The Dallas Mavericks, after striking verbal agreements over the past few days to retain Jason Kidd and sign restricted free agent Marcin Gortat to an offer sheet, have identified their next target: Shawn Marion.
The Mavericks and Toronto Raptors, according to NBA front-office sources, are in advanced discussions on a sign-and-trade deal that would bring Marion to Dallas.
No trade appeared imminent Monday night, largely because this will be a difficult deal to complete without a third team to help make the salary-cap math work. But Dallas has emerged as the most determined suitor and perhaps the best option for Marion, who appeared to be heading for a new deal with the Raptors last week when Toronto succeeded in wooing Hedo Turkoglu away from the Portland Trail Blazers with an 11th-hour bid on Friday after Turkoglu had committed to the Blazers.
If the Mavericks and Raptors can find a third team to help facilitate the trade, sources say that former All-Star guard Jerry Stackhouse will almost certainly be headed to the Raptors in the exchange. Stackhouse is scheduled to earn $7 million next season at age 34, but only $2 million of his salary is guaranteed as long as he is waived by Aug. 10.
"For sure," one source close to the process said of Stackhouse's involvement. One big issue, though, is that even buying Stackhouse out for $2 million would force Toronto to shed $2 million somewhere else from its payroll to finance its Turkoglu signing.
Even if a new suitor winds up joining Dallas in the chase, Marion's options for landing a contract that starts above the projected mid-level exception of $5.8 million next season would appear to be exhausted without a sign-and-trade involving the Raptors. Neither Portland nor Oklahoma City -- teams that still have cap space to burn -- are expected to make him an offer.
Sources say that the Cleveland Cavaliers, despite their recent pursuits of Trevor Ariza and Ron Artest and a well-chronicled need for a combo forward, are not making a hard push for Marion. Any offer Cleveland can make to the 31-year-old could not start above the mid-level exception, with the Cavs well over the cap.
Marion earned $17.8 million last season and was traded for the second straight February when Miami sent him to Toronto in a swap for Jermaine O'Neal. He went from Phoenix to Miami one year earlier in the Shaquille O'Neal trade.
The Raptors were intent on re-signing Marion if they couldn't win the Turkoglu sweepstakes, seeing late-season signs of promise in Marion's collaboration alongside Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani. It's believed that Raptors president Bryan Colangelo will try to help Marion if he can do so without affecting the Turkoglu acquisition, having drafted Marion for the Suns in 1999.
Toronto would likely have to renounce its rights to Marion, Anthony Parker and Carlos Delfino to create the requisite salary-cap space to sign Turkoglu unless trades such as the Dallas deal materialize.
Mavs owner Mark Cuban has said for months that he was prepared to be as aggressive as possible this summer as opposed to waiting for the free-agent bonanza of 2010, when Dallas was initially expected to have substantial cap space. Beating out regional rivals Houston and San Antonio to get a verbal commitment from Gortat and then trading for Marion, along with retaining Kidd, would significantly increase the Mavericks' depth in a critical season, with Dirk Nowitzki possessing the right to test the 2010 free-agent market.
Orlando retains the right to match any offer sheet to Gortat but are generally expected not to match. Sources say that the Mavericks, meanwhile, are determined to keep Josh Howard even if a trade for Marion can be worked out, with Howard also entering the final year of his contract. It was not immediately clear whether Dallas will be forced to add draft considerations to the cash payment Toronto is certain to seek to cover some or all of the cost of Stackhouse's buyout.
One potential drawback for the Mavericks is that Marion would be yet another key member of their core over the age of 30, joining Nowitzki (31), Kidd (36), Jason Terry (31) and Howard (who turns 30 next April).
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.