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Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Updated: February 18, 10:02 AM ET
Kidd must steer this trade's direction

By Tim MacMahon

DALLAS -- Jason Kidd has never been more important to the Dallas Mavericks than now.

The deal that brought Kidd to Dallas two years ago didn't make the Mavericks contenders. Kidd holds the key to whether the immediate results of the Mavs' recent blockbuster deal will be different.

Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood, the two key pieces who arrived in the seven-player deal with the Washington Wizards, will probably play five games before their first practice with the Mavs. No matter how much they study, it's too much to expect them to execute Dallas' half-court sets and plays well.

The Mavs must rely on running and freelancing. Fortunately, that's what Kidd does best.

"It's a fun challenge," Kidd said after Wednesday night's 107-97 win over the Phoenix Suns at American Airlines Center.

The previous night -- when the Mavs shot a season-low 32.3 percent from the floor in a road loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder -- wasn't much fun. Kidd didn't want to hear any excuses after that ugly effort.

The Mavs would make this situation work, Kidd promised. The alternative isn't an acceptable option.

Kidd backed up his statement with arguably his best performance of the season, stuffing the box score with 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting, 10 assists, seven rebounds and a career-high seven steals in the victory over the Suns. He made sure the Mavs got on the run, which was the key to six Dallas players scoring in double figures.

"When you have a veteran leader and Hall of Famer running the point, it's easy for the other guys to get used to it," said Dirk Nowitzki, who scored 28 points. "Kidd is as smart a point guard obviously as there is."

And that's coming from a guy who is best buddies with Steve Nash, who dished out a dozen assists in the loss, which might have been Amare Stoudemire's Phoenix finale.

This is the style the Mavs want to play anyway. Their offensive problems come when they get too stagnant, too structured in the half-court.

The newcomers have absorbed about a third of the Mavs' thick playbook, according to coach Rick Carlisle, but the Mavs want to play out of flow as much as possible. That's easy when they can get in transition, which requires the type of defensive effort they displayed against the Suns (17 turnovers, seven blocked shots). In the half-court, they're relying on freelancing with certain parameters instead of calling a lot of set plays.

In other words, they're putting their trust in Kidd and playing high-IQ, veteran-savvy pickup ball.

"Keep the game simple," Kidd said. "Go to their strengths."

Butler struggles in paint

New Mav Caron Butler was money from mid-range, but it was a different story when he entered the paint.

Butler by Distance
Paint Mid-range
FG 0-5 6-11
FT 3-4 0-0
Points 3 12
Turnovers 2 0

It's Kidd's job to make sure the newcomers are comfortable. He enjoys the process of learning the intricacies of their game, like where and when they like to catch the ball.

And the ex-Wizards couldn't be happier to play with Kidd.

"Oh, my goodness, I've never had it this good," said Haywood, who had 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting, nine rebounds and five blocks in his first start for the Mavs. "I've never played with a pass-first point guard. It's great playing with him, because you know if you run and you're active, he's going to get it to you. That gives you more incentive."

Added Butler: "He's a Hall of Famer, one of the best to ever do it, and I love playing with a guy like that. He gives you that confidence and makes the game that much easier."

The Mavs' challenge of incorporating two new starters on the fly while fighting for playoff position in the West isn't easy. But with Kidd in control, it could be a lot of fun.

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