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Mavs expect Best to replace Van Exel

DALLAS -- Point guard Travis Best went to a steak dinner
with Dallas Mavericks officials Thursday night with a one-year
contract a main topic of conversation.

The Mavericks already have called a news conference for noon
Friday.

"We're optimistic people around here," said Donnie Nelson, the
Mavericks' president of basketball operations.

The Mavericks want Best to back up All-Star Steve Nash. Their
depth at point guard was depleted with the recent trade of Nick Van
Exel and Avery Johnson to Golden State in a nine-player deal that
brought Antawn Jamison and Danny Fortson to Dallas.

Nelson said the Mavs turned their attention to Best as soon as
that deal was done. They consider it fortunate that someone of his
caliber was still on the market.

"It's not any secret Travis is our highest priority at this
point," Nelson said, adding that the dinner party included
himself, team owner Mark Cuban and Jamison. "We're in a full-blown
recruiting process.

"It should be clear that nothing has been signed. But there's
strong interest on both sides."

A former first-round draft pick by Indiana, Best played for the
Pacers on the 2000 team that reached the NBA Finals. He spent last
season in Miami, averaging 8.4 points and 3.5 assists, both close
to his career numbers. He's also a 35.5 percent 3-point shooter.

Dallas needs a quality backup for Nash because his all-out style
often leaves him fatigued by season's end. Coach Don Nelson talks
every year about reducing Nash's minutes in the regular season to
keep him fresh for the playoffs.

"He fits what we're trying to do here perfectly," Donnie
Nelson said. "He's got playoff experience, and he's seen and done
it all in the NBA. He's got 3-point range, he's a real good
decision-maker and he can be a scoring point guard. That's a lot
like Nick."

After winning a franchise-record 60 games and reaching the
conference finals for the second time in franchise history, the
Mavericks' offseason got off to a bad start as they lost out on top
priority free agent Alonzo Mourning. Karl Malone and Jason Kidd
both showed interest in Dallas before signing elsewhere.

The Mavs also lost out on centers Brad Miller and Rasho
Nesterovic, while the Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Lakers and
division rival San Antonio were all active in restocking their
rosters.

The deal with Golden State didn't provide the big man Dallas
needs, but it should improve their frontcourt scoring while adding
some rebounding. The loss of Van Exel would be cushioned if they
sign Best.

"It's just very serendipitous that exactly what we needed was
still on the board," Nelson said.