Jason Kidd has quietly -- and not so quietly -- hoped for a trade to the Dallas Mavericks all season.
And now Kidd has stronger-than-ever hope that the wish will be granted, according to NBA front-office sources.
Sources told ESPN.com that talks between the Mavericks and Nets, which had seemingly stalled, grew serious after the teams played Sunday night in New Jersey and have moved them to the brink of completing the NBA's third blockbuster deal of the month.
Although sources say that the teams are still sorting out final details, this deal was described as "imminent" by one source close to the process after negotiations moved to an advanced stage Tuesday night. The proposed swap -- salvaged from talks of a three-way trade with Portland that developed and fizzled quickly two weeks ago -- would require Dallas to send 24-year-old point guard Devin Harris, veteran swingman Jerry Stackhouse, the expiring contracts of center DeSegana Diop and swingman Devean George and another player such as guard Maurice Ager to New Jersey for Kidd and possibly veteran guard Darrell Armstrong. It's believed that Dallas would also send New Jersey cash and future draft considerations.
Dallas has been widely considered the most likely winner of the Kidd trade sweepstakes, despite the repeated attempts of Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to publicly dismiss the idea of parting with multiple regulars for Kidd. Cuban told several New York-based reporters Sunday before New Jersey beat Dallas that a deal for All-Star floor leader would severely weaken his roster.
"For us to make the numbers work in a deal like that, we'd have to trade away half the team," Cuban said. "We're not doing that, so it just doesn't work. And we like our team. We've got a lot of room for improvement and we hope to get better. But right now, I just don't see anything happening.
Yet sources close to the process insist that the talks have heated up in the past 24 hours, with the Mavs still tantalized by the prospect of bringing Kidd back more than a decade after the pre-Cuban regime drafted him out of Cal, watched him share rookie of the year honors with Grant Hill in 1994-95 and then traded him to Phoenix on the day after Christmas in 1996.
The Mavs' biggest reservation, though, isn't sacrificing Harris. Sources maintain that Dallas, while reluctant to part with one of Cuban's favorite players and its point guard of the future after signing Harris to a contract extension over the summer, has been resigned for some time to losing Harris if it meant getting Kidd back.
The greater hesitation, sources said, is that they would also have to part with Stackhouse and Diop, weakening Dallas' depth. Although it's believed that Stackhouse is likely to be bought out and released by the Nets, which would enable Dallas to re-sign him if he sits out for 30 days, there's no guarantee they can convince Stackhouse to resist the interest of other teams to return once he becomes a free agent. Losing Diop, meanwhile, is an even bigger blow, as that would leave the undependable Erick Dampier as the Mavericks' only veteran center at a time when potential playoff foes like the Los Angeles Lakers (Pau Gasol) and Phoenix Suns (Shaquille O'Neal) are getting bigger.
But Dallas appears more motivated than ever in spite of those concerns and the current lack of a third team to join in and broaden the trade, believing that Kidd -- although he turns 35 in March and is threatening to establish a new career low with his 36.7 percent shooting from the field -- is still a prime source of leadership and mental toughness.
Kidd displayed those qualities in abundance during a strong summer with Team USA and those areas are well-chronicled weak spots for the Mavs, who followed up a historic collapse to Miami in the 2006 NBA Finals with a first-round flameout against Golden State after winning 67 games last season. A point guard of Kidd's caliber, influence and experience would undoubtedly please the demanding Avery Johnson, reinvigorate a team that has been lacking energy and confidence and supply Dallas' coach with a dangerous four-man core of Kidd, Josh Howard, Jason Terry and reigning MVP Dirk Nowitzki.
Nowitzki is the player Kidd has had in mind when privately telling associates in recent months that he hoped to go back to Dallas. Although his desire to leave New Jersey had been suspected all season, Kidd didn't go public with that wish until late January, when he told ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher that it's time for him and New Jersey "all to move on" in separate directions.
Kidd was acquired by the Nets in the 2001 offseason in a trade with Phoenix featuring Stephon Marbury and sparked New Jersey to the most successful period in the team's NBA history, starting with back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003. After giving strong consideration to signing with San Antonio in the summer of 2003, Kidd elected to stay with the Nets. During the past four-plus seasons, however, New Jersey has not advanced past the second round of the playoffs, despite the 2004 arrival of Vince Carter and Kidd's successful recovery from microfracture knee surgery.
The Nets were prepared to deal Kidd to the Lakers at the trade deadline last season but pulled out of the deal when the Lakers refused to part with center Andrew Bynum, who has since blossomed. This deal would give them a highly rated point guard who's 10 years younger than Kidd and three cap-friendly contracts if the Mavericks indeed include Ager.
The Nets could come away with even more salary-cap relief if the Mavericks built their trade package around Harris and a signed-and-traded Keith Van Horn. Although he has been out of the game since the end of the 2005-06 season, Van Horn hasn't filed official retirement papers with the league, allowing Dallas to retain his rights. And because Van Horn's final NBA salary was nearly $16 million, Dallas can re-sign him for a substantial amount and thus create a lucrative expiring contract for the Nets, because only the first year of a contract must be guaranteed in a sign-and-trade arrangement.
Cuban, though, told ESPN.com last week that "we won't use [Van Horn] in any deal for anyone." That's because Kidd would cost the Mavericks nearly $40 million next season, thanks to the luxury tax, if they sent only Harris, Van Horn and salary-cap filler to the Nets.