upon themselves to find the advantage and at times take an isolation shot.In comes Flip Saunders, whose massive play book incorporates a lot of options, including Hubie Brown’s Hawk Offense and traditional high pick and rolls, but also involves the ball being in the point guard’s hands much more than the Princeton. Flip demands that his point guards create plays for their teammates and direct the flow of the offense.

With Flip intending for the ball to be in Gilbert Arenas’ hands 80-percent of the time, Butler became dependent on finding his shots within the scripted offense, rather than being able to create more on his own. This didn’t exactly jibe with the way Butler had been conditioned, and it showed.

This season, when he got the ball in his comfort zones of the past, extended wings and deep corners, usually on the left side of the floor, you’d often find Caron using a myriad of jab steps and pump fakes, mostly of an unproductive nature, before seeing him jack a contested shot and missing. This essentially evolved to Butler driving when he should have been shooting the open shot or shooting the ill-advised shot when he should have been driving.

The adjustment began to affect Butler’s confidence. His decision-making got worse, evidenced by what seemed to be a ton more traveling and charge calls, and his ability to create for teammates dropped off significantly. His assists per 36 minutes fell to 2.1 this season after being 4.0 in ‘08-09, 4.4 in ‘07-08, and 3.4 in ‘06-07, the season where Caron last played significant minutes with Arenas before this one.

This season, Arenas wasn’t the player he used to be, as he was trying to re-acclimate himself to NBA basketball in addition to adjusting his game for Flip’s offense. He had a long way to go before being suspended, but his numbers weren’t that bad and he seemed to be trying to adjust. His assist-percentage in the 32 games he played stands at 36.5%, up from 27.2% and 27% in the last two seasons where he saw the court for a significant amount of time (’06-07 and ‘05-06 respectively).

Back in late-November, Gilbert said, “There’s about 15 players on the team, 14 get along.” Even though they evidently subsequently kissed and made up, most were able to conclude that Arenas was talking about Butler. An even more telling sign of Butler’s offensive issues also came when Arenas made the “14 get along” comment (and there’s a video of Gil talking about the Wizards’ early-season struggles on offense in the previous link). Arenas said, “I know what to do with Antawn [Jamison], me and him been playing for the longest … pick and roll. Caron, he needs isos. So now I gotta find a way to get him the ball without cutting the other four players out.” The clip got cut off/edited in the link above, but Arenas ended his quote with, “and that’s just been a big problem.” If you really want to see Gil say this, among other things, you can check out around the 3:30 mark in this video highlighting his best home-game quotes from this season … before real guns and finger guns of course.

But enough about the offensive system, what else? Well, there is a Caron’s ego. Most all NBA players have egos to some extent, and this year, I’ve come to find out that this does not preclude good guys like Butler. I’ve now seen how an ego might negatively affect a strong-willed, prideful person like Caron.

I believe that essentially carrying the team, along with Antawn Jamison, for the previous two seasons, and then having to go back to playing second fiddle to Gilbert Arenas (in terms of attention), and to an extent, a second fiddle to the entire team in terms of who dictates the offense, served as a blow to Butler’s ego and his game worsened as a consequence. Some, including players, accused him of aiming to get his 20 point average of the past first and foremost.

Small instances served as indications of Butler’s ego. There was the time in San Antonio in November, after back-to-back blowout losses to the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Spurs, when Brendan Haywood was singing Beyoncé’s ego while Gilbert Arenas spoke of those with “hidden agendas” on the team. The way the story appearing in the Washington Post was written at the time, most inferred that Haywood and Arenas were talking about each other. However, it was later concluded, especially since Haywood and Arenas are supposed to be very good friends, that they both were likely talking/singing about Caron Butler. By the way, Haywood has denied ever singing, but I tend to believe the reporting of the Post’s Michael Lee. In terms of the relationship between Arenas and Butler, the Lee recently wrote, “Arenas and Butler were never on the same page (And that’s sugarcoating it. As one person close to the team told me, “Those guys just flat out didn’t like each other”).” Not good to hear if you’re a Wizards fan.

Another small instance occurred when I was in the Wizards’ locker room before a game late last year. One player commented on my Clark Wallabees, which are currently well worn since I’ve had them since around 2001. Meanwhile, a second player was confusing them with hush-puppies. The first player went on to explain that Clark Wallabees are better and more expensive. The only thing I could really say was that they are damn comfortable shoes and that I’d had them since college. The second player then said to the first player something to the effect of, “Who are you, Caron Butler … talking about the cost of clothing?” The two players then both had a good laugh.

