The next few days should determine whether the Mavericks and Williams get what they want.
With the Phoenix Suns putting all their focus on young players, Suns management waived the veteran power forward Wednesday so Williams, 35, can join a contender in the West. According to league sources, Williams wanted to be waived as long as he ended up with the Mavericks.
The snag is that Williams has no guarantee Dallas would be the only team that claims him, and salary-cap complications prevented Phoenix from simply trading him to the Mavericks. Dallas already has put in a waiver claim on Williams, who will be awarded to the claiming team with the worst record after a 48-hour window that ends at 6 p.m. ET on Friday. The Mavericks, though, are worried that the Los Angeles Lakerswill also claim Williams after announcing that Karl Malone will likely be sidelined until mid-March. As of Thursday night, the Lakers were still considering the Williams option.
According to league rules, waiver claims are based on the record at the time of the player's release. Although the Lakers leapfrogged the Mavericks in the Western Conference standings after Wednesday's games, Dallas had the higher winning percentage (.644 to .634) at the time Williams was waived. Which means that the Lakers would get Williams if both teams claimed him.
League sources told ESPN.com on Tuesday that Williams' agent, Arn Tellem, was "working to ensure that other teams (besides Dallas) don't claim him." When Williams was released at 6 p.m. EST on Wednesday, according to sources, all indications still pointed to Dallas being the only team planning to claim him.
Williams has said that if he can't choose the team that secures his rights, he'd prefer to finish the season on the Suns' bench. The Lakers, though, might also appeal to Williams as an 11th-hour option, since he played for coach Phil Jackson on the first three of Chicago's championship teams. Williams, ironically, was unintentionally responsible for Malone's knee problems, falling into him on Dec. 21 to leave Malone with the first long-term injury of his 19-season career.
It's doubtful Williams' role would be that broad, especially since he'd be joining the Mavericks halfway through the season, but head coach Don Nelson could always use an extra sage on his bench as well as the added size. Shawn Bradley is starting to work his way back into Nelson's rotation, but Nowitzki has been forced to log more minutes at center than Dallas had hoped because of Bradley's and Danny Fortson's injuries and ineffectiveness.
Dallas has held one roster spot open all season for Arvydas Sabonis. After two failed attempts to convince Sabonis, who's playing in Europe, to return to the NBA one last time, the Mavericks see Williams as an attractive -- and unexpected -- alternative. Had the Suns not struggled early, leading to the firing of coach Frank Johnson and then the trade of franchise point guard Stephon Marbury, they wouldn't have considered waiving Williams. He can still be productive. He has played in only 16 games so far this season but averaged 7.3 points and 4.5 rebounds in 16.7 minutes per game.
It's inevitable that the Mavericks also will continue to be linked in trade speculation with Portland's Rasheed Wallace, after the teams' recent discussions and with the Feb. 19 trading deadline still three weeks away.