NEW YORK -- It was early in the 2005-2006 season, and Jason Kidd could feel himself starting to slow down. His speed in the open floor had diminished, his first step had dulled and, said Kidd, "I couldn't keep up with the little guys."
He resolved then, at 32, to change. To develop some distance, some diversity in his game. He started working with shooting coach Bob Thate, who corrected his balance, squared him up and extended his release. Kidd made 35 percent of his three-pointers in 2005-06. In '08-09, he made 40.6 percent, and 42.5 percent the following year. This season Kidd, 39, has knocked down 52.8 percent of his threes, including a backbreaking bomb with 24.1 seconds left to push New York to a 100-97 victory over the Nets on Tuesday.
"He makes shot after shot, play after play," teammate Tyson Chandler said. "I don't understand how he does it. There is a reason why he is a [future] Hall of Famer."
Twenty-something players, take note: Kidd uncovered the secret to NBA longevity years ago. Most players on Kidd's level can't be bothered to adapt or talked into changing. Allen Iverson could still be a contributing sixth man if he didn't find a reserve role insulting. Gilbert Arenas would be wearing an NBA uniform, not a Chinese one, if he better adjusted to his limitations. Few understand that when age catches up to you, you need something to beat it back.
"I've always taken pride in defense, in competing," Kidd said. "But at some point you have to be able to do something different. That's when I felt if I'm going to be around in this game for a little bit, I have to make a jump shot."
Kidd has, and as the most accurate marksman on a Knicks team shooting a blistering 40.9 percent from three-point range -- third best in the league -- he's also helped shape New York into a legitimate Eastern Conference contender. The Knicks had no business beating the Nets on Tuesday night. Brooklyn jumped out to a 17-point first-quarter lead and were a step quicker on every early possession. But the Knicks chipped away, cutting the lead to five at the half before taking a lead in the third quarter. Carmelo Anthony (45 points) was unstoppable, but the steady hand of Kidd (18 points on 6-of-8 three-point shooting) was there to back him up.
These are the kind of moments Chandler dreamed of when he made call after call to Kidd in the offseason. He knew the Knicks were good; an 18-6 finish to last season was evidence enough of that. They had Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and a defense that, under coach Mike Woodson, ranked among the NBA's elite. But they needed leadership and ball movement. Chandler knew Kidd, his Mavericks teammate during their '10-11 championship season, still had something left.
"I told him that we have a good cast here," Chandler said. "This organization is willing to chase a ring. They are willing to put the right players in the right place. I said we need a guy like you. You could be the key to put us over the hump.
"I know it was a difficult choice for him. I told him, 'Look, I'm going to give you space, let you make your own decisions. But you are needed over here and we have an opportunity to get your second [championship] ring.' "
The transition from point guard -- a position at which Kidd ranks among the best all time -- to shooting guard has been seamless this season, and Chandler knows why.
"His mind, he has a brilliant basketball IQ," Chandler said. "In Dallas, he would set up plays but then let Jet [Jason Terry] and Dirk [Nowitzki] do a lot of the work. Really, his basketball IQ is second to none."
Indeed, for the Knicks, Kidd has been worth every nickel of the three-year, $9.5 million contract the team gave him last summer. His play has been strong and team sources cite Kidd's veteran leadership as having a positive impact on Anthony, similar to the effect Chauncey Billups had on Melo during the 2008-2009 season in Denver.
On go the Knicks, on goes Kidd -- two unexpected success stories showing no signs of slowing down.