Sources: NBA examining Mavs trade
The Dallas Mavericks continue to plan for the addition of former All-Star sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic early next week. But the trade to create a roster spot for Stojakovic, according to sources close to the talks, is in limbo after being placed on hold by the NBA.
Although the Mavericks and Raptors continue to express confidence that the trade sending little-used center Alexis Ajinca to Toronto will ultimately be approved next week, league officials spent Friday examining the deal for salary-cap compliance after complaints from a few unspecified teams postponed a trade call originally scheduled for Thursday night to ratify the deal.
The trade was regarded as such a formality Thursday that Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, as captured by TNT's cameras, went so far as to sit Ajinca down to tell him he had to go back to the team's hotel in Chicago after the third-year center had already arrived at the United Center in advance of Dallas' eventual loss to the Bulls.
Sources insisted Friday that the Mavericks remain on course to sign Stojakovic as soon as he clears waivers following the 33-year-old's buyout Thursday from the Raptors. He'll officially become a free agent Monday -- which is the NBA's first business day after Stojakovic clears waivers this weekend -- and has already given a verbal commitment to the Mavericks that he intends to sign with them.
The Mavericks and Raptors maintain that the deals involving Stojakovic and Ajinca were struck independently of each other, but the delay stems from what sources say are protests from a few contending teams that Dallas and Toronto arranged to couple the two transactions to swap Stojakovic for Ajinca, which would not be permissible under league rules. In the event that the league strikes down the proposed trade, Dallas would have to waive a player to create a roster spot for Stojakovic or perhaps find another trade destination for Ajinca.
Sources said Stojakovic's fast commitment to go to Dallas was likewise greeted with dismay by contending teams in both conferences that had interest in signing him. But sources also confirmed Friday that the Mavericks were granted permission by Toronto to start speaking to Stojakovic's agent, David Bauman, shortly after Caron Butler's season-ending knee injury in anticipation of Stojakovic's eventual release. That led to Stojakovic's quick decision, sources close to the situation said, because playing in Dallas is his first choice.
The possibility of a buyout was established by Raptors president Bryan Colangelo almost immediately after Stojakovic was acquired from New Orleans in a Nov. 20 deal that landed Jarrett Jack, David Andersen and Marcus Banks with the Raptors, when Colangelo publicly acknowledged that the lure of acquiring Stojakovic was purely his $15 million expiring contract and lauded Stojakovic for waiving a trade bonus of nearly $440,000 to enable the trade go through.
The Toronto Sun reported Friday that Colangelo said attempts to move Stojakovic in a subsequent trade were unsuccessful, leading to Thursday's buyout.
The Mavericks, meanwhile, began shopping Ajinca almost from the moment he arrived this past summer as a throw-in to make the salary-cap math work in Dallas' deal with Charlotte for center Tyson Chandler. Although the Mavs like Ajinca's shooting touch for a big man, they have three centers ahead of him -- Chandler, Brendan Haywood and Ian Mahinmi -- and promised Ajinca's agent, Dallas-based Bouna Ndiaye, months ago that they would try to find a new home for his client.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said Thursday that he had rejected numerous Toronto trade inquiries for Ajinca during the course of the season. But with team officials scouring the league for small forwards to fill Butler's void and impressed by Sasha Pavlovic's performance Wednesday night as a surprise starter with 11 points in a win over the Lakers on the last day of his 10-day contract, Dallas now prefers trading Ajinca instead to ensure that it has the roster room to keep Pavlovic while pursuing Stojakovic. Pavlovic was signed Thursday to a second 10-day deal and will have to be signed for the remainder of the season or let go when the 10-day window expires.
The proposed deal with the Raptors calls for the Mavericks to send them Ajinca, cash considerations to cover the remainder of Ajinca's $1.5 million salary for the season and return a future second-round pick that Toronto had sent Dallas during the 2010 draft last June. In return, Dallas would receive the rights to 2007 second-round pick Georgios Printezis (who plays in Spain and is no longer considered an NBA prospect) and create trade exception equal to Ajinca's $1.5 millon salary along with the open roster spot needed to sign Stojakovic.
ESPN.com reported Thursday that Stojakovic is determined to return to the Western Conference and join a playoff contender once he clears waivers and becomes a free agent, with the Mavericks at the top of his list along with the Los Angeles Lakers and a potential return to New Orleans.
But Dallas was always Stojakovic's preference, according to sources close to the veteran swingman, since the Mavericks have minutes to offer at small forward in the wake of Butler's injury and given their well-chronicled need for weakside shooting to flank franchise forward Dirk Nowitzki. Playing in Dallas also will enable Stojakovic to live within short flying distance of his wife and children, who remained in New Orleans after he was dealt to the Raptors.
Yet it remains to be seen how much Stojakovic will be able to contribute after missing the past 26 games with a sore left knee.
The 13-year veteran appeared in only two games with Toronto after the Nov. 20 trade, but Stojakovic did leave an impression on the Mavericks by scoring 17 points in 19 minutes in Dallas on Nov. 15, just days before New Orleans sent Stojakovic and Jerryd Bayless to Toronto for Jack, Banks and Andersen.
Stojakovic made three All-Star appearances as a member of the Sacramento Kings and sports a career success rate of 40.1 percent from 3-point range. Ajinca, 22, averaged 2.9 points, 1.7 rebounds and 7.5 minutes in 10 games for the Mavericks. The 7-foot-2 center was selected No. 20 overall by Charlotte in the first round of the 2008 draft.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.