Stuck in the middle

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The questions, of course, were going to be about Jason Kidd, who was on the verge of becoming a Maverick for the second time in his career before Devean George blocked the trade between Dallas and New Jersey late Wednesday. Kidd's in-limbo status was the topic du jour here during the NBA's version of Super Bowl media day. And Nowitzki was right in the middle of it.

"This week has been tough," the league's reigning MVP admitted during his 40-minute meeting with the media. "We heard a deal was going down, then all of a sudden it wasn't. It's a weird feeling."

It took only a handful of questions to realize that a) Nowitzki did not want to talk about the trade and b) he'd welcome the deal. Nowitzki repeatedly praised Kidd, including calling him "one of the best point guards I've ever seen," while also praising Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and general manager Donnie Nelson for "doing a great job at keeping this team strong."

When the topic turned to George, who nixed the trade to New Jersey because it would cost him some leverage as a free agent in the offseason, Nowitzki was less than enthusiastic.

"He's looking out for himself a little bit," Nowitzki said. "In a way, we play a team sport but a lot of it is about individuals. It's Dirk versus Kobe, not L.A. versus Dallas. It's not promoted as much as a team sport as it is in Europe. Devean was looking out for himself; that's what you are used to over here."

From listening to Nowitzki, you get the impression that he doesn't want his team to stand pat, not with the Western Conference being, in his words, "as tough as it's ever been," especially after recent acquisitions of big men by the Lakers (Pau Gasol) and Suns (Shaquille O'Neal). You get the impression that he wants the Mavericks to bring in another superstar who, at the very least, could help them keep up with the improving West powers. They appeared to do that, with Kidd. And then they didn't.

The trade, which was to have sent Devin Harris, Jerry Stackhouse, DeSagana Diop, George and two first-round picks to New Jersey, was no closer to being finalized Friday. Even if the Mavericks were able to replace George in the deal by signing-and-trading Keith Van Horn, front-office sources said there is another potential snag involving Stackhouse.

Stackhouse's comments that he'd be "right back" to re-sign with Dallas after the NBA-mandated 30-day waiting period -- assuming the Nets bought out his contract following the trade -- irritated the league. The sources said the NBA might rule that Stackhouse, if he's part of the trade, wouldn't be able to return to the Mavericks this season.

If the trade does fall apart, Nowitzki would be left to repair the Mavericks' locker room, with several players continuing to play for a team that had openly tried to trade them. Most notable in that group is the 24-year-old Harris, a key factor in determining the Mavericks' playoff fortunes.

"It's never easy to hear your name in trade rumors," Nowitzki said. "But we're professionals and you have to be confident in your abilities. You can't get upset and cry; you have to play your best. As long as you are in the NBA, you will always have to deal with rumors. Look at the tough run I had in the [2007] playoffs. I was on that list.

"We'll just see what happens. We have got to try to stay together as a team."