by Lang Whitaker

I’m back.

First, a word of thanks to everyone here in the SLAM Dome for giving me a few days off and, more importantly, for the emotional support. My mother-in-law passed away Monday night in Atlanta, as I was on the way back to New York from New Orleans. She was an original and dedicated Linkstigator, and she was like a mother to me. Wifey and I will miss her dearly. So it’s been a tough few days.

Making things worse, Sam, Ben and I all caught some kind of cold/flu bug in New Orleans. Maybe we shouldn’t have eaten the food in the media room after Khalid noticed flies swarming around the cookie platter and found a hair in his nachos, but it is what it is.

Yes, I watched the Oscars on Sunday night. Diablo Cody used to be a stripper? That’s a strip club I don’t ever want to visit.

But let’s talk basketball. I did manage to make time over the last week to watch a lot of NBA action. While I was out of town for the funeral and services, I was so missing my League Pass that the other night I found myself waiting for one of the ESPN NBA highlight shows to come on — a first for me. I liked seeing all the highlights, but the analysts on the show were Jalen Rose and Jamal Mashburn, and they were not exactly riveting. Toward the end of the program, the host was asking them questions, and they kept disagreeing on each topic. Jalen would give his opinion, then Mashburn would give a dissenting opinion while Jalen stared at him with one eyebrow cocked, as though Mash owed him a large amount of money.

Listening to them stumble over their thoughts helped me crystallize some of my own. And after chewing on all the deals made at the trade deadline, I think there’s one team that’s the clear winner: The Dallas Mavericks.

A few weeks ago I had an email exchange with Henry Abbott (BTW, I think it’s way past time that we start calling Henry “Hank”) about a Kidd-to-the-Blazers column I wrote, and at one point I had to tell Henry/Hank, “I can’t believe I’m defending Jason Kidd like this.” Because these days, nobody seems to like Jason Kidd.

For the last few years, while the Nets have explored their mediocrity, people mostly left Jason Kidd alone. Sure, bloggers bashed him for passive-aggressively trying to get out of The Swamp and gossip columnists got to chew on his off-court exploits, but mostly Kidd played under the cover of quiet, regularly posting triple-doubles and making his teammates better players — Richard Jefferson has had a banner season, but I don’t think his numbers would be quite so gaudy without Kidd pushing the tempo.

As good as Kidd is at controlling game speed and improving all those around him, he’s somehow never managed to improve his shooting, and on the other end he’s obviously slipped from his perch as an all-NBA defender. But do these deficiencies mean he’s a poor fit with the Mavericks? Of course not. Jason Kidd is going to make the Mavericks a better team. And he just might make them a championship team.

I can’t count how many people I heard say that the Mavs shouldn’t have traded Devin Harris because he’s still so promising and talented. Which helps this year’s Dallas team how? Also, this is Harris’ fourth season, so it’s not like he hasn’t had extensive playing time in the past. Harris still may turn into an All-Star, but I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon.

It comes down to the old question, should you deal a promising younger player for a proven older player? Sometimes. In this case, though, definitely, because as good as the Jason Terry/Devin Harris combo has been, I think a Kidd/Terry combo is better, in a few ways.

I mentioned Kidd’s defense slipping, and this was especially evident in the All-Star Game, where Iverson and Chris Paul made Kidd look like he was wearing concrete Nikes. In Dallas, though, Kidd can slide over and defend two guards and allow Jason Terry (who still has the quickness Kidd once had) to guard the ones. And defending off the ball, Kidd still has the smarts to poach the passing lanes and pick off passes here and there, like he used to do so well in Jersey a few years ago.

And no, he still can’t shoot straight, but I think he’ll get more open looks than he did in Jersey the last few years, now that he’s playing alongside players who are actual offensive threats. Having a three-point shooter (Dirk) who can actually shoot three-pointers alongside him should also open things up, allowing Kidd to drive to the rim more often. And Terry is one of the more underrated midrange jumpshooters in the League right now. Once he starts figuring out where to spot up on breaks, JT’s numbers are going to see a bump.

Does adding Kidd make Dallas a championship contender? Probably not in Vegas, but I think it does in NBA arenas. I still think the road to the title goes through San Antonio, and without Harris the Mavs won’t have a waterbug to stick on Tony Parker. But Terry will stick with him, and Kidd’s going to make Tony Parker work harder on defense than he’s ever had to work against the Mavs. The Lakers and Phoenix are the other contenders to deal with, but I’ll get to them later this week.
To me, the main thing Kidd brings to Dallas is a little élan, which has been sorely lacking for a while. I’m sorry, stat geeks, because this is one of those things that can’t be quantified or multiplied or divided, but in basketball it’s every bit as important as any collection of numbers.

When the Mavs went to the Finals two years ago, they seemed like a team lacking an identity. Perhaps that’s because the franchise’s defining personality is still their owner, even after Dirk copped the MVP last summer. The Mavs have seemed to be weighed down by expectation the last few seasons, and most of all, they just haven’t seemed like a very fun team.

I don’t believe Kidd, a man who’s never been accused of having too much personality, will suddenly become Deion Sanders in Dallas, but he will give Dallas an engine, make them a much more effective transition team, and, most of all, Jason Kidd will give Dallas a shot of hope at a time when they need it most.

Watch.