Big Yellow Taxi

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 30, 2009 under Commentary | 8 Comments to Read

Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer:

This summer Kidd will become an unrestricted free agent and there’s a good chance that the Cavs will again look into his availability. He has said he wants to remain a Maverick, but Sunday he certainly made it seem like playing alongside James in Cleveland was a viable option. “I could sit and watch from the bench,” Kidd said. “[LeBron] is so talented, he’s going to get guys wide open shots. So we’ll look at free agency and what happens for me next year.” The Cavs are thrilled with point guard Mo Williams, who became an All-Star this year. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for another, especially if Kidd were to accept a more limited role, as he did for Team USA. Though the Cavs have Delonte West and Daniel Gibson who can handle the ball, they don’t have another true point guard on the roster.

Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News:

After Sunday’s loss to James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Kidd said he tries not to think about James calling him and suggesting a reunion next season. The two became friends when they played together for the U.S. Olympic team. “Yeah, that’s a hard call,” Kidd said. “You don’t want to answer the phone. I just have to explore my different options I’m going to have this summer.” Kidd tries not to think about the summer. There’s plenty of season left for the Mavericks. But with the Mavericks playing the Cavaliers, it was inevitable the subject would come up. “I could sit here and watch from the bench,” Kidd said, joking that James plays much the same way he does.

How do two very reputable beat writers cover the exact same event and the exact same quote in such drastically different ways?  Is there really enough subtext in Kidd’s comments to add fuel to everybody’s fire?

Mike Fisher has an eloquent response at DallasBasketball.com:

Eddie’s story doesn’t say that. It says Kidd “laughed” as he was talking of “sitting on the bench” while LeBron starred. But Kidd did not dismiss anything. He did the opposite. He addressed something. And he did so in the wake of a 28-point loss to the very team that is ostensibly planning on courting him. One of the Mavs players visiting Cleveland and leaving the impression that he might want to play there next year? Even if he was just being polite? Now I’m even more tired and more pissed.

I don’t blame him one bit.  That comment is kosher for the routine, casual nature of pre-game questions.  But following one of the Mavs’ worst losses of the season, I’m not sure I want one of the Mavs’ star players laughing at all, much less joking about the possibility of ditching the team in the off-season.

But that’s not the real worry here, is it?

The concern is that just over a year ago, the Mavs’ sent their young starting point guard and two first round picks to New Jersey for a chance to waltz with the venerable Jason Kidd, and there is a realistic chance that they’ll be left with nothing this summer.

From Marc Stein of ESPN.com:

The growing sense in Dallas is that there are only two threats to the Mavericks’ hopes of re-signing Jason Kidd this summer.

Having just turned 36 and facing an unavoidable pay cut from this season’s $21.4 million, Kidd hasn’t dropped a single hint about leaving the team that originally drafted him in 1994, focusing instead on trying to make sure the injury-plagued Mavs reach the postseason, preferably as nothing lower than the West’s No. 7 seed. Dallas certainly needs to keep Kidd after the goods it surrendered to New Jersey in February 2008 to get him — Devin Harris and an unprotected first-round pick in 2010 — but serious interest from either L.A. or Cleveland could be a real threat.

1. Kobe Bryant convincing big-guard-loving Phil Jackson and the Lakers to make a run at his dear friend Kidd with L.A.’s midlevel exception.

2. LeBron James convincing the Cavs to make a run at his dear friend Kidd with their midlevel exception.

…Dallas certainly needs to keep Kidd after the goods it surrendered to New Jersey in February 2008 to get him — Devin Harris and an unprotected first-round pick in 2010 — but serious interest from either L.A. or Cleveland could be a real threat.

Depending on how you prioritize the Mavs’ talent, Kidd could be anywhere from the team’s best player to the third best.  What he does at the point is irreplaceable given the current chips, and finding an acceptable substitute in a timely fashion given the Mavs’ salary cap situation would be nearly impossible.  That’s why, as much as it pains me to say it, the Mavs’ future rests squarely in the hands of Jason Kidd.  If Kidd opts to leave the Mavs this summer, any chance of contention in the near future leaves with him, and the rebuilding plan should go into effect immediately.

Assuming we actually have a rebuilding plan.

It would depress me greatly to see Dirk wearing any uni but Maverick blue, but is it really fair to him to ask him to stick around for a lost cause?  It’s an idea that’s been beat around all season long, but it’s one the Mavericks’ brass may have to confront head-on if Kidd skips town.  The bare bones roster would be significantly crippled, with Jason Terry and Josh Howard as the only other steady producers…if even they could be called that.

