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Ten years since the (other) Jason Kidd trade

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Jason Kidd was nominated for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame this weekend. Brian Fleurantin goes back to the last games he played for the Nets 10 years ago this week.

Portrait of Jason Kidd

When you've been in one place for a long time, sometimes it's best to go somewhere new and start over. There's nothing left to accomplish at your old spot and the new environment can reinvigorate you. And if you continue to stay in the old place, your work slips and you start to become resentful of your colleagues and everyone else around you, including your boss. For Jason Kidd and the New Jersey Nets, it was time for a breakup in the winter of 2008.

Starting over

When Kidd came to the Nets in the summer of 2001, his career was at its low point. As a member of the Phoenix Suns, his teams made the playoffs every season, but only won one playoff series (against the San Antonio Spurs without Tim Duncan) in five postseason appearances. The Suns were a clear step below the power teams in the Western Conference and there weren’t many options available for them to climb into the top of the West. However, the on court discussions were minor compared to the big issue surrounding him.

Then, in January of that year, Kidd was arrested for striking his wife Joumana in the mouth. The incident caught a lot of people by surprise and the 911 call provided disturbing detail into what allegedly occurred at home

“Don’t worry about me. This is minor compared to what I usually go through.”

When asked in a press conference after his arrest if incidents like this had occurred in the past, Kidd declined to comment.

Kidd was eventually traded to the Nets in the summer for Stephon Marbury who many saw as a budding star and was four years younger than Kidd. It didn’t take lone for Kidd to rehabilitate his image on and off the court. The team set their NBA franchise record for wins in a season during his first year here and he finished second in the MVP race. He turned the franchise from a laughingstock to a consistent playoff team overnight and brought out the best in Kenyon Martin and Kerry Kittles.

Bad signs

When the Nets traded Kenyon Martin in 2004, it infuriated Kidd. He felt as if the team was giving up on contending in a revamped Eastern Conference and the roster changes would make getting back to the Finals almost impossible. Kidd himself was even floated in trade rumors, but nothing came of it.

Luckily for Kidd and the franchise, a shot of energy was delivered from the North. Vince Carter was frustrated in Toronto and needed a change of scenery in the worst way. He hadn't made the playoffs in years, kept getting injured, and became resentful of Raptors management.

With Carter by his side, Kidd was reinvigorated. After Carter came on board, the Nets went 33-24 (fifth best record in the Eastern Conference during that time period) and got into the playoffs. Although they got swept by the Miami Heat, there was plenty of room for optimism and growth.

He helped lead the Nets to the Atlantic Division title in his first full season with Carter (can't forget Richard Jefferson either) and played an exciting brand of basketball along the way. That excitement also showed itself at the box office. The Nets’ attendance went from the bottom of the league rankings to middle of the pack at home and top ten on the road with Kidd and Carter. Even with that, the team still couldn’t break into the upper half of the Eastern Conference and stalled out in the second round again.

A new beginning

Coming into the 2007-2008 season, the Nets were on the downswing. They had only won 41 games during the 2006-2007 season and lost a non-competitive five game series in the second round against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Meanwhile, the rest of the Eastern Conference had gotten tougher. The Boston Celtics acquired Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett that summer. LeBron James had just led the Cavs to their first ever Finals appearance. The Detroit Pistons were still a threat in the East and the Orlando Magic had signed Rashard Lewis in free agency to team up with Dwight Howard. For the Nets, it was as if everybody raced by them in an instant.

Making matters worse for New Jersey was Kidd's on court performance. He was struggling for much of the season and one moment in particular signaled the end of his time in Jersey. On December 6, Kidd missed a game against the New York Knicks. He said it was due to a bad migraine he was experiencing. However, nobody bought that excuse and it hurt Kidd’s reputation in Jersey. Not helping matters was that Kidd had played his regular amount of minutes the night before his “migraines” and was back to normal immediately after missing that game. Kidd had also filed for divorce earlier in the year and it revealed a lot of ugly details about his marriage with wife Joumana.

