Trade talk: Mavs’ master plan takes a hit; Devin Harris on the block

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Tuesday was not a good day for the Dallas Mavericks, or their master plan.

The defending champions opened the second half of the season with a 93-92 home loss to the New Jersey Nets. Dallas played without forward Lamar Odom, still away from the team as he tends to a personal issue.

Despite their championship pedigree, the Mavs played with little urgency, trailing for most of the night and turning on the switch only when the game needed to be reeled in. That couldn’t have left a positive vibe on Nets guard Deron Williams, one of their offseason targets.

And Dallas was dominated inside by Brook Lopez, who scored an eyebrow-raising 38 points. Lopez is considered the key piece in any trade New Jersey makes in an effort to land Orlando Magic superstar center Dwight Howard, another one of Dallas’ offseason targets.

In all, there was plenty of intrigue and speculation swirling around the American Airlines Center on Tuesday night.

From Kevin Brolan of HoopsAddict.com: Another fire of a story burns bright as the league trade deadline nears. In case you haven’t heard, New Jersey point guard Deron Williams, who has long flirted with comments of how he wouldn’t mind playing back in his hometown of Dallas, is a free agent this summer. As has been thoroughly covered by most forms of local and national media, the Dallas Mavericks haven’t exactly been secretive of their plans to chase Williams, and Dwight Howard for that matter, this summer. Nets coach Avery Johnson made a few waves yesterday after mentioning how Dallas would probably be aggressive in pursuing Williams this offseason, but backed off those remarks before Tuesday’s game. “I believe (Williams) has every intention of re-signing with (New Jersey),” Johnson firmly stated after clarifying some of the comments he made yesterday that he believes were misconstrued by the media. Still, that didn’t do much to keep most of North Texas dreaming and the rest of the nation wondering what a Dirk/Deron/Dwight trio would look like. Local media like DallasBasketball.com all the way up to Sports Illustrated scrambled for blueprints on potential possibilities for formation of what would be the latest “Super Team.”

Johnson’s backpedaling obviously toes the company line.

But there may be another reason he believes Williams will remain with the Nets.

From Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News: “I talked to Williams’ younger brother Friday. Kendall Jones is a senior starting guard for The Colony’s boys basketball team, which will play in the Class 4A Region I quarterfinals tonight. I asked the talented Jones where he will play college basketball next season and found his answer interesting as it relates to what Williams might do come the offseason. Jones said he will attend a prep school in New Jersey next season “and I’ll see where it goes from there.” Jones said that Williams has only been able to attend one of his high school games in four years because of his busy NBA schedule. “He wants me to be closer to him so he can help me and watch some of my games,” Jones said.

As we touched on Tuesday, the Mavericks need a lot of dominoes to fall in their favor to land both Howard and Williams. Some are personnel-related, some are financially related, and many are entirely out of their control.

However, it was assumed that their plan could work if they held a fire sale on their roster, dumping everyone except Dirk Nowitzki and the kids under rookie deals.

But Zach Lowe of SI.com took out his calculator, and his math might surprise you: “There is no way I or anyone else I chatted with can see Dallas being able to offer both of these guys max-level contracts. Both would have to take a pay cut if they decide to sign with Dallas together, and that pay cut multiplies over the years. Over a four-year contract that starts at $15.95 million and carries the maximum 4.5 percent annual raises that Dallas can offer, Williams and Howard would earn about $68.2 million each over four years. Howard could earn about $81.27 million on a max-level four-year deal from a non-Orlando team with cap room to offer one — or from Dallas, if the Mavs decide to only offer one huge deal instead of two. Williams could earn about $73.49 million on such a deal over four years. The four-year haircut isn’t so severe for Williams — about $5 million total — but it’s quite severe for Howard. The tax situation in Texas can offset some of that, and the Mavs can also offer the appeal of Nowitzki, a well-liked and very successful coach in Rick Carlisle, first-class facilities, a popular owner, a creative front office and a long track record of winning. But they cannot offer the max to both guys.”

Among matters they cannot control, the Mavs may have caught a break Tuesday as ESPN Radio’s John Ireland reported that Howard and agent Dan Fegan have told the Lakers that he will not sign an extension if he were traded to Los Angeles.

However, their inability to control Lopez’s dominance of the paint was not good. If Lopez – who returned just last week from a broken foot – starts putting together monster games like this, he might just convince the Magic to take him back in a deal that sends Howard to the Nets.

Howard’s list of teams he would sign an extension with are down to the Nets and Mavs (and the Magic, who remain somewhat viable in this mess). But that short list hasn’t stopped other teams from inquiring about the big man.

NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper tweeted Tuesday that Golden State – believed not to have a sniff at re-signing Howard – nevertheless continues pushing: “Warriors continuing push for Dwight Howard deal even without DH commitment to re-signing. Not backing off from risky move, source says. … Biedrins has zero trade value, so GSW offer has to be 3-4 key pieces. Imagine moving Monta, Klay, others and DH walks. But Dubs staying in.” (Hat tip to Ball Don’t Lie)

Although considered a long shot, the Magic are still in the picture because the new CBA allows them to pay Howard significantly more money over a longer deal than any other team.

They also are considered contenders, although the belief is they would have to bulk up their roster to make a serious run.

Which is exactly what Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel is suggesting: “Nobody wants to see Dwight Howard traded — not the franchise, not the fans, not the media (contrary to public opinion). So, we’re approaching the 11th hour, two weeks before the trade deadline and maybe the Magic can attempt a Hail Mary pass, if Dwight’s open to it. Can Otis Smith pull off a trade to save the franchise and keep Dwight? Does he have enough assets?”

One thing is for sure – it is becoming less and less likely that Howard lands with the Lakers, whose roster issues at the outset of this season are the proverbial chicken coming home to roost.

More from Howard-Cooper: “Somehow this turned into Kobe Bryant dunking on management, Pau Gasol’s feelings, an instant referendum on Jim Buss as future owner, Bryant standing brothers-in-arms with Gasol and Mitch Kupchak issuing a statement. Except this latest Lakers’ storm is none of that. The kind of grand theater that comes all too natural to the Lakers, sure. And it might be noteworthy that Bryant is in the general-manager business again. But it’s little more. The real issue is the tangible: The team with roster concerns at the beginning of the season is the team with roster concerns returning from the All-Star break. The front office is keeping trade options open, no matter how much Bryant pushes for a resolution that allows Gasol to move forward, a stance by Bryant that unnecessarily puts general manager Kupchak in a bad spot. The concern inside the locker room should have been if Buss and Kupchak weren’t weighing trade options. (By the way, how’d things work out last season with a settled roster?) Very little so far is a surprise, apart from an inability to win on the road that borders on refusal.”

So while Kupchak continues to explore deals for Gasol, the leveraged Lakers look for quick fixes. Before the All-Star break, the name being tossed around was Gilbert Arenas.

Now it is Rasheed Wallace, whose ability to play both big spots and desire to win might not be such a bad fit.

From Jim Cavan writing for the New York Times’ Off the Dribble blog: “Whether or not they end up dealing Pau Gasol before the trade deadline, the Lakers need to light a flame under their visibly unnerved power forward. Who better than Wallace, the emotional and spiritual cornerstone of those boringly fantastic Pistons squads, and the guy who nearly helped the Celtics overcome substantial odds and stifle the Lakers in 2010?”

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