The growing feeling among league executives that the Dallas Mavericks are the most likely winners in the Jason Kidd trade sweepstakes is even stronger now.
Reason being: Within 24 hours of Kidd saying that it's time for him and the New Jersey Nets "all to move on" in separate directions, New Jersey and Dallas engaged in advanced trade discussions with Portland on a three-way deal that would land Kidd back with the team that drafted him in 1994.
Such a trade would involve at least a dozen players, cash sweeteners and future draft picks. In a breakdown of the most noteworthy principles, Portland would land Mavericks guard Devin Harris and possibly Mavs forward Brandon Bass, New Jersey would receive draft and financial considerations, Dallas' Jerry Stackhouse and a trio of young prospects from Portland (Travis Outlaw, Channing Frye and Jarrett Jack) while the Mavericks would score Kidd.
The talks were very active Tuesday, as reported Tuesday night on ESPN2's "NBA Coast to Coast" by ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard. But dialogue between the three clubs had cooled Wednesday to the point that sources close to the situation described them as "pretty much dead."
But another source insisted that the deal still has life and noted that the "pretty much" disclaimer leaves open the possibility that the dialogue can be reheated to Tuesday's levels, especially since the league's Feb. 21 trading deadline is still three weeks away. And what most observers considered to be one of the biggest obstacles for New Jersey and Dallas to either moving or acquiring Kidd -- finding the third team they needed to broaden the deal -- might be less of an impediment than anticipated if Portland could be recruited so quickly.
Some reluctance from the Blazers, sources said, is one of the factors that has stalled the talks. In addition to the short-term concerns about the ankle injury that has sidelined Harris, Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard told The Oregonian newspaper last week that "we're not making any trades" to break up a roster of youngsters that rebounded from Greg Oden's season-ending injury to rank as the biggest surprise team so far in a league filled with surprise teams. Sources say Portland has been shopping Jack on his own, but parting with three or four players is something else, with guard Sergio Rodriguez also potentially involved. Outlaw's development, furthermore, is one of the stories of the Blazers' season.
The Mavericks, meanwhile, might also have some hesitation, even knowing that Kidd has made it clear behind the scenes that a return to Dallas and the opportunity to play alongside
Dirk Nowitzki is his preferred outcome, ahead of a move to Cleveland to play with Team USA teammate and close friend LeBron James.
Sources say Dallas is resigned to the fact that it won't be able to reacquire Kidd -- 1994-95's co-Rookie of the Year with Grant Hill as a Mav but who left town in acrimonious circumstances less than two seasons later -- without parting with Harris, who's a fan and Mark Cuban favorite as well as a 24-year-old point guard having by far his best season.
The initial scenarios discussed by the teams, however, also would require Dallas to part with either Bass or center DeSagana Diop. Both are critical role players in the Mavericks' system. Bass ranks as the most effective backup Nowitzki has ever had and Diop operates as one half of the center tandem with Erick Dampier that has been successful against San Antonio and Tim Duncan.
The Mavs, if the deal goes through, would be undertaking the aggressive renovation that many critics have been calling for since they followed up a 67-win regular season with a first-round exit to Golden State last season. Although there would obviously be some risk giving Harris' job to a quarterback who will be 35 in March, Dallas is undoubtedly seduced by the idea of enhancing the scoring abilities of Nowitzki and Josh Howard. Kidd's arrival would likewise address Dallas' team IQ and mental toughness issues after back-to-back epic collapses in the playoffs, first to Miami in the 2006 NBA Finals and then to Golden State.
Yet another potential snag here is that the Nets naturally hope to come out of a Kidd deal with at least one young star. The closest thing to a young star in the scenarios discussed so far -- Harris -- would be going to Portland.
But Outlaw is on the rise, too. Outlaw and Frye, furthermore, are athletic prospects who come with salary cap-friendly contracts in addition to the two future first-round draft picks New Jersey would also likely receive. It's believed that the Nets would immediately buy out Stackhouse and release him if the proposed deal wound up going through.
Yet it seems safe to expect that a Kidd deal involving these three teams will likely happen quickly or fade to all the way dead sooner rather than later. New Jersey has been dealing with speculation about Kidd's future dating to last February's trade deadline, when Kidd was nearly dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers. "But Dallas and Portland," said one source, "won't want this [trade speculation] to linger because then it starts affecting their teams."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.