January 25, 2010
They acquired a very good, borderline All-Star, point guard. The enjoyed some payroll relief and pulled in two first-round draft picks. Jason Kidd won't be playing in a few years, Devin Harris(notes) will be. And he'll be playing well. They won the deal.
Without actually winning anything, though. They won the ideology battle but lost the basketball war. Because after turning in a near All-Star campaign last season, Devin Harris decided to take 2009-10 off.
And Jason Kidd? He decided to turn it all around.
Turned the tide, more accurately. Kidd is still averaging a career-low in points. And though he's clearly taking plays off, Devin Harris is still averaging 15 points and about six assists for the 3-40 Nets.
But the deal? The one that appeared so clearly and obviously wrong for Dallas from the outset? We were wrong about it. It didn't matter that Kidd was royally abused by Chris Paul(notes) in the playoffs immediately following the trade, and it didn't matter that Harris clearly trumped Kidd last season by any meaningful measure save for, yeah, playoff success and a statistical formula that the Mavericks use that we're not privy to.
What matters is expectations. And how we need to get better at realizing that these humans take games off. That while the overwhelming majority of them follow the same standard career arc, we can never accurately adjust for players suddenly giving two wits.
Kidd, in his last few go-rounds with the Nets, tanked quite a bit. He didn't play as hard as he could have. He let Vince Carter(notes) dominate the ball (which, back then, was actually a good thing). He took plays off. He feuded and fought and demanded a contract extension and indirectly forced us to be aware of his marital issues and generally acted like a prat.
With the Mavericks? He's St. Jason. The weirdness that was his coincidental bout of "personal reasons" keeping him out from Sunday's Knicks game played in the town he used to live in, aside.
Harris? He took off last year, freed from Avery Johnson's steely grip. This season? He's just taking it off.
He's certainly not as loutish as Kidd, and his non-basketball foibles won't make the back page any time soon, but he's not nearly the player he was last season. Injuries have a lot to do with that, no doubt, but just watch this guy in a screen-and-roll (either working or defending one). There's no attack there. He's just going through the motions, waiting for this miserable season to end.
The problem with that is this doesn't have to be a miserable season for the Nets. It can merely be "pretty awful." Harris doesn't want to take that next step. The result? We're soon to hit February, and the Nets have won three times. Pinning it all on Harris? No way. And you certainly can't blame him for acting uninspired. Money can't buy you love. But he is the only Net who could clearly do something about this embarrassing run.
Kidd's the bigger issue here, though. This guy runs an absolute clinic most nights. The Dallas offense isn't among the league's best, and it certainly isn't nearly as flashy or fast-paced as the Suns or Warriors attacks, but you can tell Kidd is pushing his teammates and this roster to the absolute limit.
He just makes the perfect pass. And in a way that doesn't rack up numbers the way someone like Chris Paul does. I'm not calling him a stat hog, but CP3 does run a show that seems to credit him with every score, whether by awarding him points or dimes. Kidd's ability to locate slashers and shooters at the absolute perfect time is almost without parallel, and that includes the fine work his former teammate, Steve Nash(notes), is doing out of Phoenix.
These are things that can't be ably rewarded with assists, a supreme assist-to-turnover ratio (which he has, while we're at it), pure point rating, assist ratio, or even the myriad vagaries of adjusted plus/minus. Know why? Sometimes those teammates don't hit the shots. But they don't even get a shot off if Kidd doesn't nail them at the absolute perfect time. It's a game of centimeters and milliseconds, and Kidd's eyes just see levels of complexity that we mortals can't understand.
And then his hands and wrists do something about it. And all within a mediocre (13th ranked) offense, mainly led by an superstar who usually does his best work in an isolation situation that doesn't require an immediate helping hand from Kidd. And you don't talk about Kidd getting beat on defense any more. He's still probably slower than just about any point guard in this league, but he's not getting beat. Why is that? Where's the adjustment? How impressive is it that he was able to change so severely?
This guy turns 37 in two months. Steve Nash turns 36 in two weeks, by the way. What a time to be a fan.
My original point to this post, I must confess, was ably usurped by the fantastic Rob Mahoney at The Two Man Game (while quoting Thoreau, no less). Last week he put together a phenomenal presentation highlighting what I'd hoped to write about Kidd, words that were preempted and made useless by this must-watch video.
Everything about this guy just screams perfection. And think about who he's tossing to! How do you think someone like Erick Dampier(notes) feels when Kidd tosses him a lob? This guy hadn't been on the receiving end of an alley-oop since the first Clinton Administration, though he's quite able. So how chuffed do you think this makes him? Why wouldn't this guy, after tossing it down, want to get back and board and bang like a beast? What do you think this does for a team? The effect might be calculable, the evolution never stops and one shan't underestimate the potential of the human race, but I'm certainly not the guy to do it.
Again, the Mavs aren't the best offense. Kidd isn't the best point guard. He's not even the best old point guard we have in this game.
But he's worth lauding. We should really treasure the way this guy is playing, while being mindful of how it could have run along those same lines during his last few years in New Jersey. While pointing out that Devin Harris just doesn't seem capable this season of rising above what must be a profoundly depressing situation.
And above all, it's worth pointing out that this game never stops teaching us new things.