AP Photo/LM Otero
For the right to get into this exclusive club, these past seven days of trade torture probably don't seem so bad now for the Dallas Mavericks now.
Not when bringing back Jason Kidd, complicated and protracted as the process was, puts Dallas right there with the Phoenix Suns on the very short list of teams to (a) give up on the two best point guards of this generation and (b) find a way after a few years to get one of them back.
So let's commemorate this special occasion by busting five myths regarding the Mavs' reacquisition of a famous former No. 5:
The Mavericks mortgaged their future for Jason Kidd.
It's a common complaint in Dallas, but I'm still waiting for someone to show me how that's really the case.
As much as the locals (and Mavs owner Mark Cuban) loved Devin Harris, take a scan through the Western Conference. That's where you'll find Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Baron Davis, Tony Parker and Brandon Roy if you allow us to lump Roy in as a lead guard since he's not a pure point.
How long would Dallas have to wait before Harris is better than any of those guys? Not even Nash, who recently turned 34, is slowing down.
It's true that no one in the NBA has kept up with Parker better than Harris -- and that there's some clear risk with the second of two draft picks Dallas surrendered since it's totally unprotected -- but the West is too deep now for any team to think solely about matching up with San Antonio. So it strikes us as a pretty reasonable cost, figuring that the two first-round picks will more likely be in the 20s, to part with two players who helped Dallas win the biggest series in franchise history to bring Dallas an elite floor leader again for the first time since Nash's departure. Harris and center DeSagana Diop were both crucial to the Mavs outlasting the Spurs in seven games en route to the 2006 NBA Finals, and they've created an undeniable size void by parting with Diop that must be filled immediately, but now Dallas has its own QB who can cause problems for fellow Westerners. Someone with the vision and experience up-and-comers like Paul and Williams can't match yet.
"I'd definitely like to see him stay in the East," Utah's Williams said of Kidd during All-Star Weekend.
I contend that Harris would have never reached his full potential in Dallas anyway because of the limited freedom and internal pressures he faced there, making it questionable that keeping him guaranteed any kind of upward arc for this team. Then ask yourself this if you're still doubting that this was all a worthy risk: Why over the past few days did you read so many protests from rival teams about Jerry Stackhouse's comments and how they suggested New Jersey and Dallas had prearranged a side deal for Stackhouse to return to the Mavs after a 30-day wait? Teams were pressuring the league as much as anything to block the deal largely because they didn't want Dallas to get a proven winner like Kidd.
Said coach Avery Johnson, essentially confirming that the organization hasn't forgotten how the Mavs' last two playoff series played out: "[Kidd] knows how to finish games and that's what we are looking for."
This is Kidd's team now.
In terms of spotlight? Sure. But Nowitzki has never been a move-the-needle guy for the basketball public anyway and has never shown any interest in the needle. He'll happily surrender the spotlight to Kidd.
This is a trade that Cuban, if anything, wanted to make as much for Nowitzki's sake and capitalizing on his prime years as any other factor, just as Phoenix committed to theShawn Marion-for-Shaquille O'Neal swap when the Suns realized that it would re-energize Nash like nothing else could.
The big German has never complained once about the decision to let his best friend leave for Phoenix, where Nash went on to win two MVP awards. He simply responded by accepting all the changes around him and improving every season to help the Mavs keep winning more often than they had a right to expect, highlighted by an epic Game 7 performance in San Antonio that his critics conveniently forget and a 67-win MVP season of his own as a follow-up.
But Nowitzki is 29 now. Although team insiders insist that he didn't go to management to ask for a new superstar sidekick or the kind of jolt that only newcomers in the Shaq-Kidd class can give a team, Nowitzki's bosses saw for themselves that he needed the help and the boost. They saw that the grind of carrying this club without a teammate who made the game easier for him -- combined with the Mavs' collective doubt that still lingered in the locker room after the playoff collapses against Miami and Golden State -- was taking a toll.
