Today, Tomorrow and Jason Kidd

Kurt —  February 21, 2007

After a week of Jason Kidd to the Lakers rumors that refuse to die (and we’ve had a good discussion about the rumors and options in the comments, you’re missing a lot of this site if you don’t read them), the latest details seem to have circled back to we said weeks ago, before any specific trades were hot national topics:

Every GM that called the Lakers was going to ask for Bynum. And there was no way the Lakers were going to give him up.

The latest rumors (from multiple sources now) are that the Lakers are offering some version of Kwame, Mihm, Farmar, McKie and late first round draft picks for Kidd. Nets GM Rod Thorn says the Lakers can keep Kwame, he wants Bynum or no deal. Frankly, if I were Thorn I’d ask for the same thing. As skigi said in the comments yesterday, Laker fans were unhappy when they traded Caron Butler for Kwame, can you imagine trading Kidd for him?

But the debate about this trade with Bynum as the sticking point says a lot about the crossroads the Lakers are at — and about Laker fans.

Fueled in part by three weeks of lackluster play, and the belief that the Lakers have a three- or four-year window with Kobe at his peak, there is a feeling among many that the Lakers need to build for right now. The future be damned, put Bynum in the deal because by the time he’s reaching his potential Kobe will be past his and the Lakers’ window will close without a title. We must win NOW! And Kidd is the means to that end.

I get the frustration, but I don’t see it that way. For a few reasons.

First, while Kobe’s skills may start to fade some, the maturity of his game will allow him to be a very effective player for more than just a few years. Already, since the knee surgery, you see him taking more jumpers this season when last year he would have gone to the hole and tried to draw the foul. He’s passing more when the defenses collapse. He knows the offense inside-out. While he may lose half a step in the next five years, he will still be a great player whose savvy will make him a leader.

More importantly, Bynum is growing up faster than anyone expected. Part of that is that this season he has been forced to play a lot of minutes due to the injuries to Mihm and Kwame, gaining experience he otherwise never would have. But I saw him two summers ago, in his first games at the Summer Pro League when he was taking hook shots off the wrong foot and was so weak he was pushed around by 6-5 guys in the paint. By last summer he looked like a different player, flawed and in need of conditioning but much improved. Then this season, tested on the big stage, his game has improved by light years. I’ve seen how much his body has matured, a sign of a lot time in the weight room. Phil pokes a little at Bynum’s work ethic, and at times he seems a little lackluster and uninspired, but you don’t make the dramatic improvements he has just sitting around playing video games. He and Kobe’s peak may very well overlap, and whatever Bynum’s peak, it will be higher than Kwame’s.

And here’s the thing, in five or seven years, when Kobe does hang up the sneakers, the Lakers will have a huge step towards rebuilding already in place. Seven footers with 7-6 wingspans, soft hands and a knack for blocking shots don’t grow on trees.

Kidd, on the other hand, is 34 and with a trick back. He’s played great this year, but to be honest he’s got two, three years tops. And you can expect his game to deteriorate in that time.

How has San Antonio stayed on top for the last decade? Selling out to win one year, or looking at the big picture and the long-range plans? To me you can build for winning in the next few years and be in a good position in 2014 as well, if you are smart. And trading Bynum for Kidd is not smart.

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A could other Kidd notes:

The gut reaction of every Laker fan was that Kidd would look good at the top of the triangle. But Roland Lazenby quotes Tex Winter questioning that basic premise:

That’s part of the hesitation over Nets guard Jason Kidd. He rebelled mightily against the triangle when Jim Cleamons tried to run it as coach of the Dallas Mavericks in the 1990s.

“Kidd does like to have the ball in his hands an awful lot,” triangle guru Tex Winter observed.

Would Jason Kidd be the second coming of Gary Payton?

I will say this, those problems in Dallas were a decade ago, and we can hope that Kidd has matured. That he wants to win and sees Phil, Kobe and the triangle offense as a way to do that. Also, unlike the version of The Glove that came to LA, Kidd can still play defense (much better than Smush). I don’t think he’ll be another Gary Payton, but it’s a concern.

Also, if some version of this deal does happen and the Lakers land Kidd, I’m still not sold the Lakers are contenders this year. They will improve, but it’s going to take some time for Kidd to become comfortable initiating the offense, learning to pick his spots and working with new teammates. Meanwhile, Dallas is deeper and very comfortable in their system, and Phoenix is very comfortable in theirs. This season, those two are the teams to beat. Now, next season could be a different story.


Kurt

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