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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- "Strike two," Jason Kidd said from the interview podium, shooting down attempt No. 2 to get him to answer a question about his future.
A small grin crept across Kidd's face as he congratulated himself for his humorous ingenuity before he scanned the room as though he owned it and practically dared another reporter to allow him to end the interview session with a "Yer Out."
A New Jersey Nets official had begun Kidd's postgame news conference by declaring that Kidd would only field questions regarding the game, a 87-80 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks that snapped New Jersey's nine-game losing streak.
And when Kidd's inquisition ended peacefully (he had made his point with "strike two"), he stood up and walked away a winner for the first time since Jan. 9 when New Jersey beat Seattle -- back when Kidd's desire to break free of the Nets was merely simmering instead of being on full tilt, a rolling boil, as it is now.
A sense of relief permeated the Meadowlands after the game, an unmistakable collective exhale as strong as the air of impending finality that wafted through the corridors of the building in the two hours leading up to tip-off.
Nets coach Lawrence Frank had seemed unusually candid beforehand, speaking with the tone of someone in on the secret, as he spoke of Kidd's professionalism in giving his all to the Nets until there's a resolution to his trade request.
"He's a Net until he or anyone else is wearing another uniform. So until he's wearing that uniform, we all have to put in a lot of hard work," Frank said, adding that Kidd's status was not going to be "awkward" in the locker room because the core of the team has been through similar situations before.
Frank went on to compare the current crisis -- amped up Monday when Kidd told ESPN's Ric Bucher he indeed wants out of New Jersey -- to the situation last season when Kidd was nearly traded to the Lakers, as well as the situation five years ago when the Nets had just been sold to Bruce Ratner and had lost Kerry Kittles and Kenyon Martin through free agency after the team had made consecutive trips to the NBA Finals.
"We were in USA Today after media day, and the story was all about Alonzo [Mourning] and Jason didn't want to be here," Frank said. "We've been through waters similar to this."
This time, however, the aura surrounding the Nets is different. The roster remains fundamentally flawed from the duplication Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter bring to the roster, and the nine-game losing streak has left New Jersey with a goal for this season that really boils down to striving to secure the seventh or eighth playoff seed in the East, which brings with it a daunting postseason matchup against the clearly superior Celtics or Pistons.
Kidd wants to be with a legitimate contender, preferably immediately, especially given the Nets' reluctance to extend his contract past its current expiration date in June 2009.
But what's good for Kidd is not necessarily what's good for the Nets.
If, at the end of the day, the best the Nets could do was to get Mike Bibby for him, would they do it? (The guess here is that the Maloofs of Sacramento would go for that.)
Kidd would prefer a trade to one of four teams -- the Lakers, Mavericks, Nuggets or Cavaliers -- with legitimate championship aspirations, but he's also well aware that none of those teams has the goods or are willing to give up the goods to make a straight-up swap possible.
Kidd, too, knows Nets president Rod Thorn well enough to understand that Thorn is 95 percent likely to take things right down to the 11th hour at the trade deadline to make the right deal, which means Kidd is facing three more weeks of limbo in New Jersey before there's either a resolution or not. Hence the "no questions about my future" rule, which we should expect to remain in effect right up until 3 p.m. on Feb. 21.
A source with intimate knowledge of the Kidd-Nets dynamic insisted all trade talks were still in the "exploratory" stage.
Another source, this one close to Nets owner Bruce Ratner, described him as increasingly frustrated and disappointed with the state of the franchise -- the team's move to Brooklyn has now been put off until 2010-11 while Ratner continues to wait for the first shovel to go into the ground at the team's future home.
Once upon a time, the Nets expected to make that move to Brooklyn with Kidd as the centerpiece of the roster, though aging.
Now, they seem resigned to a future without him -- even though that future might not begin until Feb. 21, or even later (think draft night) if Thorn can't find a deal that brings in something approaching 90 cents on the dollar.
Still, from the sound of the Nets' voices Tuesday night, you couldn't help but walk away with the sense that the franchise is three weeks away from doing something of significance with Kidd.
As Marcus Williams put it: "I don't focus on him leaving, because he's still here, and I've enjoyed every moment playing with him, and I'll continue to do so as long as he's here. If he stays, it'll be great for us. If he leaves, we have to progress from there."
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.
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CHICAGO -- Timberwolves center Al Jefferson, who had his usual 20 points and 12 rebounds here in a 96-85 loss to the Bulls, looks like a classic bucket-getter. His feel for putting the ball in the hoop is very special. And he has terrific hands and nimble feet for a guy with good size. He really has no offensive weaknesses. He's OK defensively, not great. But his upside on that end is considerable.
Before seeing him Tuesday, I'd have said shooting was the part of his game he needed to work on. But I was really impressed with his shooting mechanics; he gets great arc on his shot and looks good shooting it. I think he can be an even better athlete, chiseling his frame and improving his explosiveness.
Wolves guard Randy Foye, playing his first game of the year, struggled early on with his feel, but I liked what I saw in terms of quickness. He was better in the second half, and showed strength with the ball in traffic. He is not a natural point guard, but he is skilled and unselfish so he'll figure it out.
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