Mavs chased Harris as much for trade value as depth

Much-needed speed in the backcourt. Character they can already vouch for. And zero fear that he could function well next to Jason Kidd.

Those were some of the reasons that the Mavericks, as we’ve been saying here since January, registered interest with New Jersey in reacquiring Devin Harris via trade.

But not the biggest reason.

Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that the standout justification for chasing a reunion with Harris played out Wednesday morning, when the Utah Jazz stunned the entire NBA by dealing Deron Williams to New Jersey for a package of assets co-headlined by the former Mav.

The Mavericks, though, were among the league’s least surprised by this blockbuster development. Why? Mavs officials have known, going back to when Harris was Dallas property, that the Jazz were fans of his.

See where this is going?

Like most rival teams, Dallas believed that Utah wouldn’t even consider D-Will trades until closer to the draft, given that Jerry Sloan resigned only 13 days ago and figuring that the Jazz didn’t want to go through two major shakeups so quickly after two decades of stability. So the plan, sources said, was making a hard run at acquiring Harris now not only to make the Mavs deeper for the stretch run and playoffs … but also to have a prime piece to offer Utah in June in a potential D-Will deal.

That’s why the Mavericks – who have taken a general posture of swearing off the trade pursuit of players such as Stephen Jackson, Rip Hamilton and Gerald Wallace because of the long-term contracts they possess – weren’t afraid to take on the two years and nearly $18 million left on Harris’ contract after this season. They were convinced that Harris would not only help in the short term in three-guard lineups with the likes of Kidd, J.J. Barea and Jason Terry but also appeal to the Jazz as a trade chip at season’s end.

Sources say Dallas was likewise convinced that the market for Harris would always be good – even if Utah didn’t want him in June and even in the more restrictive new landscape forthcoming in the next labor agreement – because he’s a 27-year-old lead guard with a good resume and a salary under $10 million. Unlike the swingmen we just listed.

Utah, though, clearly didn’t want to wait to start over. And New Jersey, frankly, has a lot more to offer in terms of immediate assets to send to the Jazz, as evidenced by the multiple lottery picks and inclusion of Derrick Favors with Harris that torched Dallas’ dream scenario.

The Mavs’ fantasy only could have developed into something tangible if: (A) Utah wanted to take its time before deciding to end the D-Will Era; and (B) Dallas managed to take Harris back from New Jersey now so it had a prime chip to plug into multi-team scenarios down the road. Sources confirmed Wednesday that the Nets were demanding a future first-round pick and rookie guard Dominique Jones, along with the expiring contract belonging to the out-for-the-season Caron Butler, in exchange for Harris … but it suddenly sounds like a small price to pay now knowing how high Utah is on Harris.

None of the above, mind you, means that the Mavs have to completely abandon their dreams of luring Williams – who starred in high school at The Colony – back to the Metroplex. The Nets only have him under contract for one more season, so expect Dallas to remain on the short list of teams with New York that get brought up whenever D-Will’s future comes up … until the Nets get the 2012 free agent signed to a contract extension or he’s traded again.

Yet it’s safe to say that the Mavs would have liked their chances better if they had reacquired Harris this week, three trade deadlines removed from dealing him to New Jersey originally.