Sources: Kidd's trade to Mavs could still happen, but may require Van Horn

Updated: February 15, 2008, 2:10 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

The trade expected to return Jason Kidd to the Dallas Mavericks remained in limbo Friday, with no indication at all that Mavericks forward Devean George is planning to rescind his right to block the deal.

But Nets president Rod Thorn acknowledged that New Jersey and Dallas are working to find a trade combination that can overcome the unexpected obstacles created by George's stance, as well as potentially damaging comments made by Mavericks swingman Jerry Stackhouse on Wednesday after the teams had agreed in principal to the trade.

"There are a lot of different scenarios that might be feasible," Thorn told reporters Friday after a news conference in New Orleans to announce the 2008 finalists for induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

At least two sources close to the process expressed optimism Thursday that the deal will be completed -- either in its original or a substitute form -- before next Thursday's NBA trading deadline. The sources said that, most likely, the deal could be done by the end of the All-Star break.

Sources say George's agent, Mark Bartelstein, and Thorn were in talks Thursday to clarify the Nets' plans for George, with Thorn hoping to convince Bartelstein and his 30-year-old client to abandon their resistance.

"It was totally unexpected," Thorn said of George's refusal to consent to the deal. Dallas was very apologetic that it happened. The guy asked to be traded [earlier this month]. Then all of a sudden he didn't want to."

Asked if a change of heart from George can restore the original trade, Thorn added: "We agreed to a deal. So, yeah."

But George hasn't budged after any of those discussions, according to team sources, and his position is no longer the only obstacle. Although there has been no public comment from the NBA on the matter, sources say that league officials are unhappy with Stackhouse's recent statements that he would soon return to Dallas for a Mavericks playoff run on the assumption that the Nets would quickly buy out his contract. The NBA's reaction could well be a harsh one, too, ranging from preventing Dallas from re-signing Stackhouse -- which could cause the Mavericks to pull out -- or eliminating him from the trade altogether.

The injury-hit Mavericks elected to start George on Thursday night against Phoenix for the second successive game, despite George's refusal to be included in the seven-player blockbuster Dallas agreed to with New Jersey to reacquire Kidd, who shared NBA Rookie of the Year honors with Suns forward Grant Hill in 1995.

After informing the Mavericks that he wouldn't give his consent to be thrown into a Kidd deal
-- a right afforded to George via a little-known league rule affecting certain players with one-year contracts -- George had suggested late Wednesday in Dallas that he was open to changing his mind.

"I don't think the trade is going anywhere," George told reporters after shooting 0-for-11 from the floor as a starter in a 20-point win over Portland on Wednesday, explaining that he wanted to hear more first from Bartelstein about the full ramifications of his decision before making a binding choice.

But after all-night talks with George, Bartelstein told ESPN.com on Thursday: "Devean is still inclined not to change his stance [and go to New Jersey], but the Mavericks and Nets have asked us to take today to reconsider everything and we said we'd do that."

Said Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, speaking to Michael Wilbon of The Washington Post and ESPN: "Devean George is a great guy. He's a pro. I like Devean George a lot. I think the world of him. If I'm involved in a real-estate deal, I listen to the lawyer who is working on my behalf. Devean is listening to his agent. It's not the first time I've been [in disagreement] with an agent and it won't be the last."

Sources close to the situation were increasingly pessimistic about whether George will eventually relent. That means that the deal can go through in only one of two ways at this point, sources say, even though it would be highly uncomfortable for both teams to try to go back to how they were.

The A scenario still has both teams holding out hope that George will give his consent.

Bird Rights: Explainer

The Mavs have the right to sign Devean George, right, this offseason, even though they are over the salary cap. This means he has Bird Rights, named after a similar scenario that involved Larry Bird during Bird's playing days.

Because George's current contract is for only one season, his rights are not transferable to another team (they would be transferable if his current contract were for more than one season). Since he would be losing those rights -- known as Early Bird Rights -- he has to consent to the proposed Mavs-Nets trade.

The fallback scenario is Dallas agreeing to sign-and-trade Keith Van Horn in George's place, capitalizing on the fact that the Mavericks still hold Van Horn's rights and the fact that Van Horn has not submitted official retirement papers to the league office since he last played in 2005-06.

