The Dallas Mavericks opened the free-agent period early Wednesday by letting guard Jason Kidd know that they are prepared to sign him to a three-year deal, according to sources with knowledge of the negotiations.
The specifics to be determined in those talks center on the money, with the Mavericks believed to be proposing a deal in the $25 million range for the 36-year-old guard, and Kidd said to be seeking more.
Kidd also attended his scheduled Wednesday meeting at Madison Square Garden with New York Knicks president Donnie Walsh and coach Mike D’Antoni, who works with Kidd as an assistant coach with Team USA. Kidd has legitimate interest in the Knicks given his strong ties to the area after 7½ seasons with New Jersey and his fondness for D’Antoni, but Dallas can comfortably outbid New York.
It appears, though, that a resolution on Kidd’s future is unlikely before next week, as the Mavericks and Kidd continue to negotiate.
Although he declined to go into specifics, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said of his sitdown with Kidd in New York, which began at 12:01 a.m. ET on Wednesday: “It went well. Now we have to work out some details.”
The Dallas Morning News also quoted Cuban as saying that he is “very optimistic” about finalizing a deal with Kidd.
New York can offer only a contract starting at the projected midlevel exception of $5.6 million. Offering Kidd or any other free agent more than one year, furthermore, would likely cut into the salary-cap space that the Knicks have earmarked for the free-agent pursuit of Cleveland’s LeBron James in 2010.
But sources say that another prominent veteran free agent — Grant Hill — has also been invited to visit the Knicks early next week. Hill was to meet with Suns president Steve Kerr on Wednesday at his home in the Orlando area.
“The Knicks can’t give Jason more than one year,” one rival executive said this week, “unless they think that signing him gets them LeBron.”
In spite of the obstacles, sources said Walsh and D’Antoni went into Wednesday’s chat with Kidd feeling cautiously optimistic about their chances, even though Kidd has made it clear that he has no interest in one-year deals. If the Knicks did manage to lure him back to the Atlantic Division, finding a trade home for Eddy Curry or Jared Jeffries would become an even bigger priority than it is now, given New York’s well-chronicled desire to create the requisite flexibility to recruit two top free agents in the summer of 2010.
Lee’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, said he spoke to the Knicks late Tuesday night but had “nothing really new to report” late Wednesday afternoon. He expects interest in the power forward, who was third in the league in rebounding last season and topped the NBA with 65 double-doubles.
“We’re having substantial talks with different teams,” Bartelstein said.
Kidd averaged 9.0 points and 8.7 assists last season while earning nearly $21 million for a Mavericks team that won 50 games. After steamrolling San Antonio in five games in the first round of the playoffs, Dallas was eliminated in five games by the Nuggets.
He returned to the franchise that drafted him out of Cal in 1994 in a February 2008 multiplayer trade with New Jersey, which established Devin Harris as the Nets’ new lead guard. But the Mavs were ousted by New Orleans in the first round of the ’08 playoffs, with Kidd struggling to adapt to coach Avery Johnson‘s deliberate offense and Johnson losing his job after a second straight first-round exit following Dallas’ trip to the 2006 NBA Finals.
Kidd told reporters in Dallas at season’s end that he “would love to be back” with the Mavericks, insisting that he can play at least three more seasons. He’s third in league history in assists after 15 seasons.
“I’m not looking at [free agency] as … hitching on a bandwagon and jumping on with a team that’s a favorite,” Kidd said in May, disputing speculation that he is intent on signing with the Los Angeles Lakers or Cleveland Cavaliers to hook up with either Kobe Bryant or LeBron James from Team USA.
“I’m looking to help a team try to win a championship. Whether it’s here in Dallas or wherever it may be, I still feel that I have a lot to give to the game. I feel great and I thought I had a pretty good season. As much as everybody talks about my age, I still feel like I can compete at a high level.”