Mavs 'looking hard' at trade options

The Mavericks continue to evaluate their options in advance of the Feb. 18 trade deadline and continue to be regarded as one of the few “buyers” out there.

Which is another way of saying that Dallas is seen by other teams around the league as one of the few potential trade partners willing to take on some significant salary before the buzzer sounds.

Said one source with knowledge of the Mavs’ thinking: “They are looking hard.”

But they are also still strongly weighing whether it’s smarter to keep Josh Howard past the trading deadline. That would preserve the option to package Howard (who becomes an $11.8 million expiring contract for 2010-11 once his team option is picked up) with Erick Dampier (whose $13.1 million salary next season is fully unguaranteed) as a combo-pack of assets for an offseason trade splash.

The comments from Mavs owner Mark Cuban last weekend in New York seemed to indicate that hanging onto Howard -- even if it’s just for the long-shot possibility that Dallas could emerge as a sign-and-trade destination for one of this summer’s marquee free agents -- holds great appeal.

"You know, every team wants to get better,” Cuban told reporters Sunday. “And you look at the best guys in the league and you say, 'What gives me an opportunity to add them to my team?' Some people want cap room, some people think sign-and-trade. So it just depends. We'll see. You just never know. You never know.”

I took that as not-so-veiled backing of what we wrote back in November, when the Mavs were listed as No. 5 on a list of five teams most capable of landing LeBron for next season. Even if the odds of a sign-and-trade for someone from the LeBron/Chris Bosh stratosphere in July are small, Dallas will be undeniably tempted to preserve every possibility for a miracle, especially when you can legitimately question whether anyone it can acquire during the next three weeks can really close the gap between the Mavs and the mighty Lakers.

Dallas’ interest in Sacramento’s Kevin Martin was last week’s big trade topic, but the Kings keep saying that Martin is not available. And while Washington’s Caron Butler and Philadelphia’s Andre Iguodala are most certainly available, one plugged-in source insisted this week that the Mavs have real reservations about trading Howard for Butler and are hesitant regarding Iguodala as well largely because of the four years and $56 million left on the Philly swingman’s contract after this season.

The Mavs, remember, were reluctant back in November to take on the contract of Stephen Jackson, who wanted so badly to come to Dallas before Golden State traded him to Charlotte . . . and who would have been half as expensive as Iguodala.

The impact Jackson has had with the Bobcats actually leads you to wonder how much the Mavs now regret their refusal to gamble on Jackson, but recalling the reasons behind that reluctance helps explain why I’ve been advised more than once this week that Iguodala – as it stands with three weeks to go before the deadline – appears unlikely to be Dallas-bound.

Is there time for that stance to change?

Another pertinent question: Would Iguodala’s all-around game as a perimeter sidekick to Dirk Nowitzki – infused with the sort of defensive prowess Dallas has historically lacked -- move the Mavs close enough to the Lakers’ zip code to justify the expense? Some NBA personnel experts would say yes, but more would say no.

Which might only give Cuban more encouragement to hang onto to both of his biggest chips at this trading deadline and save his assets for the summer, knowing that any substantial deadline move would almost certainly require the inclusion of Howard.

"We always try to position ourselves to be opportunistic and we think we've got some scenarios that we can be that way," Cuban said Sunday. "So we'll see."