2-13-08 - Jason Kidd appeared headed to the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday -- until Devean George's contract got in the way.
George was supposed to be among the players headed to New Jersey, but he blocked it by not wanting to give up his "early Bird rights," a provision earned by being in his second year and on his second contract with the Mavericks.
Under the NBA's collective bargaining agreement, a player who has "early Bird rights" at the end of a contract -- like George has this year -- has veto power over a trade because he'd lose those rights if dealt. By keeping them, Dallas could exceed the salary cap to re-sign him.
"We're not trying to hold things up or be difficult, but just like teams make tough decisions all the time -- about cutting players or making trades -- they do what's best for their team, and it's my obligation to do what's best for Devean," his agent, Mark Bartelstein, said Wednesday night.
"You don't want to stop teams from doing their business, but we don't feel like it makes sense at this time. He's starting right now and things are going pretty good."
It was not immediately clear whether this was just a snag or a deal-breaker.
Kidd was supposed to be the centerpiece of a deal that reportedly was to send George, emerging point guard Devin Harris, veteran Jerry Stackhouse and reserves DeSagana Diop and Maurice Ager to the Nets, with forward Malik Allen going from New Jersey to the Mavericks.
Nets coach Lawrence Frank was even talking about life without his All-Star point guard prior to his team's 109-91 loss in Toronto.
"I love him. He's a very special person, but it's time for both him and the organization to part ways," Frank said. "We're giving up a Hall of Fame point guard and some good role players. If this deal goes through, we'll be receiving some very good players as well and a new era of Nets basketball will start because Jason is that significant a player."
Kidd, Allen and reserve Antoine Wright were made inactive for New Jersey's game in Toronto, which seemed logical in preparation for a deal.
But in Dallas, George started against Portland and Diop came off the bench -- indications a deal may not be imminent. Harris, Stackhouse and Ager were inactive, but that's because Harris and Stackhouse are hurt and Ager is in the NBDL.
Still, before the game, Stackhouse talked openly about moving on -- or, rather, not going anywhere. He indicated the Nets would buy out his contract, enabling him to re-sign with Dallas in a month.
"Getting bought out, if that happens, my first choice would be to come back to Dallas. I'm settled in, just bought a house," he said.
Stackhouse added he was only part of the trade "to make the numbers work."
Bartelstein said George's decision was not to avoid going to the Nets. When asked if something might still be worked out, he said, "We're not going to draw a line in the sand."
A move for Kidd is an indication the Mavs are in a win-now mode. He is 10 years older than the 24-year-old Harris, but also far more ready to lead a team on a title hunt. Dallas has been close in recent years, losing in the NBA finals in 2006, then winning 67 games last season before flaming out in the first round.
Mavs officials have been reluctant to shake up their roster, but a recent slump and the moves by conference rivals may have helped change their minds. It's worth noting that while team owner Mark Cuban has a reputation of being a risk-taker, Kidd would be the first front-line player he's traded for since getting Antoine Walker in October 2003.
"I think Devin has a lot of upside, but Jason Kidd is the type of all-league point guard our teams needs," Stackhouse said. "We just need a jolt. Adding a player like him can re-energize a team, hopefully."
Dallas and New Jersey were in serious talks about Kidd earlier this month. Stackhouse said it was almost nailed down Tuesday night, then called off, only to be revived again Wednesday morning.
The West is as competitive and deep as it's been in years, with several upstarts joining the perennial powers. The Lakers got the trade game going by plucking Pau Gasol from Memphis, then last week Phoenix traded for Shaquille O'Neal. San Antonio also has added point guard Damon Stoudamire to its rotation.
Dallas (34-17) was tied with the Lakers for the third-best record in the West going into Wednesday night's game, but was coming off two ugly losses -- one against Kidd and the Nets on Sunday. Their recent slide was partly because Harris has been out with an ankle injury.
"It's been kind of stagnant all season," Stackhouse said. "I think you just try to find the right piece. Maybe this is the right piece that really helps our team, that gets our scorers easy opportunities. Getting Pau or Shaq wouldn't have helped that case. Getting a point guard, that gets you easy opportunities. It solves that issue for us."
Kidd broke into the league in 1994-95 when Dallas made him the third overall pick. He was voted co-Rookie of the Year, but the club was such a mess it was better known as the Mav-wrecks. In fact, it was the trade of Kidd to the Phoenix Suns in December 1996 that persuaded ownership to lure Don Nelson out of retirement, a hire that ultimately put Dallas back among the NBA's elite clubs.
He went to New Jersey before the 2001-02 season, then led the Nets to the NBA finals in each of his first two seasons. But they haven't gotten past the second round of the playoffs since. With the club well under .500, he's been looking to get traded for months.
Although Kidd turns 35 on March 23, he's still among the league's best point guards. He's averaging 11.3 points, 10.4 assists and 8.1 rebounds -- the assists and rebounds are both second-best in his career. However, he's shooting a career-low .366 from the field.
Kidd's specialty is making others around him better, which is exactly what Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks have lacked since letting Steve Nash leave as a free agent after the 2003-04 season.
Harris has gotten better in each of his four seasons, helping him earn a five-year contract worth roughly $42 million before this season. However, he's nowhere near the distributor Kidd is.
Diop will be a free agent after this season. Ager, in his second year, never broke into the rotation.