It's a toll, in Cuban's estimation, that likewise extended to his fans, which clinched his determination to get Kidd at (virtually) all costs. He spoke repeatedly Tuesday of a growing "malaise" in Big D, which is hard to detect on the surface with a consecutive sellout streak in the hundreds but something Cuban is convinced had seeped into his locker room as well as the community. So even when the price for Kidd rose dramatically over the weekend, Cuban didn't blink. He was convinced that missing this Kidd opportunity and a worst-case-scenario spiral from there could get "a lot uglier" for him in the financial long run.
Kidd can't play in the Mavericks' slow-paced system that relies so heavily on isolations.
I wholeheartedly disagree. Why? Because the reigning MVP wholeheartedly disagrees. "I think he's going to impose his style on us," Nowitzki insists.
And I believe that, too. As one high-ranking club official reminded me, there is at least one pretty good explanation for why the Mavs' post-Nash offense has devolved into a system that relies so heavily on isos: "We couldn't pass." Which is no longer a problem.
You could have made the case that, until Kidd's return, Nowitzki was indeed Dallas' best passer and finisher. After just one practice and a flight to New Orleans in advance of Kidd's debut Wednesday, Nowitzki had already seen enough to declare: "He gives me passes that I could only dream about."
Yet we do concede that a big factor impacting the success of this deal involves how much freedom Kidd actually gets from the coach. Has Johnson been so rigid offensively until now because he didn't trust the decision makers on the floor? Or has he been so rigid and iso-insistent with the Mavs' offense because that's just him? We're about to find out if Johnson is prepared to withdraw now that he'll have the sort of point guard you'd assume he's always wanted. Which has to happen for this to work.
Johnson insists that none of this will be an issue, vowing to cede "some of that responsibility" to Kidd "because it's a natural for him." If so, along with the instant improvement Kidd should inject into the pick-and-roll game that Avery likes as much as his isos, Dallas will gradually start running more again. Which means Nowitzki would be permitted to do more of what he used to do -- a mixture of firing away in the open court, posting up smaller men and pulling the big guys outside -- along with the Tim Duncan-esque stuff he's been increasingly asked to do.
You'll also hear skeptics say that the Mavs can't run like they used to because of the current personnel, but I'd dispute that as well. Josh Howard can't run with J-Kidd? A 7-footer who can move like Nowitzki? It's a matter of Johnson loosening the reins now and restoring some of the ball and player movement that was a staple early in his tenure after he succeeded Don Nelson late in the 2004-05 season.
"I actually like the fast-paced game better," Nowitzki said, noting that it takes advantage of his uncommon mobility and makes it harder for defenders to lock in.
The Mavs waited too long to react to their Nash mistake.
You'll never hear me defend the decision not to offer Nash more money as a free agent in 2004. Nash was, is and always will be one of my favorite players. No one would have ever predicted two MVPs would follow when he left -- or what the combination of the snub, Nash's work ethic, his veteran savvy, Mike D'Antoni's system and new rules favoring perimeter penetrators would do for his game -- but there are still days, nearly four years later, when I can't believe that he and Nowitzki got busted up.
It's only fair to remember, as we've mentioned before in this cyberspace, that Cuban has been quietly chasing Kidd almost from the minute Nash left ... and stepped up in a huge way financially to finally get him. .
In the summer of '04, club sources contend that the Mavs thought they had a real shot at prising Kidd from the Nets. In truth, New Jersey wasn't ready to part with Kidd until last February's deadline, when Dallas was in the midst of a 67-15 campaign.
Kidd's name then came up almost immediately after the Mavs' Golden State debacle and became a serious option once this season started and word reached Dallas that this was Kidd's preferred destination. Remember, too, that bashing Cuban over Nash at this precise moment means doing so when he just responded to the Kidd trade featuring Stackhouse and Devean George that collapsed last Wednesday by signing off on a reconfigured Kidd deal that will cost him $11-plus million extra this season alone.
When he was inevitably questioned Tuesday about his willingness to spend today for a 34-year-old after the hard-line stance he took on Nash at 30, Cuban said: "We weren't signing [Kidd] for six years, which was the difference in the past."
Unless Kidd can negotiate an extension -- and Cuban says that Kidd was given no promises in conjunction with the trade -- Dallas' commitment to this gamble spans the rest of this season and next season.
