By: Bill Ingram
The chances are you've had this conversation. I've certainly had it more than a dozen times, both on radio and TV shows as well as with friends in Dallas who love the Mavericks. As we watch Devin Harris go out and score 47 points against Phoenix and hit the 30-point mark more often than not, people want to know what the Mavericks were smoking when they traded him for the "old and tired" Jason Kidd.
As well as Harris is playing, and he's certainly on track to be an All-Star and possibly this year's Most Improved Player, we have to stop and think about what kind of team the Mavericks are and what kind of team the New Jersey Nets are. There are few similarities, and to a man the Mavs feel Kidd is the better player for their team and their system.
"I think it's a win-win for both teams," Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told HOOPSWORLD. "Devin's having a great season, we're proud of him, but he's not going to have the ball in his hands every single time if he's here. They're a two-man team and they dominate the ball. That wasn't going to happen here. We needed a guy to distribute the ball, provide leadership, and that's what we got. Would I do the deal again? Yep."
"All situations are different," adds veteran swingman Jerry
Stackhouse. "If Devin had never been traded, who's to say that he would
be able to play the same style that he's playing right now and playing
as loose and as confident as he's playing right now. They have some
different pieces around him, too. They have some spot-up guys around
him. There aren't a lot of guys who stand in the post and demand the
ball and get in his way. There are other teams that could give him the
ball and tell him to do his thing and he wouldn't be as successful as
he has been because of the personnel. Personnel has a lot to do with
it. Here we're going to get the ball to Dirk a huge percentage of the
time and I don't think the Nets have another guy who they're looking to
just run the ball through, Vince Carter included."
"Devin's playing well, which is good for him, but you can't live in the past," says Dirk Nowitzki. "I love playing with Jason Kidd. He's been great around here, not only on the court but off the court he's been great. We're comfortable playing with him and we just have to move on."
Overwhelmingly, the feeling among Mavericks who played with Devin is that he wouldn't have become the player he is for the Nets if he hadn't been traded to a team where he could dominate the ball.
"You've got to be on a team where you dominate the ball," says Cuban. "That's what Devin does best. Clear out and let Devin go. They're not giving it to Yi Jianlian. They're not giving it to Lopez. They're not giving it to Bobby Simmons, who just stands in the corner. One time they give it to Devin, one time they give it to Vince. That's perfect for them, that's the way they designed their offense. It's kind of like when Michael Finley first got here. We just gave it to Fin. He went from a guy who was just a slasher to an All-Star. That's just who he was."
"Devin's playing well, but you have to attribute that to the system he's in," agrees Terry. "He doesn't have the team that we have over here. We have a lot of talent and sometimes you have to defer to other guys. He's being able to shine in a system where he's the focal point. Over here, obviously, he wouldn't be. He's maybe the third or fourth option over here. We're happy that he's doing well, but at the same time you never know if he'd be as effective here."
Harris couldn't agree more, and told HOOPSWORLD that he feels he can be more aggressive with his team in New Jersey than he could ever have been with the Mavericks.
"Dallas has a very balanced type of scoring in that they've got their top two guys in Dirk and Josh, and that third scorer then kind of varies. Jet's played well this year because J-Kidd's a little bit more of a distributor, but I agree that I wouldn't have had the same shot to be as aggressive as I have been here. They need me to score here, but there those guys need to score, and they need to get the ball."
"Devin wouldn't be doing what he's doing in this structure," explains Cuban. "Devin would be asked to create plays to open up room for Dirk. That's not Devin. when he was a one-man fastbreak for us he was phenomenal. That's just a different structure. It's kind of like when Steve Nash left here. Nellie was talking about how Nash wouldn't last and he was cutting his minutes, he goes to a system designed for him and he's an MVP. I hope Devin gets the MVP. He's the type of kid that's great for the NBA, but we have an MVP here. That's the difference."
Nowitzki even went so far as to suggest that perhaps former coach Avery Johnson was holding Harris back. It's an interesting point, especially for those of us who saw Avery night after night trying to mold and shape his young point guard.
"Maybe it's good for him to get away from Avery for a little bit," says the Mavs' MVP. "He was looking over his shoulder constantly and it just seems like he's playing free in New Jersey. He doesn't have to worry about anything, he's just playing his game. Maybe that change was good for him. I'm happy for him. He's playing well. He was a great kid from the beginning and we all knew he was going to be a good point guard in this league. I just think Jason fits a little better in what we're trying to do."
Jason Terry was very close to Johnson, and as a point guard he had more of Avery's undivided attention than the rest of the squad. He disagrees with Dirk's assertion that perhaps their former coach was limiting Harris' development.
"I don't think Avery overmanaged us; I think he coached to his team," says Terry. "He coached to the players that he had. When you're a point guard and then you're a coach who played the position, you're going to put extra emphasis on coaching and teaching that position. He did a great job for me, coming from Atlanta, being a scoring guard, he taught me to manage the game. Even though I'm at the two now I'm still out there thinking like Avery would be thinking. I know he helped JJ (Barea) and he helped Devin Harris, as you see by the way he's leading that New Jersey team."
"We all knew Devin was extremely talented and it was just a matter of time before he blossomed into the player that he's playing like right now," adds Stackhouse. "It's just that he had growing pains in getting there and unfortunately we experienced some of those growing pains last season. Our team was constructed, at the time, as a team that was built to win right now. There was just a moment there where everybody felt that we had to do something. When you've got Jason Kidd being dangled out there, a guy who's a proven winner, who's been to the Finals, and maybe didn't have the best supporting cast - you tend to think that he might be the missing piece. You had to wonder how much longer Devin was going to have those growing pains. I think he's proving that his learning curve was almost at the end and now he's showing that he's an extremely gifted and talented player."
The answer to the question of whether or not the Dallas Mavericks regret the trade that brought Jason Kidd to town in exchange for Devin Harris, then, is an emphatic "no." They recognized Harris' potential, but they also knew they needed more of a set-up man to instigate their offense. Jason Kidd is filling that void for Dallas, just as Harris filling a much bigger void on both ends of the floor for the New Jersey Nets.
It seems this trade is truly working out for both teams, with no regrets on either side.