Players who are signed-and-traded are required to receive a three-year contract, but only the first year must be guaranteed. Dallas could thus create an expiring-contract effect with Van Horn to match George's expiring contract, which is the main reason New Jersey is so adamant about having George in the deal.

Cuban has also been adamant about his refusal to play the Van Horn chip, as that would only add to the growing luxury-tax bill that this trade would inflict. "We won't use [Van Horn] in any deal for anyone," Cuban told ESPN.com last week.

Sources say that Cuban, though, has gradually softened that stance and is prepared to include Van Horn if George doesn't bow to the internal and external pressure he's receiving from his teammates, bosses and fans.

"There was never a deal," Cuban told Wilbon in the Post. "That's why I didn't get ahead of myself. That's why I never got all excited. Don Nelson always said that 99.9 percent of the deals that are discussed never happen. Everybody thought this was a done deal and it wasn't."

Asked if he thinks that the deal can be salvaged, Cuban said: "It depends on money and players. I don't know."

If the Mavs did go the Van Horn route, it's believed that they would not make the secondary trade agreed to in principal Wednesday with the Nets in which they'd send a future second-round pick to New Jersey for Antoine Wright.

And it remains to be seen if George can keep handling the pressure, after taking a stance that has floored numerous Mavs insiders, especially after George said publicly earlier this month that he hoped to be traded if his playing time didn't increase.

In the primary deal agreed to Wednesday, New Jersey would have sent Kidd and forward Malik Allen to Dallas for Harris, veteran swingman Jerry Stackhouse, center DeSagana Diop, guard Maurice Ager, George, two future first-round draft picks and the maximum allowable cash inducement of $3 million.

Sources say New Jersey would balk at any attempt by Dallas to substitute George with anyone other than Van Horn. The Nets have no interest in replacing him with veteran swingman Eddie Jones and rookie Nick Fazekas or Jones and veteran forward Juwan Howard because the contracts belonging to Jones and Fazekas don't expire at season's end like George's, slicing into the long-term payroll savings New Jersey seeks as part of its post-Kidd rebuilding package.

But a league source suggested Thursday that Van Horn, if included by the Mavericks, would have to physically report to New Jersey as opposed to just collecting new checks in retirement. It was not immediately clear if the Nets would then be able to waive Van Horn.

Sources say that the Los Angeles Lakers' recent acquisition of Pau Gasol was only approved by the league office when the retired Aaron McKie -- who was working as a volunteer assistant coach with Philadelphia when the Lakers called to inform him that they had to sign him and throw him in for salary-cap reasons -- agreed to join the Grizzlies.

George's ability to put the league's third blockbuster trade this month on hold stems from the league's collective bargaining agreement as opposed to a no-trade clause. The Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant is the only player in the league with a specific no-trade clause in his contract.

But salary-cap rules dictate that players on a one-year contract -- but who also ended last season with the same team and are thus eligible for Early Bird or full Larry Bird free-agent rights at the end of the contract -- cannot be traded without their consent. George, who earns $2.4 million this season, is one of 18 such players in the league at present, afforded the right to either approve or veto trades because those Bird rights are lost if they do get traded.

On Wednesday, Bartelstein said: "We're not trying to block anything. The issue is that if he agrees to this deal, he has to give up his Bird rights. To lose that tool in today's world of free agency is a difficult thing to do.

"In this day and age, the sign-and-trade is a valuable tool that I don't want to lose for Devean. We're not trying to cause a problem. Teams have to do what's in their best interest. Sometimes players do, too. I hate to cause grief, but I have to do what's best for Devean. It's not a power play. My job is to protect him."

Yet it is difficult to envision a scenario where George will truly benefit by preserving that "tool." While it's a common perception that Bird Rights are something owned by players, they are actually conveyed to the team, which enables the team to exceed salary-cap limitations in re-signing such players.

But if George's resistance ultimately prevents Dallas from completing this deal -- which was so close to completion that the Nets held Kidd out of their game Wednesday in Toronto -- what are the chances that the Mavericks will be generous with George in the offseason, either by re-signing him at a higher salary or by putting him in a sign-and-trade deal that would help him land a bigger contract with another team? Not likely.

Bird Rights are "worthless" to George, according to one Western Conference executive, without the Mavericks' co-operation.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. ESPN.com's J.A. Adande contributed to this report.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics