by Jame Aron
AP Sports Writer
MIAMI (AP)—After all the assists, steals, 3-pointers and triple-doubles, Jason Kidd has an easier path to his next entry in the NBA record book.
All he has to do is show up.
Kidd will become the oldest guard to start a game in an NBA finals when the Dallas Mavericks face the Miami Heat on Tuesday night.
|VETERAN LEDERSHIP—Dallas Mavericks’ Jason Kidd, left, shoots as teammate Dirk Nowitzki, right, watches during an NBA Finals basketball practice Monday, May 30, in Miami. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
While Dirk Nowitzki calls him a “fossil,”and Shawn Marion described him as being “almost 50,” Kidd is a few months past 38. That’s two years older than Ron Harper was when he started for the Lakers in 2000.
Of course, Kidd would prefer the title of oldest starting guard to win a championship. That also was set by Harper in 2000.
Winning it all is among the few things Kidd hasn’t done in his 17-year career. He came close in 2002 and ’03, reaching the finals with the New Jersey Nets, but they were swept by the Lakers then fell to the Spurs.
“I thought we were going to go on a roll in Jersey and make it three or four in a row,” Kidd said. “But, now we’re here. And hopefully we can find a way to win a championship.”
If so, Kidd likely will be the one leading the way.
He still starts most fast breaks and controls the halfcourt offense. Leave him open and he’ll hit a 3-pointer; he made six in the first-round opener and buried another in the final minute of overtime to win Game 4 of the conference finals.
Defense is where he’s really excelled this postseason. Late in close games, coach Rick Carlisle has assigned Kidd to cover Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Carlisle has said Kidd will be among those asked to slow LeBron James in this series.
So much for taking it easy on the old man.
The only concessions to age Kidd seems to have made are playing less minutes and tolerating the flecks of gray in his beard.
“He’s playing at a high level, keeping up with a lot of these young guys,” said Miami’s Juwan Howard, who was drafted a few spots after Kidd in 1994-95 and is the only player older than Kidd in this series. “Normally when you’re our age, people count you out. They say you don’t have anything left in the tank. But as you get older in this league, you get wiser.”
Wisdom is a big part of Kidd’s game.
After 1,267 regular-season games, and another 136 in the playoffs, he’s pretty much seen it all. He knows what risks are worth taking and when to take them.
“We’re always a better basketball team when he’s our facilitator on the court, and he’s getting guys in different positions and leading the offense, and helping us in our flow game,” Carlisle said. “When we’ve got to call plays, I’ll call them once in a while, but he’s great at that, too. The more he can do it, the better our team plays.”
Nowitzki sure likes having him around, and that’s reason enough to value Kidd.
Nowitzki pushed for Dallas to acquire Kidd at the trade deadline in 2008, even though it meant giving up young, improving Devin Harris. It wasn’t clear who got the better of that deal as the Mavs won a single playoff series in Kidd’s first three postseasons.
This run to the finals should end that debate.
“It just took a while to really come into his own here,” Nowitzki said.
Kidd is under contract for one more season. However, with a lockout looming, there might not be a 2011-12 season. Thus, there’s a chance this series could be it for his career.
He sure hopes that’s not the case—not after the way the last two months have gone, and as big of a role as he’s had in that success.
“I would love to continue to keep playing if I feel the way I do now,” he said. “I feel great. I know I’m not going to be playing 35 minutes a night. I still have a lot to give back to the game. …I love the competition no matter at what age. And I’m a big fan of the game. Seeing these young guys play at the level that they are, I just wish I was 22, 23 years old so I can handle the game the way they do.”
Perhaps. But none of those kids are doing what they do in the NBA finals, at least not this year.