Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Jason Kidd - An Appreciation

JKidd wants to be traded. It's out in public so there is no doubt.

He played inspired basketball in Charlotte, reminiscent of 2001-2004, the three seasons when the Nets were bona fide contenders. Actually, he played and has played that well until about a month ago. Yeah, he got his tri-dubs, but you could see, he was not "exerting his will" as the brilliant Lawrence Frank would say.

This is a guy who apparently punched his wife, and is accused of groping some other woman in NYC last month. Some think he tries to undermine coaches he does not like.


I don't care about all that. I don't blame him for maybe not playing as well as he can, EMOTIONALLY, every night.

What Jason Kidd accomplished I have never seen in sport, in any sport whatsoever.

When he came to the Nets in 2001, it was seen as being exiled to Siberia to work in anonymity to atone for his sins. It was a second chance, like being sent down to the minors to work on the holes in his swing. He was replacing a popular local talent who, whatever else you might say about Stephon Marbury, played with the heart of a lion. He single handedly turned around the East team in the All Star game, with his estimable heart.

That was the situation for Kidd when he came to the Nets. And that's the good news!

He was coming to a bad franchise, a weak sister in its media market, a franchise that had been moribund for 25 years. The Nets had never won 50 games in the NBA; and had only won 40 or more 8 times during that 25 year stretch. The Nets had won exactly one playoff series since they had been in the NBA. One. In the other 9 times they went to the playoffs (including 3 times when they qualified with sub-.500 records) they were one and done.

After making 3 tremendous drafts, when they picked up Keith Van Horn, Kerry Kittles and Kenyon Martin, and after making the playoffs in 98 (and out in one series against the soon to be champion Bulls and Michael Jordan, altho all 3 games were very close), they completely fell apart in 99, suffering not one, not two, but 3 broken legs in the same season. Kittles, by 2001, had spent 2 1/2 years of his 5 years with the team sitting on the bench in streets with a bad knee, including ALL of the 2000-2001 season. Kenyon Martin, who had broken his leg in his senior year in college, was hobbled again the previous season with a broken leg.

The team had been mired in losing under the very unpopular and untalented Butch Beard, mired in losing under the misfit John Calipari, despite the Sam Cassell engineered 98 season, and mired in losing under the unqualified and uninspiring political operative cum miraculously appointed NBA coach, Don Casey.

Keith Van Horn had gone from being "the savior" in his rookie year, scoring nearly 20 points a game and 7 rebounds to Stephon Marbury's favorite whipping boy.

Into this mess walks Jason Kidd. He could have had a bad attitude, like Marbury when he left, and in both cases it would have been understandable. Inept ownership, joke coaching, listless play, uncaring fans, a media presence comparable to a police blotter, a bad building with no mass transit. And a multiyear stranger than fiction injury skein.

And what is the first thing he says?

The losing stops now. The losing attitude stops now.

He tells the bored media, this team can easily win 40 games.

You kidding?

Apparently not, because what followed was two straight appearances in the NBA Finals. A 52 win season. Inspired play by Van Horn, Kittles, Kenyon. He even got rookies (RJ, Collins and the redoubtable Scallabrini) going. Anthony Johnson caught fire. Todd MacCulloch caught fire. Even perennial journeyman Aaron Williams caught fire.

The Nets had a 26 game swing, going from 26-56 to 52-30.

Yes, Rod Thorn gets a great deal of the credit. Still I have absolutely never seen a non-first round can't miss rookie turn around a franchise so much in so little time. Kidd had been in the league 7 years, SEVEN YEARS, before he came. If he was a sure fire can't miss rookie, he sure was hiding it well.

JKidd was clearly the MVP that year, 2002, both on the court and off. Had he played somewhere else, anywhere else, he would have easily been the slam dunk MVP.

Sure, Magic Johnson came to the Lakers and they won the crown in his first year. And Bird went to the Celtics and they won the following year. Sure fire can't miss rookies.

But guys - we're talking the Lakers and the Celtics! And they already had Kareem, Worthy, McHale and the Chief on those teams. And they had both won the title only a few years before. And they were the No 1 and 2 teams in terms of most titles won, anyway. They had spent most of the 60s playing each other in the finals.

And what about Duncan? Didn't the Spurs come from 20-62 to 56-26 in one season? And didn't they win it all in his second year?

Yeah, but remember - he was the No 1 Can't Miss pick in 98. (Van Horn was No 2). And look at San Antonio's records BEFORE 97: 59, 62, 55, 49, 47, 55 and 56 wins in the 7 seasons preceding the Duncan theft. (I say theft because the only reason the Spurs had only won 20 games was because the Admiral was out all year. Had he played, the Nets would have had the first pick, taken Duncan, and the history of the NBA since 98 would have been very, very different.) Each one of those season, EXCEPT 2, the Spurs won more games than the Nets had ever won in their history, and one of them (49 wins in 93) was tied with it (the Nets had had 49 wins exactly once, in 1983, when they lost in the playoffs, of course, in the first round).

So Duncan actually walked onto a team that was close, very close, tantalizingly close, to winning it all anyway. Big deal.

Only the Clippers can rival the Nets in perennial ineptitude, and in 2001, they had also never won 49 games once, never 50, but had at least gotten to the conference finals 3 years in a row (as the Buffalo Braves). Now the Clippers are the only team, except for the young Raptors and the brand new Bobcats, never to have won 50 games and unlike the Nets have never been to the NBA finals.

Why? Two reasons: Rod Thorn. And Jason Kidd.

We few, we lucky few fans who followed the Nets in the Jason Kidd era, have seen basketball played at the highest level by a player, which only a few other fans have been lucky enough to see - the Cincinnati Royals fans, who saw the Big O, the Laker fans who saw Magic, and perhaps the Celtic fans who saw Bird.

That is the rarified company we are in. That is the rarified company Jason Kidd is in.

Very soon Jason Kidd will surpass the aforementioned Magic as Number 2 on the all time triple double list. He has 99 so far, 61 in a Nets uniform. We are exceedingly lucky indeed.

I have seen inumerable no-looks, surprise alley oops, and even some bowling passes, replete with spin. All for scores.

I have seen him play after a brutal collision in Charlotte in the playoffs, when it looked like he might be done for the season, much less the game.

I have seen him never give up, to play to the end, even when Lawrence Frank's and Byron Scott's "coaching" had long before lost the game for them.

Maybe he juked up his effort in Charlotte and against the Mavs the last two games. Can you blame him? He has given his all and more for this stupidly run franchise, this runt of the litter franchise, this New Jersey franchise continually ignored and bad mouthed by the New York media. He has been undermined by stupid coaching, stupid ownership, slacking teammates.

And he gave up his best chance to win it all, to go to San Antonio in 2004, and put the crown on his Hall of Fame career. Yet he bypassed it. Maybe it was Joumana. Whatever. He stayed. And gave his all, even on one leg.

Jason Kidd has not been traded yet, and the way it looks, he won't be, at least this year. But when he goes, I will salute him. He owes nothing to the Nets. If anything, they owe him. We owe him.

We owe him.

WE, us, Nets fans, NBA fans - we all owe him.

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