- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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But team sources insist that Gooden's trade-friendly contract was never intended to be more conducive to package in a deal.
Only $1.9 million of Drew Gooden's $4.5 million salary was guaranteed coming into the season. The rest of Gooden's contract officially becomes guaranteed Sunday, but the actual date of consequence was Wednesday, because that was the last day Gooden could have been released in time to clear waivers to make the Sunday deadline.
Because of the partial guarantee in the one-year contract, teams faced with worrisome luxury-tax bills -- such as New Orleans, Utah and Denver -- undoubtedly were attracted to it before it became fully guaranteed. A team that acquired Gooden and then released him by Wednesday could have realized far greater savings than by acquiring a standard expiring contract.
The reality, though, is those deadlines haven't been a matter of much focus in the Mavericks' front office.
One source with knowledge of the team's thinking says the partial guarantee in Gooden's contract essentially was included to give both sides a natural, early-season bailout amount in case either party felt the experiment wasn't working and wanted to sever ties.
Greg Buckner had a similar contract for this season when the Mavericks reacquired him as part of the four-way trade in July that netted Shawn Marion, but they elected to waive Buckner before the season as opposed to keeping him around as a trade chip.
Gooden's case is different. The Mavs are relieved to have him for the season, as evidenced this week when coach Rick Carlisle spoke glowingly about how hard Gooden "pursues the ball" whether it's off the boards or on the floor and applauded him for embracing the new "challenge" of regularly coming off the bench.
Gooden hasn't been an every-night force and did not displace Erick Dampier as Dallas' starting center, as was widely forecasted coming into the season. But he certainly has helped the Mavs win a few games, most recently in Denver, where he supplied a crucial 19 points and 10 rebounds in Dallas' victory over the Chauncey Billups-less Nuggets.
In his 10 starts, Gooden is averaging 10.9 points and 10.7 rebounds.
It remains possible that Gooden, with an expiring contract, still could be thrown into a deal between now and the league's Feb. 18 trade deadline. But sources say the Mavs' recent trade pursuits mostly have been end-of-the-roster discussions aimed at reducing their luxury-tax bill, primarily involving little-used reserve forward Kris Humphries.
Parting with Gooden would likely only happen if the Mavs get a big man in return who can immediately upgrade the position. Truth is Dallas had zero remorse seeing Wednesday pass and knowing the rest of Gooden's salary for the season would be guaranteed ... for a few reasons:
The Mavs have been pretty pleased with the center combo of Gooden and Dampier, who is basically in a contract year with next season's $13.1 million salary fully unguaranteed. "We haven't been this stable at the five spot in years," said one team official.
Gooden won't have full Larry Bird rights with the Mavericks this summer, but the maximum raise they can offer if both sides want to continue the relationship is a healthy 120 percent on Gooden's equally healthy $4.5 million salary-cap number. That should give the Mavs good odds of re-signing Gooden if they want to -- given the difficult market for many free agents in this down economy -- without having to touch any of next summer's midlevel exception.
We repeat: If a can't-resist trade materializes between now and the trading deadline, Gooden remains a helpful trade chip even at a fully guaranteed $4.5 million, although the 28-year-old does have a 5 percent trade kicker in his contract.
Gooden, meanwhile, insists that the fact he'll have to return to the free-agent market in six months isn't weighing on him.
"I've been in so many different places and teams with high expectations," Gooden said recently. "On every team I did what I was supposed to do. No matter what they say, I always found a way.
"I'm gonna play my ass off this year, hopefully go deep in the playoffs and then we start all over with the business side. Rebounding and playing my ass off, I will always do that."
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNDallas.com.