The Denver game made one point painfully apparent to me: Jason Terry is no point guard.  His ball-handling under durress is sloppy, and his wayward passes without so much as a hand in his face were inexcusable.  I previously thought that given the Mavs’ system, Terry could man the point alongside a playmaking 2.  Now, I’m not so sure.  His play could be markedly different if he was given a training camp to adjust, but my flirtation with the idea is all but dead.

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg.  Brandon Bass and James Singleton, two of the Mavs’ most important players off the bench, share Kidd’s unrestricted free agent status.  Singleton is coming off his first year with the team, and Bass off his second.  Both were acquired via free agency, so the Mavs don’t possess Bird rights (which would allow them to go over the cap to re-sign) for either player.  Essentially, the team would be left with the mid-level exception and the bi-annual exception to sign Bass, Singleton (assuming he remains in the team’s long-term plans), a replacement point guard (within reason; think Kevin Ollie, Anthony Carter, Marcus Williams, Jason Hart) that pretty much has to be an unrestricted FA (lest their previous team match the offer sheet, as would likely be the case with restricted FAs), as well as Gerald Green and Ryan Hollins.

It’s hard to anticipate how the economy will play a role in all of this.  While the cap handcuffs the Cavs and the Lakers from offering big-money deals to Jason Kidd, the anticipated deals for Brandon Bass are a bit more difficult to anticipate.  On one hand, the economic struggles of many of the league’s owners could limit both the length and total value of any offers that Bass, a good not great power forward, gets.  But on the other hand, Mark Cuban is hardly the only opportunistic owner; it seems reasonable that there will be other front offices looking to take advantage of a seller’s market.  Harm could come even if Bass, Singleton, and Hollins (notably 3/4 of the team’s current center rotation) receive such offers without taking them.  For a team on such a tight budget, even driving up the price on the Mavs through competitive offers could still prove damaging.

Say what you will about Kidd, or about the Mavs’ chances with him as their starting point.  But right now, the team needs to hang on to the few assets that they do have, and Kidd is definitely near the top of that list.  We knew that trading for Kidd would limit the Mavericks’ window, but I never would have anticipated that his impending free agency would turn the entire franchise into a game of Kerplunk, potentially as the final straw that would cost the Mavs all the marbles.  No Kidd means no hope, and no hope means no justification for the contracts of Erick Dampier, Jason Terry, and Josh Howard.  That opens up an entirely new can of worms as to where precisely the Mavs go from there, but that seems like a conversation for the day that we lose everything.

Stock your bomb shelters, kids.  We could be due for the fallout.

  • Alex

    One of your best, albeit frightening, posts yet. One would have to think that Kidd will certainly opt to compete for that ever elusive championship instead of squander his remaining years in mediocrity, which is the only thing the Mavs have consistently been all year. I’m afraid that it’s getting eerily close to the time that Mavs fans will have to pin their hopes and dreams on the acclaimed Summer of 2010 and it’s incredibly disheartening to think of the opportunities lost.

  • Chaz

    I was looking at the Mavs’ salary commitments just the other day, and it’s definitely not promising. I think Kidd stays if he doesn’t get a better offer, i.e. “come win a championship with us.” I think the Lakers would actually be able to give him a larger role and better shot. But we’ll see.
    I definitely see our back-up bigs as the most promising thing about the future. Dirk is Dirk, JET is JET, but what lays in wait for the Mavs future? Ideally we can keep two of the three — Bass and Hollins, maybe. Tough decision. Regardless, if Kidd leads, that leaves a huge hole at point. HUGE. Can the Mavs buy their way into the lottery perhaps this season? I know it’s not a promising draft class, but there has to be something Cuban can do if Kidd leaves. Maybe go after Felton again, but that’s not really something to get excited for.

  • Thomas

    All the negativity going around about my beloved Mavericks is making me sick as it is and now this?

    Why can’t we just focus on HOPEFULLY playing LA in the first round as they might still be without Bynum during that stretch — whoever wants the Western Conference title will have to face them eventually.

    I understand another first round loss would be devastating, but I am still positively focused on winning it all.
    There are three teams I would not want to play, those being Utah, New Orleans and Boston; everyone else, I don’t fear. Utah, as a team, I don’t much care about, they just create a very hostile environment, especially since they started booing Dirk on every touch.

    This is also something I would like to bring up: The fans in AAC might be okay-ish for NBA standards, but when comparing you guys with European crowds it’s more of a joke than anything else. I don’t remember the game exactly, but the other day We Will Rock You came on and as soon as the speakers went off, nobody was singing anymore, not even cheering. Except for me. Of course, I was precisely 5007 miles away. That’s a disgrace if you ask me. What kind of support is that? Do you need me to send you print-outs of the lyrics? Seriously?

