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Durant’s former Oklahoma City Thunder crew fell to the defending champion Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals, and though Stephen Curry’s team wouldn’t go on to defend its title, the NBA’s MVP still led the squad that downed Durant’s Thunder. The last NBA player to win MVP before Curry ended up signing with the team that beat him, in a move that almost exactly mirrors what then-New Jersey Nets guard Jason Kidd nearly attempted in 2003.
Kidd’s Nets fell to the Tim Duncan-led San Antonio Spurs in that year’s Finals, as Duncan won both the league’s regular season and Finals MVP in a sterling turn. Kidd, a free agent who just barely lost to Duncan in the 2002 MVP race, strongly considered leaving the Nets for a shot at winning a title with San Antonio – before deciding to return to New Jersey with for a maximum contract.
It’s a decision he apparently regrets to this day, even after seeing and hearing the backlash that Durant is still taking in a week after his own decision. From ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk:
“I thought I was going to be a Spur,” Kidd, now the Milwaukee Bucks coach, said while watching his team during the Las Vegas Summer League on Monday. “I committed when I was down there on my visit [to San Antonio].
“On my flight home, I think I got cold feet,” Kidd continued. “And sometimes I have nightmares about that. Maybe I could have won a championship or two there. But I got really lucky with Dallas and won a championship.”
Kidd went on to say that he told Spurs coach Gregg Popovich that he would end up signing a deal with San Antonio prior to changing his mind on his flight back to New Jersey, a switch in attitude he told Youngmisuk was his “biggest disappointment.”
Not unlike 2016, 2003 was a rather wild summer.
The 2002-03 season may have acted as the league’s post-Michael Jordan (though MJ did actually technically play in the NBA that season) low point. Ratings were rather low in the first year of ABC/ESPN’s first season running its national broadcasts, with a series of ill-suited broadcast talent repeatedly treating viewers as if the contest they were taking in that particular afternoon or evening was the first NBA game they’d ever seen. The selfless and dynamic Jason Kidd, in particular, benefited from this treatment.
Chris Webber and Dirk Nowitzki’s postseasons ended early due to injury, while a feuding and revoltingly thin Los Angeles Lakers roster ran out of championship fumes in the second round. Even what should have acted as the Spurs’ crowning championship achievement – Duncan’s 21-point, 20-rebound, 10-assist and eight-block effort in the deciding Game 6 of the Finals – was marred by not only the low 88-74 score, but also the embarrassing sight of ABC halftime host Mike Tirico donning toy Incredible Hulk hands during a live segment in order to promote the upcoming release of that movie.
Kidd’s numbers in defeat looked great – 19.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 7.8 assists and 1.2 steals in 44 minutes – until you got to his shooting percentage; Jason made just 36 percent of his looks from the field in an ugly series that saw a team go over 100 points just once (at 101 points, from San Antonio in Game 1) in a six-game turn.
Meanwhile, not all was rosy on San Antonio’s end. On the surface, at least.
Game 6 would act as David Robinson, Steve Kerr and Danny Ferry’s last NBA games, while upstarts Stephen Jackson and Speedy Claxton were eyeing free agent payouts of their own with other teams. Worse, Popovich was routinely and visibly upset with the play of second-year, 20-year old point guard Tony Parker, who shot just 38 percent in the series and had to be spelled down the deciding stretch of Game 6 by Claxton.
The idea was to entice free agent Jermaine O’Neal to fill both Robinson’s salary cap and on-court presence. And, in the days before cap holds, sign Jason Kidd to a max deal prior to signing Tim Duncan to a similar contract with his Bird Rights.
Parker’s role was left undetermined in the interim. There was talk of a sign-and-trade with New Jersey, or even pairing him with the taller and stronger Kidd in the starting backcourt – that’s how close this thing was. The Spurs even traded their first round pick, someone called “Leandro Barbosa,” in order to achieve just enough cap space.
It was some unprecedented stuff. A champion having the cap room to reload with two All-Stars, two franchise players, just a couple of weeks after hoisting the Lawrence O’Brien trophy. Unprecedented until this summer, at least, if you’ll only ignore the whole part about the Warriors falling short in the final 90 seconds of this year’s Finals.
Nothing worked as planned, though. O’Neal re-signed with Indiana to the tune of seven years and $126.6 million on July 16, and Kidd re-signed on July 24 to six years at $103.3 million.
The Spurs, undeterred as always, continued apace. The team worked around the fringes, signing Rasho Nesterovic, acquiring Hedo Turkoglu, and snatching Robert Horry away from the Lakers prior to giving Tim Duncan his big deal. The team was probably .4 seconds away from a championship the next year, Horry was clutch as always on the 2005 title team; and though Nesterovic turned into a national punchline guided by those that don’t actually watch regular season NBA games, he acted as one of the top defensive centers in the NBA for one of the greatest defensive teams of all time in 2004-05.
Kidd’s next few years didn’t go as swimmingly.
His Nets were just two games above .500 when coach Byron Scott was let go midway through 2003-04, New Jersey turned in the league’s fifth-worst offense, and they’d bow out in the second round that season as the Spurs did. The next year saw the team again turn in the league’s fifth-worst offense despite the addition of in-prime Vince Carter, and the squad was swept out of the first round following a 42-40 turn.
The fact is that though the Finals-era Nets played into June twice with Kidd at the helm, they were the sixth-best team in the NBA both years. Their brilliance on offense (17th and 18th during the Finals run) was overstated by the mainstream media of the time, though they did well to take advantage of a massive talent disparity between the East and West.
Two middling years followed before Kidd, who had grown increasingly on edge, forced a trade to Dallas partway through 2007-08. He’d eventually become an NBA champion in Texas, not San Antonio, with the Mavericks in 2011. Kidd retired in 2013 after having played for five teams (counting two turns in Dallas) in order to coach the now-Brooklyn Nets. He now runs the Milwaukee Bucks.
Tim Duncan, save for a strong flirtation with Orlando in 2000, never really considered having to jump from team to team in order to chase a ring. Not because the recently-retired Big Fundamental isn’t some steely-eyed giant of a man – though he most certainly is – but mainly because the Spurs laid the groundwork for perpetual championship contention.
Jason Kidd, who had court vision for days, blinked on this one.
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