Timing was right to move Howard

DALLAS -- No matter how many nice things the Dallas Mavericks say about Josh Howard, it wasn't that hard to say goodbye.

It was simply a matter of maximizing his value on the trade market.

Give the Mavs credit for exercising extreme patience after Howard, a major asset to the franchise for most of his six-plus seasons in Dallas, took a significant turn for the worse a couple of seasons ago. They gave him as many chances as possible to revert to form while waiting until they got a great offer for him before pulling the trigger.

"It's always tough to see guys go, but sometimes a franchise has to move on and you've got to make decisions," face of the franchise Dirk Nowitzki said. "That was one of them."

That was an easy decision.

Howard was the centerpiece of the package sent to the Washington Wizards (although Drew Gooden is the departing player the Mavs will miss the most) in a blockbuster, seven-player deal that will bring swingman Caron Butler, center Brendan Haywood and shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson to Dallas. The Mavs made a significant upgrade by swapping the struggling Howard for Butler and filled a major void by adding Haywood.

The move impressed Kobe Bryant enough to declare the Mavs legitimate competition for the Los Angeles Lakers.

"We wouldn't have done the deal if we didn't think it helped us," president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said. "Now, I don't know how many of you are going to pick us in a seven-game series with the Lakers, but with the guys in that locker room, we're ready to lock horns with anybody."

Added shooting guard Jason Terry in a text message: "We believe that with this move we are one of the elite teams in the West. Now we have to go out every night and play like it."

It would have been easy -- and popular around these parts -- to get rid of Howard after an unbelievable run of off-court foolishness that included a radio interview focused on his penchant for partaking in marijuana, followed days later by his passing out fliers to his birthday party after a critical playoff loss; viral video of Howard disrespecting the national anthem; and an arrest for street racing.

Unloading Howard at that point, however, would not have been wise. The Mavs received nothing but lowball offers for Howard in the summer of 2008.

Howard's reputation never fully recovered, as his moodiness and more than occasional lapses in effort haven't helped matters. Several teams in the league simply wouldn't touch him.

Injuries further deflated Howard's value last season. He battled back to play a leading role in the Mavs' first-round playoff victory over the San Antonio Spurs, but he had to undergo operations on his ankle and wrist in the offseason. The ankle surgery, in particular, was a major cause in Howard's enduring what has been the worst season of his NBA career.

Yet Howard's value soared during the season. As talented as he is, his eight-figure expiring contract made him an attractive chip in the trade market.

The Mavs probably could have sent Howard to Golden State for Stephen Jackson earlier this season. That would have been an immediate upgrade with long-term financial risk. They ended up getting Butler, a similar high-scoring player with an all-around game and only one season remaining on his contract, and a defensive-minded big man with an expiring contract in Haywood, whom they hope to lock up to a long-term deal.

"You just have to do whatever you can to be opportunistic and improve your team," owner Mark Cuban said. "That's what we've done."

They were patient, too. It paid off.

Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.