No biggie, but certainly a telling incident of what Butler’s teammates tended to think of him at times, even though they may have liked the guy. It’s also worth mentioning that Butler is very into fashion, hence why I’ve referred to him as a fashionista at times. He and his wife sometimes pick out fabrics and patterns to custom design his clothes and he has also served as a fashion model of sorts. He was the only player on the team who would get dressed in his expensively tailored clothes in the training room, out of sight and access from the media. When he wasn’t quasi-ducking the press, making a beeline from the training room to the locker room exit while others such as Jamison attracted the media scrum, Caron would always look his very best for interviews. The skuttlebutt is that he ripped this method of dressing from Kobe who ripped it from Michael Jordan, but I can’t testify to how authentic that theory may be.

Might any of this perceived “ego” stuff really be meaningless, especially in terms of Butler’s contributions on the basketball court? Yes, it certainly could mean nothing. But does it serve as an interesting look below the surface? Certainly. Gilbert had a pretty big ego himself, being quite the attention whore. Now, he’s sitting at home losing millions.

Finally, I’ll mention Caron’s defense. He claimed before the season that he’d really focus on becoming a better defender. I didn’t really see it. Part of it is that Caron has a bad habit of gambling in the passing lanes, often over-committing himself. The other part is that with his body type, he’s simply not athletic enough and lacks sufficient lateral movement to keep up with most wing players. On the other hand, much of playing good defense involves hustle and hard work, which could take away from Caron’s efforts on the offensive end. The Mavericks might be better served having Shawn Marion guard the opposing team’s two-spot over Butler and have them reverse roles on offense.

I hate to feel like I’m trashing Caron. For a long time, he was my favorite Wizard, consistently filling up the stat sheet with rebounds, assists and steals, in addition to points. I’ll always have good memories of why he was given the nickname “Tuff Juice” by former coach Eddie Jordan in the first place. And while I don’t want to say that everything I’ve described above has tarnished my memory of Butler, it has certainly changed my perspective of him. I wish Caron all the best in Dallas and will be watching very closely to see how he performs in a new environment. If he is able to work with Kidd, Dirk & Co. with success, then I will be very proud of Butler’s ability to adjust, yet somewhat hurt that he couldn’t do it this year in DC.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under xOther | Be the First to Comment

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star’s Raptors Blog: “Because of a bit of miscommunication, got to the media availability about 90 minutes early Saturday morning and was lucky – and by lucky I mean doomed – to get there in time for some fashion show on the practice court at the Jam Session. And that’s when we saw the sight that kind of made the day. After guys like Robert Horry and Bruce Bowen went, along with a couple of “real” models, here comes the last guy: The Hump! For real. Sporting a rather nifty fedora, this thin tie and sweater combo and looking entirely jaunty as a matter of fact. And when you go to a basketball practice and find a fashion show and get to see Kris Humphries in it, you’ve had a good day.”
  • Dirk, Shakira. Shakira, Dirk.
  • If somehow you missed out on The Basketball Jones’ All-Star coverage, you should probably get out of here and go watch. Now. Seriously, beat it, kid. Dirk steals the show in two of their vids, but even without Nowitzki it’s quality entertainment.
  • Per Mark Followill (@mfollowill), Caron Butler will wear #4, Brendan Haywood will wear #33, and DeShawn Stevenson will wear #92.
  • Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com: “The media and the Mavs are so caught up in Jason Terry’s team-first generosity – he graciously volunteered to sacrifice his starting 2-guard spot for newcomer Caron Butler before he could be asked to do so – that ignored in the excitement of the three-player package coming to Dallas from Washington is the likely replacement of another fixture in the Mavs’ starting lineup. Or have you forgotten about Erick Dampier? ‘You mean have I spoken to Damp about this?’ Carlisle said to me when I posed the question of the ‘other’ starter who might be benched. …’Well. …’ Carlisle continued after Monday’s practice, which introduced not only starting candidate Butler to his new team but also center Brendan Haywood, already tabbed by Mavs owner Mark Cuban as a ‘top-five center’ in the NBA. ‘Um. … you mean, have I spoken to Damp in the same way (that he’s spoken to Jet)? Well. … that’s a question that represents something we keep within the team. So I’m not going to answer that question.’ I think, though, that Rick just answered the question.”
  • How cute. (via Steve Nash, @the_real_nash)
  • On Ben & Skin, Josh Howard says he’s already looking forward to playing the Mavs in Dallas, and has an opportunity to say goodbye to ESPN Dallas “hater” Tim MacMahon.
  • Is Dirk really a great NBA defender? One metric says so, but Bradford Doolittle admits it’s not “any sort of end-all/be-all of individual defensive metrics.” It probably should go without saying at this point, but I’m sure someone would take Basketball Prospectus’ list as definitive rankings.
  • Rick Carlisle on Erick Dampier’s availability for tonight (via Eddie Sefko): “We’ll hold our breath.”