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.