The Dallas Mavericks are one win away from the NBA Finals, with a fairly old roster few projected to hang on. Dirk Nowitzki remains brilliant, and no one expected otherwise. But Jason Kidd? Shawn Marion? DeShawn Stevenson? This is madness, all of it.
That has us reassessing what we thought we knew about the Mavericks. In particular, it has us reassessing what we thought about Kidd, the ageless wonder. SI.com yeoman Zach Lowe digs in with a post wondering whether Dallas lost the infamous Kidd-Devin Harris trade after all.
Lowe's conclusion is that this is a cautionary tale for instant trade evaluation. My alternate interpretation is that this shows how good the Dallas front office has been, and how bad it's been for the New Jersey Nets.
To be clear, Lowe doesn't declare that Dallas "won" that trade. (The trade, by the way, was Kidd, Malik Allen and Antoine Wright for Harris, Mo Ager, Trenton Hassell, DeSagana Diop, the pick that became Ryan Anderson, the pick that became Jordan Crawford and a retired Keith Van Horn. The Mavericks essentially ended up paying $11 million and two first-round picks to trade Harris for Kidd.) Lowe compares the careers of Kidd and Harris from that point and notes that Kidd has been more valuable, despite everyone and their mother's ant parade declaring Dallas idiots for doing the deal. (I was one of those everyones.)
The issue at the core of this consideration is whether Kidd has been better than Harris, or whether the parts were largely interchangeable and the foundations around these players are what has led to the divergent fates.
Remember that in trading Kidd, the Nets were giving up. Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson soon followed Kidd out the door, leaving New Jersey in full rebuild mode. Brook Lopez arrived; Harris earned an All-Star berth in 2008-09 and looked like one of the best young point guards in the NBA. A year later, a preseason Harris injury contributed to the Nets reeling off the worst start in NBA history. That season was a complete and total loss, with Mikhail Prokhorov buying the team and little else positive happening.
Meanwhile, the Mavericks -- who spent millions of dollars to "upgrade" to Kidd -- flailed in the early rounds of the playoffs. Last year, against the Spurs, Kidd averaged eight points per game in the playoffs against Tony Parker and the Spurs. He shot 30 percent to get those eight points. He was a disaster.
He's doing much better this time around, averaging 10 points, 7.5 assists and 37 percent three-point shooting in 14 playoff games. But this is much better compared to 2010 Jason Kidd. It's still not great. As Lowe notes, Kidd is playing solid defense on Russell Westbrook in spots. But this is compared to his back-up J.J. Barea, and 2010 Kidd. Not Harris, who was a great defender as a Maverick -- he was a major reason the Mavs made it to the 2006 NBA Finals, playing 25 minutes per game as a 22-year-old second-year player.
Future success certainly matters in assessing trades, and clearly, the Mavericks have been better than the Nets. But had Dallas not made the trade, they very well could have made the 2008 Finals and 2009 Finals and 2010 Finals. Had the Mavericks not brilliantly flipped Erick Dampier's unguaranteed contract for Tyson Chandler, Dallas might not be on pace to earn a trip to the 2011 Finals. Had Harris not been injured in 2009, perhaps the Nets wouldn't have threatened all NBA futility marks.
The facts of today don't change the fact that in 2008, the Mavericks traded a young, brilliant point guard for an aging, brilliant point guard ... and paid two picks and $11 million for the opportunity. Kidd has been a free agent since that trade -- the Mavericks re-signed him to a three-year deal in 2009 -- and Harris has been locked up to a fair value. Today's reality doesn't change the values of the players in 2008; that Donnie Nelson is exceptional at his job and Mark Cuban willing to spend untold millions in luxury tax, that the Nets' rebuild was a disaster on wheels as the franchise under Bruce Ratner imploded -- those don't change the condition in 2008.
To say the Mavericks won the Kidd-Harris trade isn't revisiting history, it's revising history. The Mavericks are winners today, and that's all that matter. That success is a factor in how the trade should be judged. But, in the full consideration of everything that went in and came out of the trade, the Mavericks didn't win the deal. They just made the most of the aftermath.