Mavs have mild interest in Jefferson

Updated: June 29, 2010, 5:16 PM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

The Dallas Mavericks' search for help to support star forward Dirk Nowitzki included inquiries about Minnesota Timberwolves center Al Jefferson prior to last week's NBA draft, according to sources close to the situation.

Sources with knowledge of the Mavericks' thinking, however, told ESPNDallas.com that Jefferson is a "down the list" target for the team who is unlikely to be pursued further until after Dallas makes a series of sign-and-trade bids for top free agents.

Two sources said the initial round of Mavs-Wolves discussions never got beyond the preliminary stage. Minnesota still wants more than mere salary relief for Jefferson, and Dallas is not willing to part with any of its prime trade assets -- such as Erick Dampier's $13 million non-guaranteed contract -- to acquire a player with proven low-post scoring skills but a troubled injury history.

Sources with knowledge of Minnesota's thinking told ESPN.com's Marc Stein that the Wolves are determined to move Jefferson before the start of next season, seeing Kevin Love as a better (and more cost effective) fit. The prospect of pairing Jefferson and Nowitzki, though, would create some of the same issues that the Timberwolves face defensively when Jefferson and Love play together.

Jefferson has three years and $42 million left on his contract and has averaged 19.1 points and 10.5 boards over the past four seasons.

Jefferson is just one of a number of potential targets Dallas looked at in a broad attempt before the draft to improve a roster that couldn't prevent a first-round loss to San Antonio. Conversations with various teams -- which included turning down Chicago's offer of Luol Deng for Dampier's contract, as reported by ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard -- ultimately resulted in the Mavericks making only one significant draft-day move, when they sent $3 million to Memphis for the No. 25 pick and the right to draft University of South Florida guard Dominique Jones.

As for now, the Mavs' sights are on Wednesday night's 11:01 p.m. start of the free-agent bonanza. With several key assets in hand, starting with Dampier's massive contract and Caron Butler's expiring contract, Dallas is prepared to take a swing at the top-tier free agents through sign-and-trades, its lone avenue to acquire a big-money free agent.

The Mavs' first priority is to quickly secure a verbal commitment from Nowitzki, who officially opted out of the final year of his contract on Tuesday and is set to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.

Dallas then hopes to use Nowitzki to sell LeBron James or Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh on the Mavs, although Dallas is relegated to dark-horse status with all three. The Mavs also have targeted Atlanta shooting guard Joe Johnson, among others.

The Mavs also need low-post help. Eduardo Najera is the only power forward on the roster behind Nowitzki and the Mavs could lose Dampier and center Brendan Haywood, who will be seeking a considerable raise from last-season's $6 million salary as an unrestricted free agent. The 6-foot-10, 265-pound Jefferson, 25, was recently considered the cornerstone of the Minnesota franchise. Drafted 15th overall by the Boston Celtics in 2004, Jefferson was the centerpiece in the deal that sent Kevin Garnett to the Celtics. The Timberwolves signed Jefferson to a five-year, $65 million extension in 2007.

While Jefferson and Nowitzki might not be the most desirable pairing to defend the rim, Jefferson would give Nowitzki the low-post scoring complement he's lacked throughout his career, as well as reduce the rebounding burden on Nowitzki, who celebrated his 32nd birthday this month.

Minnesota is willing to part with Jefferson because he and Love are similar, below-the-rim post players who haven't shared the floor well. Jefferson's name has been attached to plenty of trade speculation and will continue to be as the offseason moves forward.

"There will be a lot of interest in Al," one source insisted.

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com. ESPN.com senior writer Marc Stein contributed to this report.

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