Commentary

He's still got game, but what's it worth?

Jason Kidd, now 36, is expected to draw strong interest on the free-agent market

Updated: July 2, 2009, 12:47 PM ET
By Ric Bucher | ESPN The Magazine

Jason KiddRonald Martinez/Getty ImagesThough he's still a superb leader, Kidd won't come close to the $21,372,000 he made last season.

There are 36-year-old point guards who have had microfracture knee surgery, and then there's Jason Kidd, a 36-year-old point guard who has had microfracture knee surgery.

Most teams would be very leery of plucking the former off the free-agent market, especially with the game becoming increasingly athletic. The latter? An array of playoff teams -- the Hawks, Blazers and Lakers, and, of course, his current team, the Mavs -- will have him up on their free-agent board as of July 1. Father Time is undefeated, but Kidd seems to have put him back on his heels, at least for the time being.

He hasn't done it with mirrors, but rather with a makeover. Once an offensive blur and a defensive clamp, he is now more about squeezing as much as he can from the talent around him by playing angles, keeping order and bolstering confidence. It's no accident that Dirk Nowitzki's post game this season had a career-high level of aggression, or that Erick Dampier shot a career-high percentage, or that Jason Terry had his best scoring season as a Maverick.

"His value is in the intangibles now as much as anything," one Western Conference scouting director says. "He gets guys to play at a higher level. He's played in the Finals; he's won gold medals. He was really the guy that set the tone last summer in Beijing."

And yet the idea that Kidd is no longer a commodity gained traction during the Olympics because his production couldn't compare with that of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Deron Williams or Dwyane Wade. Then it continued during the season with Devin Harris, who was acquired by the Nets in dealing Kidd, making the Eastern All-Star squad and various quick little guards (Paul, Tony Parker) having big nights against him.

But when all was said and done, Harris was at home watching the playoffs, while Kidd led the Mavs, not considered one of the West's top eight in talent, into the postseason with 50 wins. One coach said he has yet to see a Kidd-led team not take the floor with confidence, no matter whom they had or were facing.

"Anybody would take Jason Kidd," one Western Conference personnel director says. "It's a matter of how much for how long."

As in, how much money for how many years a team is willing to sign him. Certainly his days as an eight-figure-a-year earner are behind him, but if last season was any indication, he doesn't have just the desire to play until he's 40. He also has the ability.

"He's not at the Karl Malone-Gary Payton one-year-deal stage yet," the personnel director says. "His physical skills have declined, but he's not anywhere near that. He's still a solid starter right now. Basketball IQ doesn't go away."

Those who have watched Kidd his entire career, or give statistical comparisons a lot of weight, might be baffled by the interest. After all, he was once one of the toughest physical matchups in the league, a defensive stopper at both guard positions and a one-man fast break, snatching rebounds and accelerating upcourt so quickly that backpedaling defenders couldn't even get in position to foul him or his wingmen before the ball was in the basket.

Now his defense consists of forcing his man into space where help is waiting, and in transition he's more of a pass-ahead guy. But even statistically, he remains a unique talent. Triple-doubles at any age are a rarity, and he had three last season. He remains the best rebounding point guard in the league. And believe it or not, he was the Mavs' most accurate 3-point shooter, during both the regular season (40.6 percent) and the playoffs (44.7). That's right, better than either Nowitzki or Terry.

"That's incredible," one Eastern Conference GM says. "I would not have guessed that."

Granted, teams dare Kidd to make 3s the way they did Bruce Bowen or do Shane Battier, figuring that's better than letting Nowitzki or Terry fire away, but the fact is, Kidd is making opponents pay now like never before.

"That guy has the heart of a lion," says an assistant GM in the West. "He should not have been able to do what he did last year. Everybody says he can't shoot, but he makes big shots. As a playoff point guard, he's still an effective player."

Ric Bucher is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN Insider.

Ric Bucher

NBA Reporter, ESPN The Magazine Senior Writer