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Analysis: Harris still can't recreate Kidd's magic

By John Schuhmann,
Posted Dec 20 2008 8:59AM

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ -- The night in New Jersey was bookended by two standing ovations.

The first was for Jason Kidd, returning to the IZOD Center for the first time since being traded to Dallas in February. The sparse crowd, which filled less than half the arena because of a snowstorm, showed Kidd the appreciation he deserved for taking the Nets franchise to heights no one thought they could ever reach.

Devin Harris got the better of Jason Kidd on Friday, but he still has a ways to go to pass Kidd in other areas.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

The second was for Devin Harris, who was clearly the best point guard in the building Friday night, scoring 41 points and dishing out 13 assists as his new team beat his old one 121-97.

As Harris left the floor with 2:11 left in the fourth quarter, there was one other person who Nets fans thought deserved some love.

"Thank you Cuban!" they chanted at Mavs owner Mark Cuban, who sat behind the Dallas bench and who exchanged Harris and two draft picks for Kidd last season.

"It was pretty funny," Cuban admitted afterward.

It's safe to say that the Nets and their fans are happy with the trade that brought them Harris. Team president Rod Thorn and GM Kiki Vandeweghe got a great deal for Kidd, who wanted out of New Jersey. Harris ranks sixth in the league in scoring and has led the Nets, who many thought would finish last in the Eastern Conference, to a 13-12 record. Expectations have been exceeded.

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But as good as the Kidd-for-Harris trade was, it pales in comparison to the deal that Thorn pulled off in July of '01, when he sent Stephon Marbury to Phoenix in exchange for Kidd.

That deal turned a perennial doormat into a perennial contender. In Kidd's first season, the Nets went from 26 wins to 52 and made their first trip to the NBA Finals. They went back again the following year and could have made it three straight trips had Kidd not injured his knee in the 2003-04 season.

In their 25 NBA seasons before Kidd arrived, the Nets won one playoff series. In Kidd's six full seasons in New Jersey, the Nets won nine.

In a phone interview Friday, Byron Scott, who coached those two teams that went to the Finals, called that first Nets' run "a great story."

"We started basically from zero and we were able to get to the top," he said.

Current Mavs coach Rick Carlisle was an assistant in New Jersey for five years in the early '90s, and though the Nets made the playoffs in three of those years, he understands the feat that Kidd pulled off in taking this franchise to the Finals.

"There were a lot of people that said that it couldn't be done in New Jersey," Carlisle said, "that you couldn't ever get to the very top of the NBA and be in a position to get to the Finals. And there was one reason that they were, and that was Jason Kidd."

Harris still has a lot of work to do before he makes the imprint that Kidd did on this franchise. He's a far superior scorer than Kidd, but Kidd's value went far beyond the box score.

Kidd galvanized the team, the franchise and the fan base. He could control a game without scoring a point. It would be easy to say he made his teammates better, but it would also be a gross understatement. He made his teammates want to run through walls for him. When they spoke of their point guard, they spoke in reverence.

Kidd earned a lot of those teammates bigger paychecks than they would have earned playing with any other floor general. Just ask the likes of Kenyon Martin, Richard Jefferson, Brian Scalabrine and Mikki Moore.

Harris, while a terrific talent and quicker than quick, doesn't have that quality. He's more tangible than intangible, and he doesn't necessarily bring his teammates along for the ride when he takes over a game. Like Kidd, he has brought life to this cavernous building, but it's not the kind of life that can be sustained on a poor shooting night.

Still, the Kidd era had to come to an end at some point. And there are far worse ways to rebuild than with a point guard that can get past any defender you put in front of him, finish at the rim, or step back and hit an open jumper when it's given to him. Cuban won't ever admit it, but the Nets won the trade, especially considering that Kidd forced their hand.

But even with Harris playing the best basketball of his life, he's still a long way from recreating the magic that Kidd brought to New Jersey when he arrived.

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