Assuming that his hamstring permits it, Shaquille O'Neal officially becomes the best player in the Eastern Conference at the Meadowlands on Wednesday night.
This happens, as it happens, with the player formerly known as Best in the East watching Shaq's Miami bow from the sidelines, in street clothes, awaiting his move West.
That move is going to happen eventually for Jason Kidd. Probably not until he gets back on the floor and proves there's some stability in his surgically repaired left knee, but there is a working list of at least three possible Western Conference destinations for Kidd, who has pursued a trade away from the Nets' new owners even harder than O'Neal tried to leave the Lakers.
Sources on various fronts insist that Kidd himself, or one of his representatives, initiated contact with either a player or executives from no fewer than five Western Conference contenders during this past offseason: San Antonio, Minnesota, Denver, Dallas and Shaq's old team in Los Angeles.
The Spurs, who pursued Kidd harder than any other team this side of Jersey in his free-agent summer of 2003, are no longer interested, sources say. They're not prepared, as much as the Spurs still love Kidd, to break up their Tim Duncan-Manu Ginobili-Tony Parker base to absorb on the $90 million owed to Kidd, 31, over the next five seasons.
The Lakers, meanwhile, have already rejected formal Kidd trade proposals, opting to move the expiring contracts of Gary Payton and Rick Fox to Boston instead. Sources say that's because L.A. thinks it has a better shot at signing Houston's Yao Ming in the summer of 2007, with Rudy Tomjanovich as its coach, than many believe. As one rival executive noted, Yao could sign with the Lakers for the mid-level exception (nearly $5 million) -- even though it would never come to that -- and easily recoup any lost salary through the myriad endorsement opportunities he'd have as a Laker. Whether its Yao dreams are worthwhile or merely fantasy, L.A. prefers to grind through the next couple seasons, no matter how hard they are, and see what it can do with salary-cap room two or three offseasons from now . . . as opposed to committing well over $200 million to a too-small pairing of Kidd with Kobe Bryant.
That leaves the Wolves, Nuggets and Mavericks, which means Kidd can still claim three handy options. Minnesota, at present, would have to be the favorite to wind up with Kidd, given owner Glen Taylor's recent willingness to spend for a winner, the Wolves' abundance of trade assets (Wally Szczerbiak and the unhappy duo of Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell) and Kidd's close relationship with Kevin Garnett.
Yet don't discount Denver, and Kidd's even closer relationship with Kenyon Martin. "Don't think he hasn't thought about it," said one colleague, referring to Nuggets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe.
Any team that agreed to a Kidd swap would be taking a huge gamble, of course. It's not like Kidd can return in December, play a month or two and guarantee that his knee is fully healed. Vandeweghe, though, is as big a dice-roller as there is in the league. The same can be said for his front-office role model, Mavs owner Mark Cuban, who thought he had convinced New Jersey to part with Kidd over the summer when new Nets owner Bruce Ratner balked. Like Vandeweghe, Cuban wants to take a long look at his remade team -- besides seeing how Kidd looks in uniform again -- before deciding whether to try again or pass on the risk of absorbing Kidd's monster contract.
The best takes I've heard lately on the state of the 3-point shot come from Detroit's Larry Brown and Seattle's Nate McMillan. They're totally different takes, but both interesting.
Larry: "I've always felt we should give three points for the layup, because that's a harder shot to get. A lot of the problems we have with our game have to do with taking bad shots, and the 3-point shot sometimes causes that. And if we really want the 3-point shot, make it (shorter) international distance."
Nate: "If there is an adjustment, maybe move (the 3-pointer) back. That way players who shouldn't take it won't be taking it. It would be a much more exciting shot if there was maybe no 3-point shot in the corner. Basically just the (3-point) arc went to the out-of-bounds line. You could just shoot the three from the perimeter."
I've always been in the camp believing that it's time to make the court bigger -- to accommodate today's bigger athletes -- and moving the 3-point line back fits that scheme best. The problem with moving the line in, as we've already seen, is that even more players who shouldn't be shooting 3s start taking them.
However . . .
Larry's absolutely right about layups. They're a lot harder to get than triples. Maybe the NBDL should be experimenting with the three-point finger roll this season as opposed to that random rule forbidding 3-pointers until the final five minutes of a game.
So . . .
What kind of offseason was it?
A record-setting offseason, in terms of big-name player movement.
Four All-Stars from last season have switched teams: Shaq, Martin, Tracy McGrady and Steve Francis. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that equals the NBA record established during the summer before the 1982-83 season, when Artis Gilmore (Bulls to Spurs), Bernard King (Warriors to Knicks), Moses Malone (Rockets to 76ers) and Micheal Ray Richardson (Knicks to Warriors) changed uniforms.
Kobe is now 56-45 lifetime in regular-season games without O'Neal, for a winning percentage of .554. Sayeth Shaq, to ESPN's Rachel Nichols, regarding his Christmas Day reunion with Bryant at Staples Center:
"It will be the highest-rated game in the history of sports. You know that. . . . So I'll probably say some things to even hype it up a little bit more, 'cause I'm all about marketing. I'm all about helping the game."