It looks as though Jason Kidd's start for the road team in the NBA All-Star Game was indeed his farewell to the Eastern Conference.
As long as the New Jersey Nets and Dallas Mavericks can clear one last trade hurdle.
The Nets and Mavericks are again on the brink of a deal that would send Kidd back to his original team, according to NBA front-office sources. The teams have reached an agreement in principle on the two major changes needed to save a blockbuster swap that appeared to be crumbling as recently as Friday. One source close to the process told ESPN.com that a conference call with the league to review the trade details is tentatively scheduled for Monday.
Nets president Rod Thorn passed word to reporters in New Jersey on Monday night through a team official that the trade "appears to be a go."
Asked in a pregame interview on TNT's All-Star broadcast Sunday whether he expects to be a Net or a Mav after the All-Star break, Kidd said his gut feeling is "that I would probably be in Dallas."
Another source, however, stressed that league approval of Keith Van Horn's inclusion in the trade is not a formality, creating one more obstacle for the teams to overcome to complete their second attempt to get a deal done.
"It's possible that [Van Horn] may be an issue," Nets president Rod Thorn told the Newark Star-Ledger on Sunday night.
Kidd told reporters after the All-Star Game that he will be waiting for an answer -- just like everyone else.
"There's a lot of talk that the deal is done," Kidd said. "I've heard that before. Until I get a call from Rod [Thorn] or Mark [Cuban], then it will be official."
That's because the league office, as seen earlier this month when the Los Angeles Lakers summoned Aaron McKie out of retirement to help them land Pau Gasol from Memphis, will not simply allow players like McKie or Van Horn to be part of a trade in name only. League sources told ESPN.com last week that the Gasol trade would have been disallowed had McKie not reported to Memphis to make himself available to play for the Grizzlies, meaning Van Horn would likely have to do the same.
But the league also doesn't appear to have an iron-clad policy on such matters. NBA president of league and basketball operations Joel Litvin told reporters in New Orleans on Saturday night that deciding whether to allow unofficially retired players like McKie or Van Horn to be thrown into a deal is judged on a "case-by-case basis." McKie's case might have been an even trickier one because he was working as an assistant coach for one team (Philadelphia) when the last team (Lakers) he played for called, needing him for a sign-and-trade with a third team (Memphis) for Gasol.
Dallas and New Jersey's reconfigured trade calls for Mavs swingman Trenton Hassell and Van Horn to be plugged into the trade in place of Jerry Stackhouse and Devean George. Van Horn is eligible to be signed and traded by the Mavericks because he never filed his retirement papers and because the Mavericks haven't renounced his rights.
If the newly proposed deal gets the league's sign-off, New Jersey would receive 24-year-old point guard Devin Harris, center DeSagana Diop, guard Maurice Ager, forwards Hassell and Van Horn, two first-round draft picks and $3 million in cash for Kidd and Nets forward Malik Allen. The draft picks would be in 2008 and 2010.
Dallas would have to release one player -- likely rookie forward Nick Fazekas -- to make roster room for signing Van Horn to a three-year contract, with only the first year guaranteed. The Mavericks, upon acquiring Kidd, are then expected to complete a separate deal with the Nets in which the Mavs acquire Antoine Wright for a future second-round draft pick.
Kidd, Allen and Wright were excused from the Nets workout Monday.
"I advised Jason, Malik and Antoine to stay home," Nets head coach Lawrence Frank said after the practice, which was attended by only seven healthy players. "Once there is closure with the whole situation, they'll either be with us or won't be with us. We decided to give it all another day. It's going to be one way or the other. We'll see what happens."
The Nets have apparently given their blessing to taking Hassell instead of Stackhouse from Dallas to remove one of the two last obstacles. The Mavericks have been pushing for that switch since Friday in the wake of Stackhouse's quotes Wednesday that gave the impression that the teams had already arranged for the Nets to immediately buy out the 33-year-old's contract so the Mavericks could re-sign him after a 30-day waiting period.
