Thursday December 6th, 2007

Was Jason Kidd sick in bed or was he on strike Wednesday when he missed New Jersey's loss to the dreadful Knicks?

Until it's proved otherwise, I'm going to assume that Kidd really was suffering from a migraine and unable to perform. As frustrated as he is by his status with the Nets, I can't believe that he would sacrifice his professional reputation by sitting out a game in protest of his contract.

But I also understand the innuendo because Kidd is indeed frustrated, having asked for a one-year, $13 million extension that has yet to be granted. It is also clear that Kidd doesn't believe the Nets can contend for a championship over the remainder of his contract, on which he's owed $41 million through next season.

Last week I broke the news of Kidd's passive interest in being traded to the Cavaliers. He spent much of his time with me praising LeBron James and admitting that they've daydreamed about playing together in Cleveland. He told me of the advice he shares with James: "You go out there and do your thing, and if I don't get to play with you until this summer [at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing], then that's the way it's meant to be.''

Therefore it was seen as no small coincidence that Kidd called in sick the morning after the Nets' game Tuesday at Cleveland, where he renewed his friendship with James.

My understanding is that Kidd no longer envisions a trade to the dysfunctional Lakers, who are in a momentary phase of détente with Kobe Bryant. But Kidd would welcome a move to Cleveland or Dallas, where he launched his career in 1994 as the No. 2 overall pick in the draft.

The Nets have averaged fewer than 45 wins over the past four seasons while trying to exploit the leadership of Kidd, who at 34 is off to an ageless start this year with four triple-doubles, 10.4 assists (second only to Steve Nash) and a career-high 8.7 rebounds per game. The Nets have been trying to remain in contention while transitioning from the up-tempo teams that ran to the NBA Finals in 2002 and '03. But the pieces no longer fit. At 30, Vince Carter often looks stiffer and older on the court than Kidd. Richard Jefferson is averaging a career-best 25.7 points, but that hasn't been enough to carry the Nets. Injuries to Nenad Krstic and Marcus Williams have set them back along with their reliance on rookie shot-blocker Sean Williams, who is as erratic as he is athletic.

Team president Rod Thorn sees what Kidd sees, which is why Thorn explored trades for Jefferson, Carter and Kidd last year. He would have sent Kidd to Los Angeles had the Lakers been willing to package Andrew Bynum with Lamar Odom.

From the Nets' point of view, Thorn isn't going to fire-sell his best player as the franchise prepares for its move to Brooklyn as early as 2009. Kidd is the third-highest-paid player in the league at $19.7 million this year, which is $8.4 million more than the Phoenix Suns are paying Nash, a two-time MVP.

It's easy enough to see it from Kidd's perspective too. He knows that New Jersey rewarded Carter last summer with a four-year, $62 million extension. The Nets would say that Carter had leverage as a free agent, he is younger than Kidd and the franchise needs Carter's star power to help market its move to Brooklyn.

The obvious retort would be that Kidd is a better player than Carter, he's done more for the franchise than Carter and he often plays through injury while Carter sometimes does not.

This may sound like I'm trying to drive a wedge between Carter and Kidd. That would be wrong. I don't think Kidd feels resentment toward his teammate. Kidd's argument with the Nets would be this: Because they set a precedent by paying Carter, then why shouldn't Kidd be rewarded too?

Instead, Kidd is frustrated that he's playing at a high level for a team that can't win the championship. If a trade can't be made and he is forced to finish his productive years without returning to the NBA Finals, then he would like the Nets to compensate him for surrendering hope of winning a ring while also recognizing his overall contributions to the franchise. Thus Kidd's request for the extension.

The Nets may yet work out that extension with Kidd. Last week he told me he had no plans to demand a trade, as he did a few years ago with New Jersey.

"In this business, it always works out somehow, some way,'' he said. "And if you start to manage stuff, it tends to go the opposite way and it doesn't help you. I've been there, done that.

"So you just play it out. This is my job. That's what you have to do. You learn from what you've gone through early on in your career, and you tend not to make that same kind of mistake.''

The bottom line is that Kidd hasn't publicly demanded a trade. So far it appears that he is pushing for an extension in exchange for remaining with a 9-10 team that's going nowhere.

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