Two summers ago, when Jason Kidd was paired with Michael Jordan in a celebrity golf tournament, a casual acquaintance of Kidd's—Danny Ainge—saved him from a potentially grueling afternoon. "Playing with Michael is almost like being on the PGA Tour," Kidd says. "He just piles on the pressure, but Danny helped me through it."
Now Kidd, who was traded from the Mavericks to the Suns on Dec. 26, is paired with Ainge, Phoenix's rookie coach. And Ainge's task will be to get his new point guard comfortably installed with the Suns after a trade that has left Phoenix hopeful and Dallas under fire for yet another questionable transaction. (Remember Detlef Schrempf for Herb Williams? Dale Ellis for Al Wood?)
The on-court impact of the deal won't be evident for a while; Kidd suffered a hairline fracture of his right collarbone 20 minutes into his first game for Phoenix, a 103-98 win over the Grizzlies, and is expected to be out for at least a month. But this much is already clear: The trade that sent Kidd, guard Tony Dumas and center-forward Loren Meyer to the Suns for guard Sam Cassell and forwards Michael Finley and A.C. Green—whose contract (three years remaining at almost $15.8 million) had become a salary-cap albatross for Phoenix—left the Suns with a franchise player and some valuable room under the cap. While Finley is a budding talent and Cassell a tough, savvy player, neither has the skills or the potential of Kidd, co-Rookie of the Year in 1994-95. Moreover, Cassell will almost certainly become a free agent this summer. Knowing Dallas must re-sign him to prevent an already suspect trade from becoming a disaster, he is hinting that he wants $50 million for seven years.
So why did the Mavericks send Kidd packing? Dallas sources say the enthusiastic rookie they had selected with the No. 2 pick in the 1994 draft had soured into an unhappy player whose leadership qualities always were tepid and whose work ethic-had faltered. Kidd feuded with backcourt mate Jimmy Jackson last season, and this season he openly questioned the controlled offensive system of first-year coach Jim Cleamons. Yet observers around the league remain puzzled about why the Mavs gave up on Kidd, who's just 23.
Had Dallas moved earlier, it might have gotten more from Phoenix for Kidd. When the Suns were trying to trade Charles Barkley last summer, they called the Mavericks to inquire about Kidd and were told he was untouchable. About six weeks ago, sources around the league say, when the Mavs offered shooting forward Jamal Mashburn to Phoenix, the Suns reiterated their interest in Kidd. The answer was still no. But as Kidd's relationship with Cleamons deteriorated, the Dallas brass changed its thinking. "Is Jason Kidd a talented player?" Cleamons said last weekend. "Yes. But we needed other qualities as well."
Kidd is convinced that the Mavs are trying to make him look bad. He says that after the trade they leaked information that he had been in an early-morning car accident—as a passenger—on Dec. 11, the same day he began suffering from shoulder and neck problems that hindered his play in his final weeks in Dallas. Kidd insists a hit he absorbed in a game against the Clippers on Dec. 10, not the accident, caused his injuries.
Ainge says that leaving Dallas is a blessing for Kidd. "When I first saw Jason play, I never saw anyone more passionate about the game," he says. "This year I didn't see it. We think a change of scenery will rejuvenate him." The deal should help rejuvenate the Suns too. They have added a blue-chip talent whose contract runs for six seasons after this one, but they still will have close to $8.6 million to spend when the members of the first rookie salary-cap class become free agents in the summer of 1998.
Meanwhile, at week's end Dallas was continuing to test the value of Mashburn (talks with the Pacers involved forward Derrick McKey) and Jackson (the Clippers were eyeing various packages that would revolve around their re-signing and then trading free-agent center Brian Williams to the Mavericks).
So Sue Them
It used to be simple: If an NBA coach got fired, he would be fully compensated for any time remaining on his contract. No more.