Mon, Jul 14, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Kidd pulls strings in New Jersey for Alonzo Mourning

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY

There is no known nirvana in professional sports, no perfect place or team or coaching staff. There are only situations, good, bad or what the Nets formerly were, unbearably ugly.

Here at the intersection of New Jersey roadways, Jason Kidd made the smart choice at the free-agent crossroads Friday, announcing he would spend the rest of his playing prime where he has just enjoyed the best years of his basketball life.

It wasn't about the money that Kidd was going to earn, because the Nets always had the salary-cap right to offer a few nickels more than the San Antonio Spurs. This was a struggle for leverage, the one-time opportunity for the man best known for his passing to call administrative shots.

"Jason's a competitor," his friend Donny Marshall, the Nets bench player, said at the team's practice facility.

Without dollars to compete for, Kidd scrapped for other concessions. He wanted his Olympic-team buddy, Alonzo Mourning, no matter the financial risk to the money-losing Nets for a player with questionable health. He wanted Rod Thorn to understand that he isn't entirely pleased with Byron Scott and to think twice before he offers the beleaguered head coach a long-term deal.

Kidd returned from his recruiting visit to San Antonio, and immediately those wonderfully informative people with knowledge of the situation began to spread the word that the Spurs had practically arranged for the famous Riverwalk to be named after him, and that Kidd might go.

That is how the game is played, but once this compulsive whispering begins, it can spin out of control. Soon Kidd and the Nets had a bonfire of bloated headlines raging before they moved Friday to douse the flames, though perhaps too late to save Scott from career-damaging burns.

As news leaked that Mourning would sign with the Nets, Kidd followed with a statement that read: "After great thought and consultation with the important people in my life, I have decided that I want to remain a New Jersey Net."

Left unthanked and unmentioned were the Spurs and especially their point guard Tony Parker for messing up just enough in Games 4, 5 and 6 of the finals to make Kidd that much more desirable.

The Spurs were Kidd's leverage, his gun to the head of YankeeNets, and that's about all. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, Kidd didn't go mistaking paradise for that SBC Center across the road.

It's a lovely arena, with lots of people in it on Spurs' game nights, but it is also in the middle of a pasture and, beyond David Robinson and Tim Duncan, the San Antonio skyline was never much to look at, compared with the view of Manhattan from Bergen County, New Jersey.

Now that Robinson has retired and Jermaine O'Neal is staying with the Pacers in Indiana, the Spurs are going to be a quality big man short in a Western Conference that won't be getting any easier with the Lakers bulking up like the Hulk for a blockbuster run next season. Signing Kidd wasn't going to complete the Spurs.

He had to know how much coming East, where the Nets rose over a conference of cupcakes, has done for his reputation and endorsement appeal.

"You hear all this stuff about the West," Marshall said. "Why can't we get another couple of players in here and show the West that the Nets can win?"

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