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Don't Forget, Jason Kidd Won a Title with the Dallas Mavericks

Bethlehem Shoals@freedarkoNBA Lead WriterNovember 2, 2011

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 12:  Jason Kidd #2 of the Dallas Mavericks answers questions from the media as the Larry O'Brien Championship trophy sits on the table during a post game news conference after the Mavericks won 105-95 against the Miami Heat in Game Six of the 2011 NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena on June 12, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Jason Kidd has a title. If it weren't for this nasty labor strife, this week the 17-season veteran would be receiving his ring as a member of the Dallas Mavericks.

Here's the weird thing—no one really seems to have noticed that Kidd, one of the greatest point guards to play the game, now has a ring.

A ring is supposed to cement, not merely cap off a legacy. It marks a player as a "winner." Unless, that is, he gets is illegitimately, as a hanger-on. In Kidd's case, the ring is invisible.

Kidd has made the NBA Finals twice, in 2002 and 2003, when he was in the midst of resurrecting the New Jersey Nets. That team was hopelessly overmatched, falling hard to the Los Angeles Lakers and then the San Antonio Spurs. This was during a period of hopeless conference imbalance, when a handful of Western teams—mostly the Lakers and Spurs—tussled for the title.

Given this unfortunate state of things, Kidd's near-miraculous turnaround of the Nets was a career-defining event. Was it enough? Was that why no one was waiting around for Kidd to finally prove himself?

When Jason Kidd came to the Mavs in a 2008 trade, he was still considered a franchise player, one whose presence could put Dallas over the top. Kidd was the quintessential leader out on the leader, not to mention a sweet passer, a bulldog on the boards and on defense and, as he aged, a strong option for outside.

With New Jersey, he had shown that a point guard could be the focal point of a team, anticipating the current PG vogue that is often traced to Steve Nash with the 2004-05 Phoenix Suns. Before that, Kidd had made the Suns competitive, and before that, ahem, Dallas. He's been around so long that players used to be able to record stuff like this track without a major public backlash. 

There were no questions about Kidd. He was one of the few players in the league who was so good and so respected, that the usual cliches did not apply. Everybody wanted Kidd, but Mark Cuban got him.

With Kidd, the Mavericks were a good playoff team, but they did not make it past the second round with him on board until this championship run—when, as it turns out, Kidd was anything but an obvious difference-maker.

Today, Jason Kidd's skills are there. His body just isn't the same.

Oscar Robertson was still one of the game's best players when he was traded from the Cincinnati Royals to the Milwaukee Bucks. Teaming up with Lew Alcindor, Robertson got his title in 1971. But as Robertson aged, the Bucks didn't win a title (though they made the Finals, and went seven games against the Celtics in 1974—his final year). That made sense.

There's an unkind phrase for big names who jump on another team's bandwagon once they have exhausted their prime: ring-chasers.

It suggests that they could not get it done on their own and had to attach themselves, almost parasitically, to a younger star. Jason Kidd was much diminished in 2011; Dirk Nowitzki, on the other hand, was still an MVP candidate. It's the classic setup for ring-chasing. Except Kidd came to Dallas before his decline began, and his place on the team reflected that, even if his play did not.

Still, the ring confounds us. Did Kidd earn his ring, or did he freeload?

The answer is, neither. Nothing about the Mavericks' journey was orthodox, so it's hard to judge who, other than Dirk and Tyson Chandler, was central to the effort. Peja Stojakovic and Shawn Marion played major roles; they were never Jason Kidd, and are probably even less useful on any other night. We don’t understand them in terms of the title; we understand the title in terms of their efforts, which were unexpected and, without a doubt, unreproducible.

Kidd certainly ran the offense at times—expertly, if not spectacularly—but he spent most of the games as a spot-up three-point expert and defensive question mark. And two of the Mavs' most productive wild cards were J.J. Barea and Jason Terry, who either took minutes from Kidd or effectively doubled him in the back court. 

Kidd's championship, and its effect on his legacy, is difficult to judge not because of its timing, but because of the circumstances surrounding it.

There's something magical about the Mavericks title, with its many comebacks and players exceeding their capabilities. At the same time, though, that also puts it outside of our usual categories. Dirk was the engine, and sure, now he's got that monkey off his back. Beyond that, what this title means is anyone's guess.

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