It would be easy to say that Jason Kidd held on too long, that he should have walked away after finally getting a title in his 17th season. That year in Dallas was actually the first year of his final drop off – Kidd’s PER dropped below the league average and never came back, and the strong 3-point shooting that had sustained his career in the late-2000’s dropped back to average levels, leaving him without any significant offensive role. Had he left after the Mavericks won the title, he could have gone out on top, walking away at exactly the right time.
The best part of Kidd’s post-New Jersey seasons was the way he managed to shift his game after being traded to Dallas, reinventing himself as a spot-up shooter to space the floor for Dirk Nowitzki and move the ball along the perimeter. He often guarded shooting guards, allowing J.J. Barea and Jason Terry to see extended minutes without compromising the defense. After averaging a triple-double for the Nets in his final playoff appearance with the team, Kidd achieved a sort of low-usage mastery of the game, affecting it in all of the little ways even when he could no longer carry a team.
He became something of a manager, adjusting the pace as needed and utilizing his new-found long-range shooting prowess to keep the floor open. This approach managed to keep him relevant long after his drive and kick game abandoned him. The last three seasons have seen his role diminish even further, as the shooting regressed and there was nothing left to back it up.
When New York signed Kidd in the offseason to a 3-year deal worth a little over $9 million, there was skepticism that he would have any impact. Then the Knicks jumped out to an 18-5 record to start the season, and the criticism quieted down. In November and December, he shot well over 40% from 3 and was a big part of the free-wheeling, Carmelo Anthony-centric attack that the Knicks utilized when they were at their very best.
After the calendar turned over, the shots stopped falling, not just for Kidd, but for pretty much everyone. The team struggled until a late season run that saw Kidd lose time to 35-year-old rookie Pablo Prigioni, who was able to do a solid early-season Kidd impression to get the offense back on track. In the playoffs Prigioni was given even more of his playing time, along with Iman Shumpert, when Kidd completely stopped making shots.
He didn’t score for the last 10 games of the playoffs (tied with four others, including Darko Milicic and Joe Smith, for the longest playoff drought in 10 years), culminating in Mike Woodson playing him only six minutes in the closeout game 6. These minutes all came in the first half, and featured absurdities like this:
That’s Kidd standing wide open at the top of the key while J.R. Smith drives straight into a double team. Smith even looks at Kidd before putting his head down and driving into traffic anyway. The ultimate insult is that as Smith is looking directly at Kidd, George Hill takes a step back towards the top of the key, remembers his man is Kidd, and rushes back to Smith for a hard double.
Kidd had completely given up on shooting by the end of the Indiana series, and everyone knew it. Shooting 12% in the playoffs was bad enough, but being left completely alone on offense because he basically refused to pull the trigger – even wide open – was an offense killer. Woodson knew this, and though he tried to provide some chances to get Kidd going he was only granted 11 minutes total over the final two games.
It would be foolish to look at these last few weeks and think that Kidd didn’t contribute this season. Without him in the early going the team may not have gotten the 2nd seed in the East. But it would be equally foolish to look at his current skill level and assume that there is any real hope he can contribute going forward. There are two more years on his contract, but the time has finally come for Kidd to walk away.