The Mavericks don’t plan to rush to the trade market in the wake of Caron Butler’s knee injury, according to sources with knowledge of the team’s thinking.
They might have no choice eventually, but sources say team officials -- convinced since the summer that they’ve assembled one of the league’s deeper teams -- want to give the current roster an opportunity to respond to the loss of Butler before looking at more drastic moves.
The Mavs, for starters, have to confirm the extent of Butler’s injury. They’re certainly bracing for word that Butler has indeed suffered a torn patella tendon in his right knee, given that Mavs coach Rick Carlisle didn’t hesitate to describe the injury as “potentially serious” after it happened Saturday night in Milwaukee. But a firm diagnosis wasn’t expected before Monday.
If the injury proves to be a season-ender, as feared, Dallas will be able to apply to the league for a disabled player exception worth half of Butler’s $10.6 million salary. Such an exception -- if granted after an examination by an independent doctor appointed by the league -- would thus be worth $5.28 million and valid for 45 days to sign or trade for one player whose salary doesn’t exceed that figure.
But first Dallas A) eagerly awaits Dirk Nowitzki’s expected return from a sprained knee this week to get the offense closer to normal looking and B) hopes Shawn Marion can keep stepping in for Butler like he did Sunday night in Cleveland when the former All-Star led the Mavs with 22 points.
The problem there, though, is that asking Marion to play small forward cuts into his minutes at power forward, which has proven to be his more productive position.
Another problem: Dallas could well be forced to go to its three-guard alignment featuring Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and J.J. Barea – with Kidd as the small forward defensively – more than it wants to for scoring without Butler.
The best-case counter to a long-term loss of Butler would obviously be an impactful return to the lineup for second-year guard Roddy Beaubois, who can’t play small forward but has the dynamic offensive ability to make up for the scoring lost from Butler, who was quietly averaging 15 points per game in 29.9 minutes while shooting a quite passable 43.1 percent from 3-point range.
Beaubois, though, is still believed to be at least three weeks away from playing thanks to a broken bone in his left foot that has sidelined the French speedster since August. Carlisle has consistently refused to proffer so much as a guesstimate for when we might see Beaubois again, noting that the 22-year-old hasn’t even been able to practice yet.
Asked before Christmas how he eventually planned to find minutes for Beaubois, given the unexpected emergence of DeShawn Stevenson, Carlisle said: "We’re a long way from that conversation."
Yet even if Dallas does manage to survive Butler’s absence through the likes of Marion, Terry, Stevenson and eventually Beaubois -- or a potential newcomer acquired through a disabled player exception -- Butler’s attractiveness as a trade chip will be reduced to strictly financial terms if he can’t play again this season. With an expiring contract, Butler could provide salary relief to cost-conscious teams in any deal before the Feb. 24 deadline but nothing more unless his injury proves far less serious than feared.