The San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks are the three teams that most intrigue Jason Kidd as possible destinations if he demands a trade from the New Jersey Nets, league sources told ESPN.com.
Kidd was on the verge of leaving New Jersey and signing outright with San Antonio in July 2003, but sources indicate that the Spurs -- on top of concerns about Kidd's surgically repaired left knee -- now feel they lack the financial flexibility to bring Kidd in via trade after re-signing Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili and adding Rasho Nesterovic and Brent Barry over the past two summers.
The Lakers, meanwhile, don't appear interested in taking on Kidd's contract, sources said, since a Kidd-Kobe Bryant backcourt partnership would keep L.A. well over the salary cap for the rest of the decade.
One source close to Kidd said there's a belief in the point guard's camp that Dallas' Mark Cuban is the only owner out there who'd be willing to absorb the five years and $90 million-plus left on the deal Kidd signed last summer ... and with Kidd expected to miss the start of the season after microfracture surgery on the 31-year-old's left knee on July 1.
The Mavericks' interest is by no means certain, though. Dallas declined to offer Steve Nash more than $36 million over four guaranteed seasons in part because of fears that the 30-year-old could not physically handle a longer contract, prompting Nash to sign with Phoenix. Re-acquiring Kidd, who was drafted by the Mavericks in 1994, would potentially cost them more long-term than Dallas' recent attempts to trade for Shaquille O'Neal. Kidd would likely have to prove his health to the Mavericks before even a gambler such as Cuban would take that risk.
Yet unlike the Spurs, who presently lack trade-friendly contracts, Dallas and the Lakers have trade assets that could satisfy the apparent cost-cutting intentions of incoming Nets owner Bruce Ratner ... and enough leftover talent on their rosters to contend for the championship after adding Kidd.
The Mavericks can package the expiring contract of former Eastern Conference All-Star forward Antoine Walker and promising swingman Josh Howard in a swap for Kidd. The Lakers have two expiring contracts (Gary Payton and Rick Fox) and more than one inexpensive young player (Kareem Rush and Luke Walton) to offer the Nets if they change course and decide to pursue Kidd.
The bigger unknown is how New Jersey would respond to a trade demand. Ratner could refuse and attempt to rebuild the franchise around Kidd and Richard Jefferson. But it's believed that Kidd has no interest, at his age, in a rebuilding project. As leverage to force a trade, Kidd could attempt to draw out his recovery from knee surgery, increasing the chances that the Nets will struggle early next season and encounter even more trouble than expected attracting fans to Continental Airlines Arena as a Brooklyn-bound lameduck.
Holding off San Antonio to re-sign Kidd last summer was supposed to bring stability to the Nets and cement them as an East power after back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals. New Jersey has instead seen nothing but tumult in the year since, starting with release of Dikembe Mutombo and the failed comeback Alonzo Mourning, the center Kidd urged the Nets to sign. The firing of coach Byron Scott soon followed, in spite of Kidd's season-long knee troubles, and the tumult continued after a brief renaissance under new coach Lawrence Frank, ending with a second-round playoff exit. Since then, the controversial ownership change and Martin's departure in a sign-and-trade with Denver have sparked fears that Kidd will try to force his way out.
NBA commissioner David Stern, who attended Team USA's scrimmage Friday at the University of North Florida, disputes the notion that the Nets are simply dumping assets to cut costs.
"In some ways, I think you now see the Nets following the Denver model," Stern said. "Where you have draft picks and cap room and a key player or two, and you build the team around that over time."
Although Ratner's ownership group has not been formally approved by the league, Stern said he expects the approval in the near future. Stern added that a specially appointed finance committee was likely to vote on Ratner's group by Monday at the latest and then forward their recommendation to the NBA's Board of Governors for final approval.