This was a classic Mark Cuban trade. The Mavs took advantage of a team looking to cut costs. And Cuban didn't even have to pay a ridiculous price in the process.
DeShawn Stevenson's $4.1 million player option for next season is the price the Mavs had to pay to make significant upgrades at two positions. The financial sting was lessened when the Wizards accepted Quinton Ross ($1.14 million) as part of the return. (James Singleton is the other throw-in headed to Washington.)
Caron Butler is simply a better all-around player than Josh Howard. Butler is a better scorer. He's a better rebounder. He's a better fit for the Mavs because of his ability to create off the dribble.
Brendan Haywood fills a major void as a shot-blocking, board-crashing big man, especially with Erick Dampier dealing with knee problems. Drew Gooden provided some scoring punch, but he was a power forward pretending to be a center, something that was painfully obvious from watching the Mavs' defensive misery the last month.
Butler, whose career numbers suggest he could be an excellent second scoring option despite his struggles this season, is on the books one more season at $10.8 million. Swapping him for Howard doesn't limit the Mavs' potential to be sign-and-trade players this summer.
Haywood is a $6 million expiring contract, but he could be the most important long-term piece in this trade. The Mavs definitely wouldn't have pulled the trigger without him included. The summer search for a long-term starting center at least has a Plan A now that the Mavs own Haywood's Bird rights.
Does it make the Mavs significantly better? Absolutely.