Here’s a surprise: Jason Kidd is mixed up in a swirl of trade rumors! But this time they’re officially true, endorsed by Mr. Kidd himself, who told Ric Bucher…
“I’m not mad at anybody. Sometimes, when you ride a wave, you get to the end and that’s all there is. That’s where we are.”
So we’re at the end of a wave? Huh? Then who’s wearing the enchanted tiki idol?
Jason’s clumsy imagery aside, I think where we really are is that Jason Kidd just couldn’t take it anymore. And he was tired of lying to us about it. Let me explain…
As a fan of the Atlanta Hawks, I have empathy for Nets fans. I understand what it’s like when your franchise refuses to go one cent over the luxury tax threshold, when not spending money is way more important than winning championships. I’m not endorsing a Mark Cuban/open checkbook approach to running an NBA team, but I do think maybe it’s OK to occasionally go a few hundred G’s over the luxury tax threshold occasionally. Because sometimes teams screw up, and you might back yourself into a corner from time to time. And if you’re operating with no wiggle room, you can find yourself screwed for a long, long time.
The Nets have been playing this shoestring budget game for a while now. Last year’s luxury tax threshold ended up being $65.42 million, which was about $3.5 million more than the previous year. From that we can guess that this year’s tax threshold will end up being around $69.1 million. What’s the Nets cap number right now? $68.02 million. So even if it ends up being a little less than expected, the Nets won’t have to pay any tax. (Can’t you see Rod Thorn sitting in his office clipping coupons, making Sussman buy pens and notepads in bulk at Costco, doing just about anything to keep expenses down?)
Another interesting thing is figuring out exactly where that $68 million is going. Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson combine to withdraw $45 million of that amount. That’s almost understandable (except for the part about Vince being owed $49 million over the next three seasons.), because those three guys are supposed to be the core of the Nets, their beating heart, what keeps them in games from night to night. And then there’s Jamaal Magloire, who nets $4 million this season, and Bostjan Nachbar, who gets $2.5 mil. Other than that, nobody makes more than $2 million a season and nobody is signed past 2009.
That all seems pretty good, right? You pay your superstars, and then you surround them with guys making small amounts that you can move easily if the chemistry isn’t working out.
Problem is, this assumes two things: 1) That your superstars are worth what you’re paying them. 2) That you don’t screw up and sign anyone long-term who doesn’t deserve the money.
Regarding point one, you can make a fair argument that Kidd/Vince/RJ are worth 2/3 of the money you have available to pay your team. After all, they combine to average 60 percent of Jersey’s points, and Kidd posts triple-doubles every week.
Regarding point two, there’s a six-foot eleven-inch problem and his name is Jason Collins (a.k.a. Collins the Greater). Talking to Nets people, you’ll hear over and over how Collins is such a great guy, how he’s a model citizen, how he’s the smartest player on the floor. Problem is, he’s usually also the worst player on the floor. He’s played in 40 games this season and he averages 1.3 point per game to go with 2.1 rpg. That putrid ppg average puts Collins at 14th on the Nets in points per game. (Yes, fourteenth out of a twelve man roster. If he keeps this up we’ll have to switch out Jason and Jarron and make Jason into Collins the Lesser.)
Collins inability to contribute wouldn’t be much of an issue if it wasn’t for one thing: Jason Collins makes $6 million a season and is signed through next season. If he played for Dallas and was stealing this kind of money, nobody would care. But if you’re on Jersey and you’re taking up ten percent of the allotted salary space, this is a huge problem, because if they can’t move you for somebody who will fit better (i.e. average more than 1 point per game) everyone’s stuck. Collins is stuck, the Nets are stuck, and Kidd, Carter and RJ are all stuck. Oh, and Nets fans are stuck watching games and praying that Collins the Greater will be able to score more than 1 point per game.
Jason Collins isn’t the only reason the Nets are where they are, because the injury to Nenad Krstic pretty much ruined Jersey last year and has carried over this year, too. Also, other than their Big 3, they really don’t have anyone capable to stepping up and taking over the scoring load on an off night.
Much like traveling to the Meadowlands, we just took a circuitous route, but we’re finally getting to my point: Jason Kidd knew all this going in. He knew exactly what he was getting himself into. He supported — publicly, at least — Vince Carter getting paid beaucoups because of all them dunks that he done made. Kidd knew all along that the Nets were never going to break the bank to make themselves a true contender. But making money was more important to Jason Kidd than winning a championship.
Just before last year’s trade deadline, there was a lot of talk about the Nets making a big move, maybe even trading Jason Kidd to the Lakers. Rod Thorn, the Nets GM, came out and said they weren’t trading JKidd. Then I sat behind Thorn on the flight back from Vegas and watched him look over salary sheets for a bunch of NBA teams. But still, they didn’t make a move.
Before Kidd signed his current deal with the Nets, I interviewed him for a SLAM cover, and I asked him why, if winning really was so important to him, didn’t he sign for the minimum for one season with a great team?
LANG: WHAT’S YOUR ANSWER ABOUT NEXT YEAR? BECAUSE YOU’VE BEEN ASKED THAT EVERY DAY FOR TWO MONTHS…
KIDD: Yeah, it’s just…you know, I’ve enjoyed New Jersey, it’s been great, and we’ll see what happens July 1. Hopefully I can end my career as a Net.
LANG: DO YOU WISH YOU’D NEVER AGREED TO ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS, BECAUSE NOW THEY WON’T LEAVE YOU ALONE ABOUT IT?
KIDD: Yeah, I can’t do anything. So the big thing is, Jersey’s been great to me. Hopefully I can stay in Jersey.
LANG: WHAT’S GOING TO BE THE DECIDING FACTOR IN WHERE YOU SIGN?
KIDD: Well, the chance to win a championship, that’s what we play this game for, to be able to win and legitimately have a chance to win a championship, and I feel I can do that here.
LANG: SO WHY DON’T YOU TAKE A MILLION AND SIGN WITH L.A.?
KIDD: Well, you still have to have that challenge too, You don’t want to take the easy way out. Because it’s never guaranteed it will work out. It’s never guaranteed that you’re going to win a championship.
Or I guess he could have just said, “Because of the money, fool!”
He had a point, though: Championships aren’t guaranteed. But you better believe your odds are a lot better if you’re playing alongside two or three great players instead of two very good players.
Yet Jason Kidd still took that $100 million contract offer from the Nets four years ago. He knew exactly what he was getting himself into.
And look where it got him.
Or, maybe more importantly, look where it got the Nets.