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Seven-player deal helps Mavs more than Wiz

Ignoring any contractual considerations, here's an on-court analysis of the first of what will presumably be several noteworthy trades in the next few days.

Josh Howard has a world of talent. He has a huge 7-foot-2 wingspan and a 33-inch vertical jump from a standstill. Plus, he runs like a guard and can be a deadly slasher and baseline shooter -- "can be" is the operative qualification. Usually, he plays soft, is profoundly unreliable and is totally useless in clutch situations. He's the kind of player who can break his coach's heart, and Flip Saunders has moved to the front of the line.

Drew Gooden is the prototypical journeyman big man. He can handle some, shoot some (streaky from 18-20 feet), rebound some, likes to drive right, shoot turnaround jumpers and jump hooks from the left box, has OK footwork and can't defend anybody who can turn, face and go. He's an acceptable fourth big in a four-man rotation, and the more he plays, the worse he plays. No wonder the Wizards will be his eighth team in his 8-year career.

James Singleton is a rarely used wingman who plays hard, can sometimes nail treys when his feet are set and always play earnest defense. He's a terrific 11th or 12th man.

None of these three newcomers will help Washington escape from their inevitable doom. In truth, their paperwork is worth more than their bodies -- as though the team has any real hope of enticing a quality free agent. In the here-now and the there-then, the Wiz are appreciably worse than they were before the trade.

Quinton Ross is a solid defender and a speedy runner with very few other top-notch skills, but he's strictly an emergency player.

The Mavs' end of the transaction, however, is sufficient to move them up a notch in the battle for playoff positioning.

Caron Butler doesn't have much range, but given the time and space, he's a dead-eye jump shooter from 20 feet and in. He's also mastered a step-back springer, prefers to drive left from the perimeter and right when he turns and faces in the low post. He's tough, strong and knows how to light up a scoreboard. He'll also rebound, look to pass and make too many mistakes with the ball. His merely adequate defense depends on his experience, strength and quick hands. For sure, he's in the middle of a down year, but look for Butler to regain his chops now that he's escaped from the craziness in Washington. A big-time scorer, Butler will take a load of pressure off Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry.

Brendan Haywood has never fully lived up to his potential as a quality rebounder, shot-blocker and post scorer. However, he's certainly better than Erick Dampier in every conceivable category excepting sheer mass. Still only 30, look for Haywood to become the aggressive and mobile interior presence -- especially on defense -- at both ends that the Mavs have lacked for so long -- especially if he and his jump hook becomes an integral part of their offense.

DeShawn Stevenson is only 28 and can play! Even though he's been buried on the Wizards and is also injury-prone, Stevenson still has more than adequate speed and quickness, is a big jumper, is acrobatic around the basket and moves his feet well on defense. Unlike Gooden, the more Stevenson plays, the better he plays. He's a wonderful addition to the end of the Mavs' bench.

There are two big surprises here: The lopsided nature of the trade, which is of immeasurable immediate help for Dallas and is a step backward for the stumbling Wizards.

For Washington, though, with Butler gone and Gilbert Arenas going, Antawn Jamison is now a keeper and becomes the full-time locus of the offense, which, given his frequent disdain for physical contact, is not necessarily good news.

The second surprise is that the news of the trade saw the light of day during the All-Star weekend, allowing attention to be diverted from what is billed as the NBA's midseason showcase.

Even so, the trade is much more important and will be infinitely more memorable to Dallas than are the transitory events of the NBA's latest over-hyped jubilee.