Jason Kidd was excused Monday night from the New Jersey Nets' first practice after the All-Star break and is already scheduled to travel to Texas on Tuesday, according to sources deeply involved in the seemingly interminable Kidd trade talks.
Nets president Rod Thorn, meanwhile, sent word to reporters in New Jersey through a team official that the Kidd-to-Dallas deal "appears to be a go."
Those are the clearest signs yet that the Nets and the Dallas Mavericks, after a flurry of obstacles, will soon complete the second of two trades they've hashed out to send Kidd back to his original team.
Perhaps no NBA swap has ever tested the never-done-until-it's-done maxim more than this one, heading into Day 7 of the trade limbo that has ensnared the Nets, Mavericks and Kidd. But the teams, sources say, indeed have a conference call lined up for early Tuesday with league officials to go over the binding trade details after Keith Van Horn appeared to have clinched the deal Monday night with his highly anticipated sign-off.
Those details: Kidd and forward Malik Allen will be going to Dallas for 24-year-old point guard Devin Harris, center DeSagana Diop, swingman Trenton Hassell, guard Maurice Ager, Van Horn via sign-and-trade, first-round picks this June and in 2010 and $3 million in cash. In a separate transaction, Dallas will acquire Antoine Wright for a second-round pick.
After a roller-coaster Sunday in which the teams believed they were on the verge of a done deal -- yet again -- and then came away from All-Star Weekend with renewed fears that Van Horn wouldn't want to meet the league's stipulations for his inclusion or couldn't actually bring himself to leave his family and business interests in Colorado, sources say Van Horn and his agent David Falk spent much of Monday giving assurances to NBA officials that the 32-year-old will make a genuine attempt to make a comeback with the Nets.
Sources close to the process insist, however, that the league has not imposed any time requirements for staying with the Nets that Van Horn must meet to collect the full $4.3 million he's scheduled to receive for the rest of the season. Sources say Van Horn -- much like Aaron McKie in Memphis after the Pau Gasol deal on Feb. 1 -- merely had to convince the league office that he will indeed report to New Jersey and that he's serious about resuming his career after nearly two years out of the game.
It's believed that both the Mavericks and Nets also lobbied hard to contest what they feared for much of Monday to be stricter demands, knowing that the league doesn't have an iron-clad policy on such matters or any mention of this scenario in its current labor agreement. 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, but no less an authority than NBA president of league and basketball operations Joel Litvin acknowledged Saturday in New Orleans that deciding whether to allow unofficially retired players like McKie and Van Horn to be added to a trade is judged on a "case-by-case" basis.
McKie might have been a different case anyway, since the Los Angeles Lakers had to extricate the 35-year-old from a coaching job in Philadelphia before signing-and-trading him as part of their package for Gasol. It's also a misnomer to suggest that Van Horn's career was ever over, as he and Falk have long maintained since the player's departure from the NBA after the 2006 Finals with Dallas that they considered it more of an open-ended break after playing for five teams in a span of five seasons. They always left open the possibility that the 6-foot-10 forward would return. In each of the past two offseasons, Van Horn has rebuffed considerable interest from free-agent suitors to enjoy his private life after a lucrative nine-year career.
"It's a very aberrational situation," Falk said earlier Monday, referring to the roller-coaster nature of the Kidd trade as well as the depiction of Van Horn coming out of retirement at 32 to save a trade that bails out two of his former teams.
"He's a man of very high integrity and a family man with a lot of responsibilities. So it's matter of trying to find a comfort level with this decision."
The weekend's uncertainty surrounding Van Horn was the third major stumbling block to a deal that dribbled between imminent and going away since last Wednesday. That's when Dallas and New Jersey reached an agreement in principle on the original seven-player deal, only for Devean George to unexpectedly prevent the Mavericks from including him in the deal, citing a little-known rule that prevents certain players with one-year contracts from being traded without their consent.
Eyebrow-raising comments from Jerry Stackhouse about returning to Dallas in 30 days after the trade went through then prompted the Mavericks to insist that Stackhouse be pulled out of the trade, requiring Dallas and New Jersey to make two major alternations.
Step 1 was Dallas and New Jersey agreeing that Hassell would replace Stackhouse. Step 2 will require Dallas to release rookie Nick Fazekas on Tuesday to create a roster spot for Van Horn and then sign-and-trade him in George's place. Van Horn is eligible for that maneuver because he never filed his retirement papers and because the Mavericks never renounced his rights.
As a result, Kidd might be able to make his Mavericks return as soon as Wednesday night in New Orleans, after sharing NBA Rookie of the Year honors with Grant Hill in 1994-95 and leaving Dallas in acrimony less than two seasons later in a trade with Phoenix.
Doing the deal this way to bring Kidd back after all these years will cost Mavericks owner Mark Cuban $11-plus million more this season than the maiden version of the trade that included George and Stackhouse, courtesy of payroll rises and luxury-tax costs. But it means that Dallas again has an elite-level point guard for the first time since the contentious departure of
Steve Nash in the summer of 2004 and puts Kidd alongside Josh Howard, Jason Terry and reigning MVP Dirk Nowitzki in one of the most impressive cores in the wilder-than-ever West.
The Mavs' most significant loss in the deal 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. Dallas, though, simply couldn't pass on the chance to address its well-chronicled issues with mental toughness, confidence and floor leadership with one move after two of the most humbling playoff exits in league history.
Although they both downplayed it during All-Star Weekend, sources say Nowitzki became even more tantalized by the idea of being teamed again with a point guard from Nash's class after his brief interactions with Kidd in New Orleans. Kidd, for his part, couldn't stop himself after Sunday's game from referring to Nowitzki as "my teammate" already.
But the bottom-line equation appeals to the Nets as well, even after all the complications. Thorn will 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.
"I have a new future to look forward to," Harris said, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I'm looking forward to having a little bit more control, a little bit more freedom over there. I love my teammates here, so it's mixed emotions, but I'm excited about the new challenge."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.