In Titanic, Kate Winslet promised Leonardo DiCaprio she would never let go. Her assurance was meaningless. In New York, Jason Kidd believes he can play effective basketball until he’s 42. These are long odds, but the 18 year NBA veteran’s words hold more weight than his peers. Kidd signed a 3 year, $9 million contract in July, hoping the Knicks would serve as a retirement home.
While Kidd is slated to come off the bench, his ability to make plays and stops is a crucial factor to New York’s upcoming campaign, because starter and fellow import Raymond Felton’s effort is questionable. Their division features star point men Deron Williams, Kyle Lowry, Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday, so the 10 time NBA All Star will be eventually needed to slow them down.
A decade ago, Kidd could stride toe-to-toe with these gifted folks, but the basketball Gods naturally robbed his athleticism. Amid the point guard’s heyday in Phoenix and New Jersey, he became synonymous with “easy triple double” on ESPN’s NBA Coast to Coast, but his wheels were losing lug nuts by the time he was traded to Dallas in February 2008.
Kidd’s deterioration was apparent when Chris Paul physically abused him in the 1st round of the playoffs. Paul averaged 24.6 points while posting a remarkable 10:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, and the elder statesman flailed helplessly until their elimination. Mark Cuban was ridiculed by the media for dealing a young asset (Devin Harris) for a lemon.
Of course, Kidd was still very serviceable, and he reinvented himself on the way to his first NBA championship. The former 2nd overall pick’s mere weakness in his youth was the inability to score 15 feet out, so as his driving effectiveness stalled, he finally became a fairly reliable jump shooter. In 2009, Kidd landed a career high 42.5% from 3, while continually fueling fast breaks and bodying up guards on the interior. And during the Mavericks’ 2010 Cinderella playoff run, the Oakland native was responsible for stopping Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook and Dwayne Wade, which he miraculously survived.
Last season, Kidd’s offensive efficiency collapsed, the result of an unjustifiable 95% of his shot attempts being jumpers, according to 82games.com. There was no debate that his time as a starter was over, but leaving Texas for the Knicks was not the fairy tale ending anyone anticipated.
Kidd’s DWI arrest in July was not scripted either, but it adds significant pressure to his performance on the court this season.
Fortunately for Kidd, sitting down at tip off and playing 20 minutes a night will ease the stress on his mind and body. In a world without economic troubles, Felton could rediscover the magic of his first Knicks stint, and allow the Social Security collector to be stowed away for the playoffs. While fans in Gotham love to dream, the chance of this is practically nil, but Kidd will make a mockery out of opposing 2nd units. The guard has ample pick-and-roll partners, including Rasheed Wallace and former teammate Tyson Chandler.
Kidd wants to develop a rapport with Amar’e Stoudemire, but this will be to a lesser extent as the power forward will play a post up style more often this year. The NBA champion will also feed Carmelo Anthony the ball in the high post, which will result in gimmick assists or open kick outs. Kidd will be given the freedom to run.
But the glaring warnings from 2011 are hard to ignore. Kidd produced a -3 Player Efficiency Rating at the point (per 82games.com), and shot 36.3% from the floor. His 3 point accuracy returned to his career average, yet he still hoisted 4.6 deep shots a game. Kidd’s lateral movement is a major eyesore (he makes up for this with timely ball denial), and the veteran matched a career low 4.1 rebounds per contest. His health is another issue, having missed 18 matches with a calf strain last season. With a 3 year deal, what can the Knicks reasonably expect in 2014? At the best, a 3rd string insurance policy.
Expect head coach Mike Woodson to give Kidd full reign over the offense, because the former Atlanta boss has shown to have a bias towards older NBA players (i.e. stretching out Mike Bibby over inexperienced Jeff Teague for centuries). Felton is the better player than Kidd at this point, but the 39 year old will make an overwhelmingly positive influence in the Knicks’ locker room, which sorely needs it. Woodson has shown a tendency to rely on isolation plays, but he claims these days are over. Kidd earned his freedom by protecting the ball (career best 1.9 turnovers per game in 2011), and continuing to be a masterful thief of the rock. On February 20, the guard passed Michael Jordan for 2nd all time in total steals.
What does the future hold for Kidd? No more All Star appearances, but steady point guard play. To still be an NBA contributor at his advanced age, the man must know what he is doing. Kidd faces stiff competition at his position in the Atlantic Division, and his guidance is vital. There are no guarantees whether the legend will sink or swim at Madison Square Garden.