It was George, of course, who created the first major hurdle by unexpectedly blocking the trade Wednesday. Although he announced earlier this month that he would hope to be traded without a promise of more playing time in Dallas, George has resisted numerous attempts by both teams to get him to change his stance and accept the trade.
So Dallas has secured Van Horn's participation via sign-and-trade, according to team sources, to make up for the removal of George, who blocked his inclusion in the trade by citing a little-known league rule that prevents certain players with one-year contracts from being traded without their consent.
Agreement between the Mavericks and the Nets on Hassell and Van Horn, however, doesn't make it automatic that the league will approve Van Horn's role in the transaction. It's believed that Van Horn, who's been out of the game since the 2006 NBA Finals, will be required to leave his Colorado home, pass a physical and make himself available to play for the Nets as opposed to just collecting checks because he's eligible contractually to be added to the transaction.
Sources close to the Dallas-New Jersey trade talks said Sunday that it's not yet clear whether the league will seek to establish any sort of time requirement for how long Van Horn would have to stay with the Nets, with whom the 32-year-old began his career in 1997-98. But sources say Van Horn will receive an estimated $4.3 million for the rest of the season that will not be pro-rated if the trade goes through.
Litvin is one of the lawyers who will help NBA commissioner David Stern rule on this trade and touched on the case-by-case nature of these scenarios when he said Saturday, "If the guy gets there and 20 seconds later he gets cut and the guy is 55 years old, that's not going to pass muster. If the guy played last year, reports [to his new team], and plays and practices [like McKie], that will. Somewhere inbetween is a line that I can't define."
If Van Horn's inclusion is sanctioned, Cuban would still be saddled with a steeper financial hit than the first deal was due to inflict. The basis for that situation is because Van Horn would have to be added to Dallas' current payroll before the trade went into effect since Hassell makes less than Stackhouse this season ($4.35 million compared with $6.75 million). In addition to a much bigger luxury-tax bill that comes with acquiring Kidd, Dallas would also still have to pay the remaining salary this season for Stackhouse and George.
The revised deal could also wind up being more expensive for the Nets, who resisted the inclusion of Hassell until Sunday because his guaranteed salary in 2009-10 ($4.4 million) is more than twice as much as Stackhouse's guarantee that season ($2 million) and because Hassell might be less amenable to a buyout than Stackhouse.
At the trade's core, though, both teams appear poised to ultimately get what they wanted in spite of what seemed to be a growing list of obstacles.
The Mavericks would come out of the protracted negotiations with an elite veteran point guard for the first time since Steve Nash's departure in the summer of 2004. Kidd's arrival would create a foursome -- with Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard and Jason Terry -- to rival any star core in the West and a likely antidote to Dallas' well-chronicled troubles with mental toughness, confidence and leadership in back-to-back playoff humblings by Miami and Golden State.
The Mavs' most significant loss might prove to be Diop, who played a big role in their ride to the '06 Finals as half of a two-headed center tandem alongside Erick Dampier. This is an especially risky time to lose size in the West, after the Lakers landed Gasol and Phoenix's blockbuster move for Shaquille O'Neal. The Mavs, though, might draw at least a little consolation from the knowledge that they'd no longer have to worry about the league office potentially forbidding them from re-signing Stackhouse or launching a full-scale investigation, after numerous rival teams complained to Stern's office that Stackhouse's comments proved New Jersey and Dallas had struck a prearranged deal to get him back to the Mavs after a 30-day wait.
The bottom-line equation would stay the same for New Jersey as well. Thorn would be coming away with a highly regarded young Kidd successor in Harris, two expiring contracts (Diop and Van Horn) and the two first-round picks. The deal for the Nets sounds like a pretty good haul for a point guard who turns 35 in March and whose recent public disclosure that he thought it was time for the Nets to trade him could have weakened Thorn's bargaining position.
Asked whether he's confident the trade will go through this time, Thorn told the Star-Ledger: "Do I have confidence? After what's transpired the last two or three weeks ... I don't know what to say. I don't know. Let's just say we're having legitimate conversations."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. The Associated Press contributed to this report.