By Art Garcia, NBA.com
Posted Apr 29 2009 10:09AM
SAN ANTONIO -- Six years later, Jason Kidd promises to go with his head and not his heart.
That may not be good news for the freshly-minted Western Conference semifinalists. When he hits free agency this time, the suitors may again feature an NBA champion. Back then, it was the Spurs. This summer, the Lakers or Cavaliers might come knocking on his door.
The rest of the circumstances don't exactly line up. Now, he's 36. He's no longer considered the crème of the point guard crop. Chris Paul leads the league's pantheon of play-making guards now, along with Deron Williams, and the man Kidd almost replaced in San Antonio.
Tony Parker couldn't have had a better series, and Kidd let him know as much after Tuesday night's 106-93 clincher that sent the Mavericks to the second round for the first time in three years. Dallas awaits the Nuggets-Hornets winner, with Denver holding a commanding 3-1 lead going into Wednesday's Game 5 at Denver.
"With everything we've gone through this season," Kidd said, "we still have a good chance to compete for the Western Conference."
The Spurs denied Kidd and the Nets in their second shot at a title in 2003. Kidd didn't exactly return the favor this year, since San Antonio wasn't going to win a title with Manu Ginobili sidelined. Instead, Kidd has taken part in what some are calling the end of the dynastic-like run here.
(No, the Spurs were never a dynasty, not that Gregg Popovich and Co. care about such a distinction. And don't think for a second their window has closed. A healthy Tim Duncan and Ginobili, a couple of roster tweaks and they're right back in the hunt next season.)
Kidd will be back, too, but Big D might not be home. His second incarnation with the Mavericks hasn't been without controversy, though much of the Devin Harris backlash has died down. The Harris-led Mavs lost in the first round in his first full season as a starter despite being the top seed in the West.
Kidd has them in the semis as a sixth seed. If the Mavericks continue to trend up with the multi-faceted attack that sunk the Spurs in five games, the West finals aren't a stretch. Would such a postseason run play into Kidd's decision to sign with Dallas?
"I'm going into it with an open mind and see what comes up," he said. "There could be some great situations again, so maybe this time I'll think with my mind and not my heart."
Kidd can't help but wonder what might have been had he signed a different team's contract in 2003. The Spurs, from Popovich on down, did everything right in their recruitment, Kidd said. He decided to stay in New Jersey, saying that "loyalty" was a factor and believing the Nets were on the brink. That changed with Kenyon Martin's exit for Denver in the summer of 2004.
The Spurs remained a title contender, and Kidd counted up the rings he passed up.
"Maybe I would have had two," he said. "Maybe or I might have messed it up. I don't think I could have messed up throwing the ball to Tim and Tony and Ginobili."
Kidd doesn't think his arrival in San Antonio would have pushed Parker out. Parker thought otherwise, figuring he would have eventually been traded. Kidd's flirtation with the Spurs did give him maximum bargaining power against New Jersey, and his willingness to look elsewhere this summer could drive the price up in Dallas.
The Mavericks' front office expects a number of teams to come after Kidd this time, despite his age and production. But his impact has never been strictly measured by stats, which coincidently were the worst of his career this season. And it's not about athleticism. As someone who's never played above the rim, Kidd hardly missed a beat or lost a step after microfracture surgery earlier this decade.
Kidd is still quick enough and smart enough to double-back on an outlet pass, steal the ball and coax a foul out of Roger Mason late in the third quarter of Game 4. Kidd's two 3-pointers in the last two minutes of Tuesday's third quarter, including one at the horn, turned back a Spurs' charge and staked Dallas to a 15-point lead.
Popovich has admired Kidd since his high school days in Oakland, adding he "does those Ginobili things." The perfectly timed burst going into the fourth quarter all but cooked the Spurs, and were the last points Kidd would score in a 41-minute outing. He finished with a cool dozen, all off 3-pointers, as six Mavs scored in double figures. Dirk Nowitzki, the MVP teammate he never had in New Jersey, scored 31.
"They made stops and had little runs of their own," Popovich said. "That's why they won the series 4-1."
Kidd didn't have to dominate this series as Parker did. Had Kidd spent the last six years in Silver & Black, "That would have been a great ride to be part of." He won't let finally besting the Spurs in the postseason factor into his July thinking, but it might help his bargaining position.
"I want to prove to the suitors I can still play at a high level and still help a team," he said, "especially a team that's close to winning a championship."
The Mavericks, even with a strong Playoff run, may not be that team. Asked to put odds on a return to the city of his NBA birth, Kidd politely declines.
"I can't," he said. "I wouldn't even know how to handicap it, but I like it in Dallas."
He liked New Jersey, too. Sometimes the heart is wrong.
If you have a question or comment for Art Garcia, send him an email.
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