NEW ORLEANS – As the New Jersey Nets and Dallas Mavericks feverishly worked to convince Devean George to join in the trade for Jason Kidd on Thursday, there suddenly loomed another issue that could obliterate the proposed deal: the loose lips of Jerry Stackhouse.
The NBA will investigate the possibility the Mavericks and Stackhouse violated league rules with a prearranged agreement for the forward to return to Dallas after reaching a contract buyout in New Jersey and sitting out the 30-day waiting period, sources said. Several league sources said the NBA will consider forbidding Stackhouse to re-sign with the Mavericks this season as punishment for public comments the forward made on Wednesday that suggested tampering could have occurred.
If it comes to that, the deal is dead. Dallas owner Mark Cuban wouldn't complete the trade for Kidd without a belief that he could bring back Stackhouse this season. Ultimately, sources say, Mavericks management decided that losing Stackhouse would be too hard of a hit to the Mavericks' depth, too steep a price to pay for Kidd.
For the Mavericks, the trouble started when Stackhouse, 33, gave an interview to the Associated Press on Wednesday that suggested there was a plan for how his trade, buyout and eventual re-signing with Dallas would unfold.
Stackhouse said that he was only part of the deal "to make the numbers work."
What's more, he said, "I feel great. I get 30 days to rest then I'll be right back. I ain't going nowhere."
Even if George changes his mind on Friday about agreeing to waive his "Early Larry Bird Rights" and accept the trade to New Jersey, sources said the league office will not immediately approve the trade. With angry rival executives across the league expressing outrage over Stackhouse's comments, as well as the NBA's own issues and suspicions with the comments, senior VP of basketball operations Stu Jackson is obligated to look deeper into the matter.
The NBA doesn't allow such prearranged agreements. The rest of the league is required to have a fair chance to sign Stackhouse in the 30 days before he is eligible to re-sign with the Mavericks. It doesn't help appearances that Stackhouse and Kidd share the same agent, Jeff Schwartz.
When several league executives read Stackhouse's comments on Wednesday, they were irate and privately promised to protest if Stackhouse ends up passing on leaguewide offers and returns to the Mavericks.
"It sounds like a side deal, doesn't it?" one Eastern Conference executive said. "The league will have a lot of explaining to do if Stackhouse goes back to Dallas."
Another general manager said, "I thought it was the most blatant statement someone could make about a trade. I wouldn't be surprised at all if the league disallowed Stackhouse to go back to Dallas. Stackhouse is too impulsive and is prone to say stuff like that which could really end up hurting Dallas."
Finally, a third GM said, "It's caused a lot of people to wonder how they could get away with that, how those kind of pre-existing arrangements can be allowed."
For now, it is clear the trade that would send Kidd and Malik Allen to Dallas for George, Stackhouse, Devin Harris, DeSagana Diop and Maurice Ager, two first-round picks and $3 million is stuck. Before the Mavericks' 109-97 loss to the Suns in Phoenix on Thursday night, agent Mark Bartelstein insisted that his client hadn't changed his mind about vetoing his trade to the Nets.
"There's nothing new," Bartelstein said. "Right now, he's just focusing on playing for the Mavericks."
Between now and next Thursday's trade deadline, the Nets and Mavericks are exploring scenarios that still include George and a sign-and-trade with Keith Van Horn, but the Stackhouse case could make everything else irrelevant. Across the league, there's a belief that Stackhouse revealed too much with his words and the NBA plans to take a hard look and ask the obvious question: Is there strong enough evidence of a pre-existing agreement between the Mavericks and Stackhouse that deserves punishment? If they league decides there is, and refuses to let him re-sign with the Mavericks, the results could be devastating for Dallas.
It would be a steep price to pay for the loose lips of Jerry Stackhouse.