DALLAS — When the New York Knicks signed Jason Kidd to a free-agent contract over the summer, not only did Knicks coaches and brass know they were getting one of the greatest floor generals in the history of the NBA, but they knew they were receiving a player who would have a very positive impact off the court, namely in the locker room.
Joining the Knicks after spending the past few years in Dallas, where he was part of an NBA championship team in 2011, not only did the former Cal star have a new group of teammates to get acclimated to, but he had to play at the two spot for the first time in his career.
A point guard by trade, the Knicks already had point guard Raymond Felton to run the offense. Felton returned to the Big Apple after playing in Denver and Portland the last few years after seeing 54 games of action with New York in 2010-11 — he was dealt to the Nuggets near the trade deadline.
Felton is one of the number of current Knicks who remember idolizing Kidd while growing up … and now they’re teammate. For some that might be a weird experience, but for Felton, it’s one he wouldn’t trade for anything.
“It’s been great for me and my game. He’s in my opinion one of the best point guards ever to play this game,” Felton said. “Yeah, I did grow up watching him, idolizing him as a point guard and what he used to do out there.
“To have the opportunity to pick his brain and play alongside him and with him, it’s been great for me and great for our team.”
But when asked to name some of the specific lessons Kidd has passed along during their few months as teammate, the ex-Tar Heel chose to remain silent about the nature of their discussions.
“That’s between me and him, just a lot of big brother, little brother types of things,” Felton said. “That’s the kind of relationship we have.”
However, Felton isn’t the only Knick who is relishing the experience of playing alongside a likely first-ballot Hall of Famer. Fellow guard Ronnie Brewer echoes Felton’s sentiment about the immeasurable impact his new teammate has had on the Knicks.
“He’s a great teammate. He’s the typical pro, typical vet,” Brewer said. “He makes the game so much easier for you as a player on both ends of the floor. Offensively, he makes the extra pass and he’s very unselfish when he runs the team and you try to play off him.
“Defensively, he talks very well, knows the rotation. He’s a student of the game. He sees everything, hears everything, knows like a coach when to make adjustments in a game and can tell you and coach you while you’re out there.
“He’s really helped me out so far early in the season. To me, it’s an honor and a privilege to get to play with him.”
The 27-year-old Arkansas product even relayed the interesting tale of the first time he met Kidd back when growing up in Little Rock as the son of former Razorback hoop star Ron Brewer.
“I remember the first time talking to J-Kidd, I told him (about it),” Brewer said. “He probably doesn’t remember, but I was a little kid. I don’t know how old I was, but he was a senior in high school and he played in the King Cotton Classic in Pine Bluff, Arkansas with Corliss Williamson.
“My dad took me down there to show me Jason Kidd and Corliss. Just shows how time flies. … But he’s a great player, a great teammate and wouldn’t trade him for anybody in the world.”
Knicks forward James White, who played for the Spurs and Rockets, had nothing but good things to say about Kidd. While having countless veteran teammates to learn from in his previous stops, White admits there’s nothing quite like being able to learn from a guy who is universally regarded as one of the best point guards in NBA history.
“Jason, his knowledge of the game is crazy but he leads by example more than anything,” White said. “He’s a hard worker still, even though he’s in his 19th year. Just continues to work and gives a lot to the younger guys whenever he can. He’s just been a big help for me and a lot of the younger guys.”
There is no doubt that Kidd’s impact on his young teammates continues to be as strong as it ever was. Even at age 39 and clearly in the twilight of his career, it’s not at all surprising to hear his younger teammates say that Kidd’s work ethic hasn’t dimmed in the least.
Of course, the San Francisco native was blessed with incredible gifts that have manifested themselves countless times on the hardwood. Kidd has an incredible vision to see things happen on the court long before they do, an ability to deliver pinpoint passes like few others have been able to do, a competitive fire that few have been able to match as well as a shot that has improved over the course of a legendary career.
But those gifts might have been somewhat wasted were it not for an unyielding work ethic. It’s something else which has come to define Jason Kidd in NBA circles not just among fans, but most importantly, among his fellow players.
So, whether his most recent trip to Dallas turns out to be his final visit to the site of his greatest success as a player or not, there’s no doubt he has had an instant impact on his new teammates in New York.
Many say the NBA is a better league to follow when the Knicks are relevant and with Mike Woodson’s club off to an 8-2 start (following Wednesday’s loss to the Mavs), that theory is being put to the test.
Whether this impressive start is a sign that the Knicks are back or if it is a mere aberration, one of the more intriguing sidebars to keep an eye on this season is how much of an impact Kidd has on his new team.
If the early returns are any indication, Kidd’s impact will continue to be quite substantial as New York progresses through the regular season.