EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Every time Stephon Marbury pushes past Tony Parker in these playoffs, pushes these Spurs to the brink, the Suns guard confirms the truth that the Nets' management believed the inevitable anyway: San Antonio will stay true to its original instincts and come hard for Jason Kidd this summer.
When the Nets made the trip to San Antonio this season, the fans engaged in the strangest courting conduct: They booed Kidd. They held up signs telling the Nets star that they didn't want him there. They were protective of Parker. They wanted the young kid to be the point guard on the championship chase. All around town, they believed they could do without the greatness of Jason Kidd.
And now, Marbury is abusing Parker so badly in the Western Conference playoffs, he is leaving little chance that the Spurs will pursue someone else in summer free agency. This is the way it always goes for the Nets, old ghosts rising out of shadows to haunt Exit 16W.
The renaissance of Marbury hasn't just sped along the storyline of Kidd to the Spurs, but leaves this question hanging over the summer, too: If the biggest trade in franchise history yields just two Kidd seasons, there is a natural inclination to overcome Nets fans -- Would they do it again?
Would it still be worth it? After such a terse tease, after Marbury grew up and stayed signed to the Suns long term, would two seasons of J-Kidd be worth the gamble again? If this is it, if Kidd is leaving, would him walking out the door be worth ending up with nothing?
When this hypothetical was brought to Kidd the other day -- "If you leave, were you worth it?" ---- he never hesitated.
"We put up three banners and we're working on No. 4," Kidd said.
He nodded to an Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference championship cloth at the far end of the Nets' practice facility, understanding that a second straight division banner is waiting to be hung and a second straight Eastern Conference championship is waiting to be won. They had never raised a banner here as an NBA franchise. Never. So strange as it sounds, Kidd made the case for his two-year lease with the Nets.
"Zero to three, nothing to something. The banners alone speak volumes," he said. "To give them an identity in two years, it's something that they can build on ...
"...Whether I'm here or not."
If Kidd leaves, it will be so devastating to the Nets that it's hard to believe the franchise can recover. Yet, he's right: It was worth it. Whatever Marbury does with the Suns, however long he does it, Kidd was the right player at the right time for the Nets. And that will never change. "He changed everything here," Nets coach Byron Scott says. YankeeNets CEO Lou Lamoriello calls Kidd, "The model for a star athlete in team sports."
What's more, Marbury had to leave the Nets. He had to go. What's happened for Marbury in Phoenix wouldn't have happened here. All those late nights in New York, all those family and friends hanging on him, all those teammates he had lost faith in. When the Nets made the trade two years ago, Marbury was on the brink of implosion. As much as Kidd wanted to stay in Phoenix, Marbury wanted out of New Jersey. He's an incredible talent, but he was so immature and so self-absorbed that Rod Thorn and Scott believed he was on the brink of holding the franchise hostage.
They had to make the Kidd trade. At a time when the Nets' credibility had never been so battered, Kidd was nothing short of a savior. He was great conciliator, the healer, when the franchise was so desperate for it. For the Suns, Marbury was perfect. They were starting over. Bryan Colangelo took his hits for those trades with the Nets and Celtics, but they turned out to be perfect for starting to rebuild the Suns.
Yet, these are two years that the Nets had to give themselves. Had to give the fans in Jersey. Had to give the NBA. These two years weren't just about selling tickets and jerseys. They were about credibility and hope. The Nets were a running joke that turned into a running machine.
When people wonder about Michael Jordan's two years with the Wizards, they also ask, "Was it worth it?" If selling seats and moving merchandise were the inspirations for the comeback, yes, his two seasons with Washington were immensely successful. However, the Wizards didn't make the playoffs, the young talent didn't develop and Jordan is returning to the president's job, guaranteed to spend far more time scouting bunker lies on golf courses than young stars in college gymnasiums.
For the Nets, the way Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson have blossomed is so much a reflection of Kidd's passing, persona and passion. There is still time for them to sell him on staying, too. Around Kidd, his people will tell you, "He still isn't sure about staying or leaving. He's still making up his mind. For now, New Jersey still has a fighting chance." The thing is, they've won this trade for him. They've had these two years like they've never had in the history of the franchise. Kidd is right. From nothing to something -- this is the legacy of Jason Kidd.
Was it worth it?
Are you kidding?
Was it ever.
Adrian Wojnarowski, who's a columnist for The Record (N.J.), is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPNWoj@aol.com.