Bryant, as was the case with Jordan, does not play on a fast-breaking team even though he seems like a fast-breaking kind of guy. Rarely is Kobe at full speed. He's at his most dangerous, as Jordan was, when he's in glide mode, bouncing the ball with his head up, looking for space, calculating, reading the court, then—whoosh!—crossing over and disappearing, leaving behind a flat-footed defender.
Kidd, by contrast, runs the floor relentlessly, as do Martin and Kerry Kittles, Kidd's storkish backcourt partner. The Nets run so much that they should hand Kidd spikes and a baton; the Carril-Jordan contributions to New Jersey's offense notwithstanding, what has gotten this onetime stooge of a team this far has been its transition game. The best thing about Kidd in the open floor is that he never auditions for the Magic Johnson Highlight Reel—he makes economical passes that lead to baskets. Too many point guards fall in love with the dribble on the break, but when Kittles or Martin is streaking ahead, Kidd never hesitates to deliver the ball early. If the Nets can set the Lakers back on their heels and reel off a couple of 10-0 runs, their chances increase dramatically. However, that requires Martin, Van Horn and MacCulloch to out-battle O'Neal, Fox and Robert Horry for boards. Many of those long defensive caroms that Kidd usually snatches to start the break may end up instead in the paws of Bryant, perhaps the only guard in the league who rebounds as well as Kidd.
For all Kidd's fill-up-the-box-score majesty, his greatest contribution to the Eastern champions can't be measured with statistics. It's almost as if the Nets didn't exist (or at least hadn't existed since the Julius Erving ABA days of the 1970s) before the deal last July that brought Kidd to the swamp and sent Stephon Marbury to the Phoenix Suns. Kidd is his team's Mr. Everything, its sun and its moon, the essence of its newfound spirit. He provides a safety net for Kittles, who was a question mark after off-season knee surgery; a role model for backup guard Lucious Harris, who had been perceived as a player who didn't give it 100% every night; a balm for Van Horn, whose confidence had flagged after his scoring and rebounding numbers dipped in consecutive seasons.
Bryant, by contrast, is not the spiritual cynosure of the Lakers, who don't seem to require one. Kobe, like Shaq, is with his teammates but not of them. When the two stars need to feed off each other on the court, they simply turn the triangle into a line. Same thing off the court: Between Games 5 and 6 of the Kings series, for example, an edgy Bryant made a 2:30 a.m. call to Shaq, and they talked about the importance of the next two games, both of which resulted in Los Angeles victories.
With understandable brio, Van Horn said last week that the Kidd-for-Marbury deal "might go down in history as the biggest trade ever in terms of a turnaround for a team." Well, Keith, the draft-day deal with the St. Louis Hawks that brought Bill Russell to the Boston Celtics in 1956 was a little bigger, and here's one from '96 that wasn't bad: The Lakers gave Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets for the draft rights to Bryant. There's no doubt that Kidd has changed the image of the Nets, put a big smiley face on a downtrodden franchise in a quest for its first NBA championship. But Kidd's play aside, New Jersey will ultimately be kid's play for Kobe and Shaq, who, in six games, will lead the Lakers to their third straight title.