But the sides still don't have a done deal, sources said, despite the fact that Dallas has somewhat eased its stance on the inclusion of Erick Dampier's lucrative non-guaranteed contract in a trade for Jefferson.
It also appears that the Mavericks have some fresh competition for Jefferson from the Utah Jazz.
Sources told ESPNDallas.com that the Mavericks would ultimately consent to part with Dampier's $13 million contract in a Jefferson swap if the Wolves also agree to take on the contracts of DeShawn Stevenson and Matt Carroll, thereby lessening the financial hit Dallas faces by absorbing the three years and $42 million remaining on Jefferson's deal.
But Minnesota, determined to take on as little salary as possible in a Jefferson deal, has thus far resisted Dallas' attempts to include Stevenson and Carroll in trade discussions. Sources said that the Wolves, even if they do eventually accept Stevenson and Carroll, would insist on two conditional future first-round picks if those players are included.
Sources said the Wolves, furthermore, are also receiving sustained interest in Jefferson from the Jazz, who have a trade exception created by their recent Carlos Boozer sign-and-trade with Chicago is large enough to take in Jefferson's contract.
It is unclear, though, what other assets Utah would be willing to part with in a Jefferson deal after losing Boozer and Kyle Korver in free agency and with a decision looming on whether to match the five-year, $34 million offer sheet Portland has tendered to Jazz guard Wesley Matthews.
Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson acknowledged in a radio interview Friday with 103.3's "Galloway & Company" that he is still "actively" trying to score with the Dampier trade chip. But Nelson also confirmed an ESPNDallas.com report from earlier Friday that the possibility is growing that Dallas won't use it.
"We're not just looking for reasons to get players that aren't going to help us," Nelson said. "It wouldn't make sense if we all of a sudden got some fossil at the end of his career and it cost us $10 million, plus tax, and he didn't crack the rotation.
"We've got that [Dampier] chip. It's a valuable one. We're actively in discussions, but we'll pull that trigger [only] if it makes sense and we can take a significant step forward."
The Mavericks have been forced to adjust their expectations with regard to moving Dampier, after fruitless attempts to include the veteran center's contract in the long-shot of LeBron James via sign-and-trade and Dallas' longstanding interest in trying to pry Chris Paul away from the New Orleans Hornets.
Any team that acquires Dampier in a deal can release him instantly and wipe $13 million off its books because the contract is fully non-guaranteed for next season. Yet it appears that Jefferson might be the most accomplished player Dallas can acquire at this point, with New Orleans still telling teams -- as it has for months -- that Paul is not available.
Jefferson is just 25 and would instantly rank as the best low-post scorer Dallas has seen since Mark Aguirre, but there are lingering health concerns after a knee injury that cost him almost half of the 2008-09 season.
Despite the fact that Jefferson was the centerpiece of its trade with Boston in July 2007 that sent Kevin Garnett to the Celtics, Minnesota has been heavily shopping Jefferson to ease a frontcourt logjam that got even more crowded Thursday when the Wolves acquired former No. 2 overall pick Michael Beasley from Miami. The Wolves, in addition to Beasley, still have Kevin Love at power forward and have signed two centers (Darko Milicic and Nikola Pekovic) in free agency.
Sources say that the Mavericks have warmed to the idea of surrendering the Dampier asset to gamble on Jefferson as long as they can shed the Stevenson (one season left at $4.1 million) and Carroll ($11.7 million over the next three seasons) contracts. That would spare them from the undeniably disappointing alternative of getting nothing for what Dallas has regarded as its best trade asset this offseason. Dirk Nowitzki clearly still needs more help to keep this team in the Western Conference elite.
Dallas also likes the idea of having Jefferson and the re-signed Brendan Haywood to throw at the Lakers in a theoretical playoff series against the two-time defending champions, but the reality is that neither player is prepared to embrace a sixth-man role, which could give the Mavericks pause.
Mavericks coack Rick Carlisle and Nelson have cited depth at power forward and center as the team's biggest need now that it has secured Nowitzki (four years, $80 million) and Haywood (six years, $55 million) to long-term deals.
"We'll try to address that backup 4 and 5 and try not to give up a lot doing it," Nelson said.
Marc Stein covers the NBA for ESPN.com. Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.