By Marc Stein
Stephen Jackson got unexpectedly close to one of the teams on his wish list late Sunday night when the Dallas Mavericks checked into the same Milwaukee hotel that Jackson's Golden State Warriors are leaving Monday afternoon.
From Wisconsin it's on to another stop that will surely get Jackson's mind racing: Cleveland.
The Warriors visit the Cavaliers for the only time this season Tuesday night, bringing Jackson into direct contact with the team that NBA front-office sources say remains the most interested in trading for him. Discussions between Cleveland and Golden State have been ongoing, sources said, but it's believed that the Cavs are still in evaluation mode when it comes to going through with a Jackson deal.
Cavs general manager Danny Ferry is a Jackson fan dating to their days as teammates in San Antonio. We've already established that LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal, behind the scenes, have expressed their support for the trade. It appears, though, that Ferry is still assessing his team at this early juncture, weighing Cleveland's improving play as well as the pros and cons of trying to work in a dominant (and sometimes difficult) personality like Jackson in the middle of the season. There's also the matter of taking on Jackson's three-year contract commitment after this season worth nearly $28 million. Those factors should explain why the Cavs have likewise looked seriously at lower-key signings such as Antonio Daniels or Jamaal Tinsley, whom Cleveland auditioned last week before Tinsley decided to sign with Memphis.
Yet there is a new wrinkle to pass along while we wait to see if this is the week that the Warriors can manufacture the exit both they and Jackson are more than ready for. Sources told ESPN.com that one scenario the teams have discussed would involve the signing-and-trading of Cavs alumnus Wally Szczerbiak -- most likely packaged with troubled guard Delonte West -- in a deal for Jackson.
Szczerbiak is a free agent after the Cavs elected not to re-sign him and recently underwent a minor knee surgery. But the 32-year-old has not ruled out trying to make a comeback this season and would appear to be fully eligible to be plugged into a deal by the Cavs in a manner similar to Dallas' signing-and-trading of Keith Van Horn in February 2008 in the Mavericks' complicated trade to re-acquire Jason Kidd.
The league office would undoubtedly mandate that Szczerbiak has to report to the Warriors if that scenario came to fruition, just as it required of the retired Van Horn in the Kidd trade. Cap-wise, however, Cleveland has the ability in a sign-and-trade to sign Szczerbiak to a three-year deal with only this season guaranteed and then send him to Golden State, thus creating an expiring contract for the Warriors that furnishes them with payroll relief without having to include center Zydrunas Ilgauskas in the deal.
Determined to stockpile as much size as it can for the playoffs and preserve its Shaq insurance, Cleveland doesn't want to part with Ilgauskas unless it's getting back Ronny Turiaf as well as Jackson or unless Golden State planned to waive Ilgauskas, which would theoretically allow Big Z to re-sign with Cleveland after a 30-day wait. The Warriors, though, don't want to include Turiaf in any deal and don't have enough depth, thanks to long-term injuries suffered by Brandan Wright and Kelenna Azubuike, to just send away proven NBA players.
But Golden State, as noted in the latest Weekend Dime, is not averse to acquiring West in spite of the considerable off-court tumult in West's life already this season. Not when West can be bought out of next season's $4.5 million salary for a mere $500,000 as long as he's waived by Aug. 2, 2010.
Dealing Jackson for a Szczerbiak-West combo, depending what other minor pieces might be added to the deal from both sides, would at least relieve Golden State of a financial burden in future seasons in exchange for their former captain. Given the in-house tension that has been generated by Jackson's trade demand late in the summer, Jackson's subsequent two-game suspension early in the exhibition season after a sideline blowup with coach Don Nelson during the exhibition season and the recent blasting of Nelson by Jackson's agent Mark Stevens, payroll relief must sound pretty good to the Warriors.
The bigger obstacle would appear to be the Cavs' willingness to make such a bold move so early, no matter what form the deal takes, since any desperation Cleveland was feeling after its 0-2 start was undoubtedly eased by last week's road sweep of Orlando and Miami.
That said ... Cleveland does take somewhat of a risk by waiting. Another Jackson suitor could emerge with a firm offer while they deliberate.
Denver and Charlotte are among the teams that have engaged in Jackson discussions with Golden State but without getting to the brink of a trade. San Antonio has resisted getting involved to date despite some inevitable curiosity about trying to bring Jackson back. As for the Mavericks -- one of the teams on Jackson's original wish list along with Cleveland, New York, Houston and San Antonio -- they continue to tell the Warriors that they will not be making an offer for Jackson even though Josh Howard is still sidelined indefinitely.