The injury suffered to Mavericks forward Caron Butler that forced him out of Saturday’s game is what Mavericks players, coaches, staff and fans feared the most. He underwent season-ending surgery today on his right patellar tendon, and his void from the lineup will be a big one for what has been a strong Dallas team this season.
Luckily for the Mavs, they have one of the deeper teams in the NBA. Once Dirk Nowitzki is healthy (he’s out again tonight against Portland), former star (but bench player so far this year) Shawn Marion is expected to start in Butler’s small forward place for the rest of the season. Until Nowitzki returns, he is likely to start at power forward and is that much more important in the short term.
While Marion will be able to hold his own in Butler’s place defensively, Dallas will need to get some scoring elsewhere. Butler is a very good slasher and solid outside shooter and has been a good third option behind Nowitzki and Jason Terry since Dallas acquired him from Washington last year. His scoring load will have to be picked up by everyone, including more touches for both Nowitzki and Terry.
Lesser players on the team will also get a chance to play some more minutes. DeShawn Stevenson has been starting at shooting guard and is averaging under 20 minutes a game, but that will certainly go up. Rookie Dominique Jones, just recalled from the D-league, is likely to take Butler’s spot in their 9-man rotation, albeit off the bench. Backup point guard Jose Juan Barea may see more court time as well, as head coach Rick Carlisle may use a three-guard alignment more frequently (Jason Kidd, Barea, Terry).
The Mavericks success this season (third best record in the NBA) is mostly tied to their strong defensive play, which is more about the institution of a team philosophy than the successes or failures of one individual player. Therefore, the loss of Butler is minimized. They have the pieces that should be able to replace his offensive production while the defense should continue to give them a chance to win almost every night.