Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Ageless Kidd

See that image above, freshly downloaded from my scanner? (You may need to click on the image for a clearer view.) I found this advertisement inside United Airlines’s “Skymall” catalog while on a flight last summer from Chicago's O'Hare Airport. I meant to scan it earlier but have been lazy during these past few months. Explaining the economics of this ad requires a lot of exposition, so please stay with me. During the offseason of ’12, Jeremy Lin was on top of the basketball world, after a crazy Tebow-like win streak with Lin as the starting point guard in February and March. His coach in New York, Mike Woodson, proclaimed Lin the point guard of the Knicks’ future… until Lin signed a three-year, $25 million contract with Houston that would have ruined the Knicks’ salary-cap management plan. In the end, New York chose not to exercise its right to match the Rockets' steep offer. published a six-part (really) series of articles about why the Knicks chose to let him leave. Many fans were devastated when New York chose Raymond Felton as its new starting point guard over Lin.

Meanwhile, during the same weeks of July, Jason Kidd had a handshake agreement to re-ink his name with Dallas whenever his golfing buddy Deron Williams chose to sign with Dallas as a free agent… but then Mavs owner Mark Cuban no-showed the pitch meeting with Williams in favor of taping a reality television show, D-Will chose to stay with New Jersey, the miffed Kidd signed with New York planning to mentor Lin instead, but then, as already mentioned, Lin signed a too-rich contract with Houston that Knicks management chose not to match, and Kidd suddenly became a backup to the overweight Felton. Got all that?

So, with Lin a new star commanding a billion eyeballs and Kidd a 39-year-old afterthought, it is little wonder that a basketball signed by Lin could fetch $400 and a Kidd-signed ball went for a quarter of that. Jason Kidd, the former Rookie of the Year, MVP runner-up, and future Hall of Famer.

Yet here is Kidd, still (after similar jobs with the Nets and Mavericks earlier in his career) improbably willing a team with less-than-elite talent to outstanding performance. Sure, Carmelo Anthony is a fantastic scorer and Tyson Chandler is a very stout defender, but the rest of New York ’s roster is either comically old (Rasheed Wallace, Kurt Thomas, Marcus Camby), one-dimensional (J.R. Smith, Steve Novak, Ronnie Brewer Jr.) or too injured to play (Amare Stoudemire, Iman Shumpert). Kidd even led an Anthony-less team to a 20-point win over Miami last Thursday. Kidd is defending wings, as he did to great effect in the 2011 NBA Finals, dishing, stealing, and hitting three-pointers at a 50% rate. And Lin, for all his ferocious talent, is struggling to share the ball with James Harden.

(Did I mention that, when I visited the U.C. Berkeley campus in 1994, more than one person mistook me for Jason Kidd? I think it was the close-cropped hair, prominent nose, and ethnically ambiguous features. So I have long felt solidarity with the guy.)

Last night Kidd sank 6 of 8 three-pointers to help top the Nets. On most of them, his Net defender (usually Deron Williams or Joe Johnson) left him unguarded for an obvious count of one… two… sometimes three beats. To be fair, Carmelo Anthony with the ball often invites a hedge or an earnest help, sometimes making recovery difficult, but the Nets know that Kidd is a deadly three-point shooter. After he made his fifth shot from long range, why did they leave him so open for the sixth and final, game-winning 3-ball? A Ronnie Brewer or perhaps Ray Felton (if priorities must be drawn) can be ignored on the perimeter, but Jason Kidd?

Here above is Kidd's game-winning shot. The equally old Jerry Stackhouse, assigned to guard Kidd, foolishly stays near the painted area, waiting to oppose a potential drive by Felton. But Stackhouse strays too far from Kidd, Felton sees the opening, and Kidd lands a wide-open three-ball (and uses his leg to draw a foul too, though that probably should have been an offensive foul, as Jeff Van Gundy observes on commentary).

At times like these, the overused acronym "SMH" is apt.

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