Kidd's shot at redemption at Dallas is coming too late in his career.
I'll agree on one point voiced by the skeptics. This is not an over-the-top move for the Mavs.
But I'd say that's only because there's no such thing as an over-the-top move in the West. Not in a conference as ridiculously deep as this one is now.
So let's call this a move to ensure that Dallas stays at the top. Mavs management knew, just as Suns management concluded, that its team was in failing mental health and slipping away from championship contention. In the Mavs' case, club sources say that Johnson going to Cuban recently and explicitly telling his boss that this group had gone as far as it could and needed a serious shake-up was the clincher that kept Dallas in the Kidd hunt through all the trade hiccups we witnessed in the past week.
Asked to reflect on his first stint as a Mav, which didn't last even three full seasons, Kidd said with a sly smile: "I wasn't bad here. I was just raw." And now he returns, albeit with his 35th birthday looming in March, flush with motivation and excitement.
Dallas, you see, is the place he's wanted to be since the summer, after a Team USA stint that "made me feel like I could still play at a high level." He's never played with a big man of Nowitzki's caliber or versatility and feels that the "first time around [in Dallas] wasn't a fair shot."
The Mavs are pretty psyched about how all that adds up, right down to the jersey number Kidd chose -- No. 2 -- to remind everyone that he's getting a second chance with the team that drafted him.
Said one admiring GM from a West rival: "The bottom line is that the Mavs got themselves an absolute m----------. It's always good to get one of those. And Jason has always been at his best when he has something to prove."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
Bob (Carlinville, IL): Will Chicago trade either of its Bens (Gordon and Wallace) in the next 2 days?
John Hollinger: I'm really puzzled by what's going on over there. For the past two years all we've heard about is how Chicago had these assets stacked up to make a big deal. And then all these dominoes start falling -- Garnett, Gasol, Marion, Shaq, Kidd, Bibby -- and where are the Bulls? Paxson really needs to reconfigure the mix there, but I'm not seeing much urgency.
Matt (Boston): What are the chances at this point that the Clippers and Sam Cassell agree to a buyout? Are there any other point guards that would make sense for Boston as insurance for Rondo -- Tyronn Lue or Anthony Johnson, a trade for someone like Keyon Dooling, etc.?
John Hollinger: Does anyone else think it's a bit risky for Boston to wait on a Cassell buyout? What if the Clips trade him right before the deadline, for instance? The C's could be left high and dry. As far as Lue or Johnson goes, I'm not sure they're much of an upgrade on Eddie House -- certainly not enough to part with a No. 2 and pay more tax.• Read the complete John Hollinger chat
Rafer Alston, Rockets guard: Skip trumped LeBron's triple-double by popping in six 3s on his way to a 22-point, 5-board, 6-assist night in Houston's 93-85 win in Cleveland. That's 18 wins in 21 games for Houston. Rockets, indeed.
Atlanta Hawks: Mike Bibby's arrival inspired the Hawks versus the Lakers, all right: to a 41-point first-half deficit! Let's hope they're saving up all the good stuff for Bibby's Wednesday night
return to Sacto.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
-- LeBron James, joking after the Jason Kidd trade about why he dunked on Dirk Nowitzki in the final minute of Sunday's All-Star Game. • See Tuesday's daily leaders
-- Royce Webb
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
Mike Bibby joined the Hawks in L.A. on Tuesday, but the Lakers continued to torment him in a 122-93 blowout. Bibby left the game with what appeared to be a minor heel injury, finishing with five points and three assists.
Chad Ford and John Hollinger talk about the Jason Kidd trade and other players who might be moving this week.
Why did Mark Cuban feel the need to make the Jason Kidd deal?
We'll let him put it in his own words. Here's an excerpt from his blog entry posted Tuesday:
"Wins and losses are not just about talent, its about energy and teamwork. The best leaders recognize when a spark is needed and are honest enough to admit it, and get it. Even when things are going well, its sometimes hard to sustain the energy of being a start up or of levels year past. In business it might be an acquisition, or a sale that may not be the perfect transaction, but its the most impactful. We have been discussing this now for at least a month. We think this deal will have impact."
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