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Josh Howard may not be so expendable after all

Feb 9, 2010, 10:37 AM EST

Josh Howard isn’t making things easy for the Mavs.

For two months Howard struggled mightily on offense, turning in horrid, high-volume shooting displays at a point in the season where the Mavs’ offense looked especially vulnerable. With each jumper clanking off the rim, Howard looked closer and closer to a future in another NBA city; the Mavs were rumored to have interest in Kevin Martin, Andre Iguodala, and Caron Butler, all of whom would slide into Howard’s role seamlessly.

But over the last three games, Howard has put together a couple of throwback performances — including a season-high 25 points in a win over Golden State last night.

Those keeping an eye on the schedule will be quick to point out the Mavs’ opponents over that three-game stretch: they’ve played Minnesota once and Golden State twice. Howard has been routinely matched up against inferior or undersized defenders in those three games, and neither the Wolves or the Warriors are anything resembling a competent defensive club.

All that said, Howard is playing his best basketball of the season right now…which makes it a bit more difficult to rationalize any of the aforementioned trades.

For one, a fully-functional Howard can at least near the production of those three players, but without any of the long-term financial commitment. Considering the tumultuous road ahead for the NBA and the Players’ Association, owners everywhere are wary of long, expensive deals. Mark Cuban is no exception. Plus, teams like the Sixers are rumored to be handcuffing Samuel Dalembert’s contract (or Elton Brand’s) to Andre Iguodala for any potential trades. After all, if Philly is shipping out their most talented player, they can’t justify such a significant payroll on an underachieving group of bigs.

I guess that’s where this situation is especially interesting: the fact that Howard is improving only matters to the Mavs. Philadelphia, Washington, and Sacramento are all linked to Howard because of salary reasons; if acquired, it’s assumed that all three would decline Howard’s $11.8 million team option for next season. This isn’t talent-for-talent, it’s talent-for-savings, which means that the Mavs won’t even add to their returns based on Josh’s current upswing.

All of this is to say that if trading Josh was a no-brainer before, the Mavs now have a real decision on their hands.

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