With the Nets going nowhere fast and years of Kidd rumors coming to a head, it finally happened. On February 19, the Nets sent Kidd to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Devin Harris, draft picks, and roster filler. For Kidd, the move was a chance to return to the team that drafted him and compete for a championship. In Jersey, there were a lot of reflections on his time on the team and what his exit meant:

Rod Thorn had a less diplomatic answer:

"When you cut through all the nuances,” Rod Thorn said, “that’s exactly what Jason said. ‘I don’t want to play with you guys. You’re not good enough. Let me out of here.”’

It’s hard to say someone “quit,” but it should be noted that Kidd’s play picked up dramatically after the trade. A lot of that is due to the major talent upgrade as well as the change in role (he grew into a credible spot up shooter), but it still speaks poorly of Kidd and how he conducted himself at the end of his Nets tenure.

Whenever you trade a Hall of Fame caliber player, it's natural to assume you'll begin the rebuilding process shortly thereafter. However, if you let the Nets tell it...

“Are we rebuilding? No,” Thorn said. “We’re trying to win and this trade was something we felt was in the best interests of the team. But whether or not it will help us in the short term, we don’t know that yet.”

In Devin Harris, the Nets got a young player they hoped to build their team around. Harris was a former lottery pick (fifth overall in 2004) and played a big role in Dallas getting to the NBA Finals in 2006. What made Harris so appealing was his ability to break defenders down off the dribble and finish at the rim. And when you take into account he 24 years old and improving, it made getting him a no brainer. The Nets also got two first round picks along with Harris, but the Mavs consistent playoff appearances and Jersey’s poor track record of draft picks made it likely that those players selected wouldn’t play big roles for the Nets.

Early on, it looked like the Nets had gotten the upper hand in the trade. When Harris first played against his former team, he dropped a then career high 41 points in a Nets victory. In fact, Nets fans went on to thank Mark Cuban during the game, chanting “thank you Cuban” on that snowy night in East Rutherford.

Harris made his first All Star appearance in 2009, led the team in scoring and appeared to be on the upswing. However, ankle injuries, bad draft picks, and bad roster construction conspired to ruin Harris' time as a Net. After Carter was traded in 2009, Harris was left with Brook Lopez and a whole lot of nothing. That in turn led the Nets to a 12-70 season and the number three pick (Derrick Favors) in the 2010 Draft. That pairing didn’t last long as they were both shipped out in the winter of 2011 for Deron Williams. Williams’ story is a saga in and of itself.

As for Kidd, it took some time, but he did get what he was chasing after. After years of coming up short, the Mavs finally broke through and won the NBA Championship in 2011. For Kidd, the title was the culmination of 17 years of hard work and (mostly) greast play.

Make up to break up

When Kidd retired in June of 2013, something funny happened. There was a groundswell of support to get Kidd the Nets coaching job after the 2013 season when they were looking for a permanent coach. He was hired less than two weeks after he announced his retirement, leaving $6 million in guaranteed money on James Dolan’s table. Of course, that wasn’t the biggest news to surround the team that month.

The new look Nets got off to an incredibly ugly start, Kidd got Lawrence Frank demoted, and then decided to make a fool of himself on the sidelines

Despite that, the team turned things around when the new year began. Brooklyn went 34-17 after January 1, good for sixth best record in the league and second best in the Eastern Conference during that time span. Kidd took the devastating injury to Brook Lopez and rearranged his entire starting lineup to fit the talent he had left on the roster. The team won a close series against the Raptors in Round one but ran into LeBron James and got dispatched in five games. It was a disappointing end to a season of championship expectations.

The team was fine enough and Kidd was getting better as a coach, so we can assume everything was going well, right? Nah. Kidd tried to pull off a power play and get Billy King out of here, but that plan failed and he was in the cold. He quickly flipped it and got a job coaching the Milwaukee Bucks. One year after he made up with the franchise he rejuvenated, he burned his bridges (again) and ruined his relationship with the team and fanbase. Again.

New home, same problem

If there’s one thing that’s been consistent about Kidd throughout his time in the public spotlight, it’s that he always leaves places on an incredibly sour note. During his original run in Dallas, the team failed to live up to its potential and never got close to the playoffs (there was also that rumor involving Toni Braxton, but apparently that wasn’t true).

