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Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Mavs move into position for free agency

By Jeff Caplan

DALLAS -- As if Wednesday's strange communication/travel gaffe was needed to hint at what a wild free-agency period awaits.

As Dallas Mavericks president Donnie Nelson stood in line at the ticket counter, about an hour before he was to board a plane bound for Germany to put the full-court press on unrestricted free agent Dirk Nowitzki, Holger Geschwindner, Nowitzki's lifelong personal coach, mentor and de facto agent, rang Nelson's cell phone.

For whatever reason, at the 11th hour, Nowitzki and Geschwindner decided they were coming to Dallas.

Why Nowitzki hadn't planned to be in Dallas in the first place is bewildering in itself.

If his return to the Mavericks is a slam dunk and Nowitzki knows his verbal pledge is paramount to Mark Cuban and Co. moving forward with big free-agent dreams, it is at least curious that Nowitzki would stay a continent away when a committed No. 41 is needed stateside to join Jason Kidd as uber-recruiter.

Still, Nelson all but had his bags checked.

"Dirk is our No. I priority," Nelson said, "and he and Holger deserve that kind of respect."

Meanwhile, the Mavs deployed their big-hitters across the country for the 11:01 p.m. CT start to free agency. Cuban was in Los Angeles, one hub of player and agent activity. His first target was expected to be Atlanta shooting guard Joe Johnson.

The other hub, New York, was being manned by Kidd.

Coach Rick Carlisle was in North Carolina hoping to woo center Brendan Haywood back into the fold. Nelson said he wants Haywood to be "a Maverick for a long period of time."

As for getting Nowitzki back in the fold quickly, the Mavs must be hoping the ever-present Holger is as optimistic as the Mavs about their free-agent blueprint, and that it translates to a swift Nowitzki seal of approval.

"Dirk has had input on every major decision in this organization," Nelson said, "and that will continue to happen."

It would figure Nowitzki would want to be hands-on at an incredibly critical juncture of his career and the Mavs' franchise under Cuban's stewardship. Ten consecutive 50-win seasons have failed to deliver a championship, and three of the past four seasons have ended in the first round.

Nowitzki turned 32 two weeks ago and is on the open market for the first time in his career, along with a collection of the greatest basketball players in the league that are capable of altering the power structure in the NBA for years to come.

It is expected that the cream of the crop, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, both extreme dark horses to land with the Mavs, will, however, grant them a meeting. As with all free agents, they will first want assurances that Nowitzki is all-in.

"Look, everything else hinges on this. I don't think there's many free agents out there that are going to want to come to Dallas if Dirk is not on the Mavericks," Nelson said. "There's no backup plan. We're going all out. We'll get this thing done, knock on wood, and then we'll survey the rest of the field and we'll go from there."

Teams cannot comment on negotiations until July 8. Players, however, can. If Nowitzki is happy and agrees in principle to a new four-year, maximum deal worth about $96 million, he can make it known. For the Mavs, a public proclamation gives interested free agents clearance to get serious with them.

"We're a little different, we don't have cap room so we've got to move in concert with teams in sign-and-trade, and that's probably why you won't see us going to other teams' players' doorsteps," Nelson said. "It's just not going to happen because it's got to be a three-way situation. It's got to be right for that specific player and his agent. It's got to be right for that team, and that team may choose not to do business with us.

"But, I can tell you that -- all you guys know -- Mark is as aggressive to get a parade down Main Street in Dallas as anyone in the history of ownership in Dallas."

So for the first 18 hours or so, Cuban will schmooze in L.A., and Kidd in New York and Carlisle will hang with Haywood. And, Geschwindner and Nowitzki will make the transatlantic flight to Dallas.

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.