The Dallas Mavericks' first step in free agency was conveying to Jason Kidd at the first allowable minute that they are prepared to sign him to a three-year deal believed to be in the region of $25 million.
The New York Knicks, meanwhile, have readied their own offer to Kidd to match the Dallas contract ... at least in length.
Sources close to the process told ESPN.com on Wednesday night that Knicks president Donnie Walsh has decided that he will indeed make a three-year offer to Kidd, even though having such an offer accepted would almost certainly slice into some of New York's projected salary-cap space for the highly anticipated free-agent bonanza in the summer of 2010. That would put additional pressure on Walsh to shed the contract of either Eddy Curry or Jared Jeffries -- or both -- between now and February to ensure that the Knicks have the sort of cap space needed to pursue LeBron James in free agency.
Yet it appears that Walsh and Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni are convinced that they need the unique presence of someone like Kidd -- whom they met with face-to-face Wednesday and who remains at 36 one of the league's most respected players among his peers -- to help attract top free agents in 2010.
"I think it'd be helpful to have successful players who can impart what it takes and what you have to do in order to win," Walsh told the New York Times after hosting Kidd for a Wednesday morning visit. "And our team hasn't won in a while, so I think that'd be helpful."
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban met face-to-face with Kidd in New York at one minute past midnight Wednesday and came away "very optimistic" about Dallas' chances of retaining him. It appears, though, that a resolution on Kidd's future is unlikely before next week, with the Mavericks and Kidd still negotiating financial terms and with the Knicks refusing to concede.
Cuban declined to go into specifics about his meeting with Kidd, saying only: "It went well. Now we have to work out some details."
The reality for the Knicks is that even a three-year offer to Kidd could only start at the $5.6 million mid-level exception and top out at around $18 million. The Mavericks can increase their offer if necessary, with Kidd believed to be seeking at least $30 million over three years.
"The Knicks can't give Jason more than one year," one rival executive said this week, "unless they think that signing him gets them LeBron."
In spite of the obvious obstacles, sources said Walsh and D'Antoni came out of Wednesday's chat with Kidd feeling cautiously optimistic about their chances. But Kidd -- even though he has ties to the area after 7½ years with the Nets and well-chronicled fondness for D'Antoni -- has made it clear that he has no interest in one-year deals. The Times reported that the Knicks' presentation to Kidd included a personalized video and a team jersey with his name and number, as well as a preview of the Garden's proposed renovation and many references to Walt Frazier and Willis Reed.
"I think that playing at Madison Square Garden in front of the New York crowd would be special for him," Walsh told the newspaper.
But Walsh also added: "I don't know that I'm optimistic or pessimistic. It's a fairly unusual situation."
ESPN.com reported earlier Wednesday that another prominent veteran free agent -- Grant Hill -- has also been invited to visit the Knicks early next week. Hill was to meet with Suns president Steve Kerr on Wednesday at his home in the Orlando area.
In addition to reaching out to free agents such as Kidd and Hill, New York also has two in-demand restricted free agents of its own: David Lee and Nate Robinson. New York's hopes of concocting a way to hang onto Lee appeared to receive a boost late Wednesday when the Memphis Grizzlies, thought to be one of the few teams with cap space willing to sign Lee to an offer sheet, verbally agreed instead to acquire ex-Knick Zach Randolph from the Los Angeles Clippers for Quentin Richardson.
Kidd averaged 9.0 points and 8.7 assists last season while earning nearly $21 million for a Mavericks team that won 50 games. After steamrolling San Antonio in five games in the first round of the playoffs, Dallas was eliminated in five games by the Nuggets.
He returned to the franchise that drafted him out of Cal in 1994 in a February 2008 multiplayer trade with New Jersey, which established Devin Harris as the Nets' new lead guard. But the Mavs were ousted by New Orleans in the first round of the '08 playoffs, with Kidd struggling to adapt to coach Avery Johnson's deliberate offense and Johnson losing his job after a second straight first-round exit following Dallas' trip to the 2006 NBA Finals.
Kidd told reporters in Dallas at season's end that he "would love to be back" with the Mavericks, insisting that he can play at least three more seasons. He's third in league history in assists after 15 seasons.
"I'm not looking at [free agency] as ... hitching on a bandwagon and jumping on with a team that's a favorite," Kidd said in May, disputing speculation that he is intent on signing with the Los Angeles Lakers or Cleveland Cavaliers to hook up with either Kobe Bryant or James from Team USA.
"I'm looking to help a team try to win a championship. Whether it's here in Dallas or wherever it may be, I still feel that I have a lot to give to the game. I feel great and I thought I had a pretty good season. As much as everybody talks about my age, I still feel like I can compete at a high level."
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.