Kidd made things worse for himself by beefing with his coach, teammates and demanding a trade. In Phoenix, he left on a bad note after he assaulted his wife. In New Jersey, he forced his way out of town and wound up playing the worst basketball of his career during his final days with the team. During his second Dallas run, he agreed to re-sign with the team in free agency, but backed out of his verbal agreement after a round of golf. In New York, he retired one year into a three-year deal with the Knicks. And in Brooklyn, he tried to pull a coup. Whew, got all that?

The Bucks hoped Kidd would be the person that would mentor Giannis Antetokounmpo and push the young team into contention. Kidd got one of those two done. Under Kidd, Antetokounmpo went from a raw rookie to one of the ten best players in the league. He didn’t do as good of a job with the rest of the team, as Seerat Sohi pointed out:

One of the glaring issues with Milwaukee’s aggressive defense has been their inability to capitalize in transition. They’re 10th in efficiency, which is fine and dandy if you don’t employ Giannis and take great pains to create deflections. It is staggering how much the Bucks, as a team, resort to tunnel-vision in transition. Whether it’s Brogdon, Snell or Middleton, I can’t count how many times I’ve watched them turn a steal into a tough, missed lay-up. When their better finishers are trailing the play (read: Antetokounmpo), Milwaukee needs to slow up and find the right shot. Oftentimes, their attempts are so rushed that nobody is even in position for an easy put-back.

It’s a minor issue in the grand scheme of things, but it hints at a lack of focus, execution and really, an understanding of what it means to employ such an aggressive scheme. In the end, it’s another formula, and its success will be dictated by Milwaukee’s ability to win on the margins. Right now, whether it’s a matter of focus or rotations, they aren’t doing that.

So before things got worse (or Kidd could maneuver his way into more power), the Bucks fired Kidd. It had been a long time coming and the team hopes that the change will keep them in the playoff race. It was a disappointing end to Kidd’s time there and that might have been his last head coaching job for a while. I can’t think of any teams with an opening that would want to bring Kidd in.

Looking back and looking ahead

For the Nets, even though the trade didn’t work out, it was something they had to do. The Kidd-Carter-Jefferson team had run its course and the team needed to start over. Keeping Kidd around as he was becoming more disengaged with the team would have been a disaster and created even more problems for the team. The Nets had been doing a poor job in the Draft for much of the decade (I mean, who trades what turns out to be one of the greatest shooters in league history for a copy machine?!) and it all came crashing down on New Jersey once Kidd and Carter weren’t around to make up for it. You can’t build a solid foundation and contend when you consistently miss out on draft picks and fail to replenish the roster.

Devin Harris went back to the Mavs in 2014 and contributed to teams that made the playoffs three times. He’s still in the league and has been contributing to a team that has a chance to make the playofs. Denver has a great chance at reaching the postseason and Harris’ play (and experience) coming off the bench will come in handy for the them. And in a cruel bit of irony, Harris is still in the league and contributing to a playoff team while the man we thought would carry the Nets into the future, Deron Williams, is not.

These days, the Nets have rebounded well from the excesses of the past couple of years. They have been building a solid foundation and have almost managed to dig themselves out of the hole the previous administration left them in. It’s going to be a while before the Nets compete for a playoff spot, but you can see the vision Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson have for this team.

As for Kidd, he did receive some good news recently. During All Star Weekend, it was announced that will be a finalist for induction into the basketball Hall of Fame. By all accounts, Kidd is one of the ten best point guards of all time and his resume speaks for itself. And the last time the Nets, Knicks and Mavericks won more than 50 games, their point guard was Kidd. That’s not a coincidence.

I wasn’t expecting the teams we associate with Kidd (Mavs, Nets, and Suns) to acknowledge his nomination, but the Nets and Suns did over the weekend. I didn’t see anything from the Mavs, but it should be noted that Cuban ended his beef with Kidd a few years ago and will probably do something special for him if/when he’s inducted into the Hall. Even with Kidd burning various bridges throughout his career, it would’ve been a shame if his teams didn’t acknowledge the great work he put in for them.

But unfortunately for everyone, that’s only half the story.