Many 2500s got the Dana 44, mostly it was V-10s and Diesels that got the front Dana 60, but I know of at least one with a V-8 that got the Dana 60...so I'm not sure exactly how they spec'd them out.
Only you really knows how much you want to spend, and what the limit is. To help decide, compare both trucks to yours, and see how many extra parts would be needed.
-Neither truck's PCM would match your truck- you would need a true '97 PCM from a 5-speed truck with similar options. One from a truck with different options can be made to work by having the dealer flash the programming, but that depends on the dealer- most will just flash it with the programming for your truck's VIN#. Not many get into doing alterations or custom programing. I've heard your PCM could be reflashed to work with the 5-speed, but I don't know. I was a dealer tech, but we were one of the dealers who just went according to the book, nothing custom, so I've never tried it.
-The 2500: Does it have the same body layout as yours, in case you need to use the driveshafts? I looked up u-joints, and it looks like if the wheelbase is the same as yours, the 2500's driveshafts should fit- V-8 2500 trucks seem to use the same U-joints as a 1/2 ton truck.
-Does the 2500 happen to include the flywheel? If not, add that to the expenses. The crank sensor is bolted to the rear of the engine block- if the engine is missing, add in around $110 for a sensor from the dealer.
-1500 truck- Which engine did it come with? If its a 5.2, plan on buying a 5.9 flywheel to go with your stroker, unless its balanced to 5.2 specs.
Cost: That 1500 is definitely a fair price for a complete truck to strip down. You may find other things you could use, or you could throw a few extras on ebay and get back the cost of the truck. You would still need the proper PCM, as the '96 is different from the '97. You would also need the correct '97 Crank Position Sensor.
The 2500 is a tossup. NV4500s can be found for quite a bit less in some places, but in some areas a used NV4500 is in the neighborhood of $1200 all by itself. If you are considering beefing up other areas of your truck or using it very hard, it might be worth swapping the axles under your truck. For that matter, you would get a larger transfer case as well. That would all make it very worth the money.
Sit down and compare the costs of everything you would need to do the swap with either truck, and compare the 2 lists to see which would work best for you.
Just a quick parts list for what you would have to buy, besides either of those trucks:
-Correct PCM ($100-$150 depending on used or reman)
-Crank Position Sensor for a '97 with 5-speed ($110 from dealer, aftermarket a few bucks cheaper but not worth the hassles)
-New clutch kit (under $200)
-Plan on possibly replacing some U-joints while the driveshafts are out
-Crankshaft bushing (manual trucks have an adapter bushing in the crankshaft that the pilot bearing sits in- about $18 from the dealer, with the bearing already installed)