The Dallas Mavericks, conceding that the summer blockbuster deal they hoped to swing was increasingly unlikely to materialize, opted for a trade Tuesday that upgrades their front line while retaining some of their long-term financial flexibility.
After the Charlotte Bobcats backed out of an agreed-to trade with Toronto featuring Tyson Chandler, Dallas moved in to acquire Chandler and Alexis Ajinca from the Bobcats in exchange for Eduardo Najera, Matt Carroll and its vaunted Erick Dampier trade chip as well as undisclosed cash considerations.
Although it was initially believed that Dampier's $13 million nonguaranteed contact could help the Mavs get in the running for dream trade targets such as LeBron James or Chris Paul this offseason, Dallas was forced to revise its expectations when it found the actual pool of players available on the current trade market -- such as Al Jefferson -- to be mostly high-priced players who didn't automatically guarantee a clear upgrade to its roster.
So the Mavericks ultimately elected to part with Dampier's contract in this deal because the Bobcats were willing to reacquire Carroll, which removes $11.7 million in salary over the next three seasons from a contract Carroll originally signed with Charlotte in the summer of 2006. The trade thus allows Dallas to fill a major need -- by adding Chandler to the re-signed Brendan Haywood in its big-man rotation -- while maintaining a reasonably good combination of trade pieces and payroll flexibility in the event that a major trade opportunity does materialize in coming months.
"We ran out of options for this summer," said one Mavericks source.
Chandler and Caron Butler, though, represent two meaty expiring contracts for Dallas to keep offering for Paul to the resistant Hornets, who continue to tell teams that call that they have no interest in surrendering their All-Star point guard. The Mavericks will likewise be hoping that another certifiable star that isn't currently available surfaces as a potential trade option before the 2011 trade deadline in February.
One source close to the situation said that the Bobcats will consider keeping Dampier for the short term, instead of waiving him immediately, in case another trade opportunity presents itself. Charlotte still needs a point guard and, according to sources with knowledge of the team's thinking, has expressed interest in Minnesota's Ramon Sessions.
But if the Bobcats elect not to trade Dampier, they can release him at any point before the season and instantly wipe $13 million off next season's payroll. One source close to the situation said Tuesday that Dampier is unlikely to re-sign with the Mavericks, as one believed, in the event that he is waived by Charlotte or another team.
"You have to consider that contract is probably one of the most valuable contracts in the league," Bobcats general manager Rod Higgins said. "The flexibility is the beautiful part of having Erick's deal, maybe not so much for Erick himself as a player, but for the franchise itself."
On Monday, Chandler believed he was headed to Toronto with Bobcats teammate Boris Diaw and Phoenix's Leandro Barbosa in a proposed three-team deal with the Raptors and Suns. The Bobcats had agreed to trade Chandler and Diaw to Toronto for Jose Calderon and Reggie Evans as part of the Raptors' Hedo Turkoglu-for-Barbosa swap with the Suns.
But sources told ESPN.com on Tuesday that Charlotte withdrew from that trade largely for two reasons: Calderon has a 10 percent trade bonus in his contract (which has nearly $30 million remaining over the next three seasons) and Bobcats coach Larry Brown was not in favor of the deal.
While Higgins insisted the deal wasn't agreed upon, the Raptors seemed to think it was. Chandler wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press on Monday night that his agent had told him the deal was done, while Evans thanked Raptors fans on his Twitter page.
"I never talked to Boris. No one from the Bobcats talked to Boris about him in the trade," Higgins said. "I can't speak for anybody else."
When that trade collapsed, Dallas began pursuing Chandler, since it had just lost out to Utah in the trade hunt for Jefferson.
Sources with knowledge of the talks told ESPN.com on Monday that the Mavericks had reached the point in their Jefferson negotiations over the weekend that they were willing to include the Dampier contract as well as up to two conditional future first-round picks, as long as Minnesota also took back the contracts of Carroll and DeShawn Stevenson.
The Wolves, though, were determined to take back as little salary as they possibly could in a Jefferson deal and reached an agreement with Utah that will net them two future first-rounders and require the Jazz to take back no other players.
Dallas believes that Chandler, if healthy, can supply some of the interior defense and around-the-rim athleticism that this team has lacked for some time. Chandler played in just 50 games after the Bobcats acquired him from New Orleans for Emeka Okafor in the summer of 2009, averaging just 6.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks.
"We could not be more excited to add Tyson Chandler," Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said in a statement. "He is one of the most versatile big men in the league today. He gives our front line a defensive, shot-blocking, athletic punch we haven't had here in a while."
Ajinca joins the newly signed Ian Mahinmi on the Mavericks' list of project big men, while Charlotte prepares to either realize an instant savings of $13 million or offer around Dampier's contract to help find a point guard to replace New York Knicks signee Raymond Felton.
"Our main goal this offseason was finding a way to reshape this roster and position ourselves to compete beyond the first round of the playoffs and continue the momentum we have established," Higgins said. "While it's always difficult to give up key pieces of your team, we believe this deal will give financial flexibility and the ability to improve our team at the same time."
Also Tuesday, the Mavericks signed first-round draft pick Dominique Jones -- the 25th overall selection out of South Florida -- and finalized the deal for free agent Mahinmi, who averaged 3.9 points and 2.0 rebounds last season for the San Antonio Spurs.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.