Michael Finley was waived late Monday night by the Dallas Mavericks, who took advantage of a one-time amnesty provision that will allow them to avoid luxury taxes on the $51.8 million owed their captain over the next three seasons.

Finley becomes an unrestricted free agent and is still guaranteed the money from his Mavericks contract, plus whatever he gets from a new team.

The Mavs spent all day Monday exploring trade options, and waited until just before the late-night deadline to release Finley and take advantage of the provision in the NBA’s new labor agreement.

“This is the hardest part of our business,” said Donnie Nelson, the team’s president of basketball operations. “Mike and I started out in Phoenix together, got reunited here and obviously he was a key part in rebuilding this franchise. … To share memories like that, it’s been a very difficult several weeks for this franchise.”

The Mavs avoid a dollar-for-dollar tax on Finley’s $15.9 million salary for the 2005-06 season. The two-time All-Star is due $17.3 million and $18.6 million over the final two seasons of the seven-year contract owner Mark Cuban gave him in 2001.

“Just what he’s meant on and off the court, he’s impacted every one from fans to the front office,” Nelson said. “Ultimately, it’s our responsibility to do what’s in the best interest of the Dallas Mavericks, but Michael has a special place in Mark’s heart, my heart, and a special place in the franchise. At the end of the day, this just feels right.”

Finley isn’t eligible to re-sign with the Mavericks until his original contract expires after the 2007-08 season, when he will be 35.

Finley was traded to Dallas from Phoenix on Dec. 26, 1996, and was the longest-tenured player for the Mavericks. He averaged 19.8 points for the Mavs in 626 games the past 8� seasons.

The Mavericks apparently already found a new veteran swingman, having reportedly agreed with Doug Christie on a one-year, $3 million contract.

Christie was waived Thursday by the Orlando Magic under the same amnesty clause. If no team claims him by Thursday, he’ll be a free agent. The Mavs wouldn’t sign him before then.

Finley was an All-Star before Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki, then the trio became known as the “Big Three” — taking the Mavericks from one of the league’s worst teams to having at least 50 wins and going to the playoffs four straight seasons. Nash left as a free agent last summer and joined the Suns.