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the Kidd situation — Cuban is gonna make something happen if it comes down to it.

    • http://www.thetwomangame.com Rob Mahoney

      Optimism is great, but be careful that you don’t spend a long time waiting for a train that never comes. I’m not saying we should give up or ignore this season’s playoffs, but realistically, the Mavs would tap out at the second round, tops.

      Playing LA could be a fun series and the Mavs would have a shot, but nothing more than that. Even without Bynum, the Lakers are plenty formidable.

  • Brian D

    It’s depressing to think about how far we’ve fallen. Over the past few months I’ve wondered many times if it’s even worth it to make the playoffs.

    As terrifying as it is to imagine Kidd bolting, I can’t help but note that at least I’d know what direction the Mavs were headed. As it stands right now, they’re in limbo.

    I agree with Chaz that Hollins and Bass need to be kept regardless, if only to have a couple players that still have a ceiling to reach. Same goes for GG, as much as he usually annoys me.

  • Jared

    Good article Rob. One point of contention: It’s worth noting that the Mavs don’t actually have to use their Mid-Level exception to re-sign Bass. They have early-Bird rights on him so they can offer him a contract that is equivalent in value to the MLE, but they don’t actually have to use their MLE. I can’t tell if you knew that and just worded it somewhat confusingly or weren’t aware.

    Also, I’d be pretty surprised if we couldn’t re-sign Singleton for the minimum again. In the economic climate I really doubt teams are going to dip into their exceptions for a player like Singleton.

    I really do think it all hinges on Kidd. The Mavs have several really nice trade chips that they can cash in over the next year and a half, but it’s all pretty much moot if they can’t get Kidd to stay for at least one more season.

    • http://www.thetwomangame.com Rob Mahoney

      You’re absolutely right about the early Bird rights. The problem with Bass has more to do with competition, in my mind. Is he really worth the full midlevel? Probably not, but dumber signings have surely been made, especially with that particular exception. So if it comes down to the Mavs offering a competitive salary but going downhill, or a team with a need at power forward that seems to be on the up and up (Orlando comes to mind), wouldn’t Bass have to at least lend an ear to the other proposals?

      This may be one of the first times in recent Maverick history where the team actually has trouble holding onto their free agents. Dallas is a great market, but as market size becomes more and more irrelevant with the times, all lights shine on the management and the team. If the Mavs are viewed as unstable on either front, it could cost them Bass, Kidd, or maybe even Green or Singleton.

      I’d wager it’s the same case with Singleton. The Mavs can likely offer him more minutes than the Celtics or the Lakers, but if a young team on the fringe of contention wants to offer him a roster spot, what incentive does he really have to stay aside from some “Thank you for taking a chance on me,” loyalty?

  • wacc_attack

    Perhaps I am being too optimistic here, but given the whirlwind that was this past trading deadline, I am pretty bullish with respect to our chances of establishing a quality team next year. Phoenix was looking to offload Amare, and as much as they want you to believe it was due to on the court-approach to the game-philosophy reasons, don’t be fooled: it was pure economics talking. The same goes for Tyson Chandler. Well guess what? The economy isn’t about to throw itself into 2nd gear and have a tremendous rebound. This will continue for a while longer, and definitely through the NBA offseason. Teams will be looking to offload long and pricy contracts, and we have a few of economically-attractive assets. Other than the obvious, Stack, we have Shawne Williams 2.5MM expiring deal – that’s pretty tiny, but if youre looking to cut, you wont say no to 2.5MM as a throw in/sweetener. The Matt Carroll situation hurts, as he adds close to nothing and gets paid like a “wall street fat cat” (I hate that term with a passion). Dampier is a tough sell, as he still has one full year before his deal can be passed off as a massive expiring contract. And, there’s always J-Ho, who we’ve all traded in our minds roughly 1,456 times already.

    All I’m saying is that don’t be so bearish. Yes, by OUR STANDARDS, this season blows. But step back and think for a moment. We still have a chance, albeit a small one, to win 50 games this year. That’s not bad. At all. No, we are no longer in the top 5 of any reasonable power ranking out there, but we are not a bad team. Or a mediocre team. Or a so-so, yah I guess they’re kinda good team. Teams still show up to play us. We’re still relevant. I know it is easy to forget that given we are used to winning close to 60 games, perenially dreaming of that elusive title. No, it will not happen this year. Again. But to say that Dallas is no longer an attractive market for FA is, I think, a bit of a harsh stretch.