Nets: Kidd ready to walk
Friday, July 30, 2004
BY DAVE D'ALESSANDRO Star-Ledger Staff
The Bruce Ratner Fire Sale continued in earnest yesterday, when the Nets gave away yet another piece of their franchise -- and their history -- by shipping Kerry Kittles to the Los Angeles Clippers for virtually nothing.
According to a team official, Jason Kidd returned from his Mexican vacation yesterday and immediately requested a meeting with management at Ratner's earliest convenience, at which time the Nets' captain is expected to demand a trade.
And to further illustrate the goals of the new ownership group, a close friend of Alonzo Mourning yesterday disclosed that the disabled center wants to attempt a comeback, but has been informed by the team that his services are no longer desired, as it would rather lop his salary off the cap after next season.
Team president Rod Thorn, who in an afternoon conference call with reporters sounded as though he had his soul ripped out by a savage tax collector, attempted to spin the Kittles trade into a positive move that will allow his depleted team to fill the gaping voids at other positions while saving the $9.8 million that remained on Kittles' contract.
"The purpose for us was very simple: We're obviously trying to restructure our team, and it's going to make it much easier after we make this deal," said Thorn, whose team received a second-round draft pick in the deal, which also included a $1.5 million payment to L.A.
"I feel very confident we'll end up with a strong two-guard position, but we have other needs we have to address, and if we stayed the way we were, we wouldn't be able to address them. That in a nutshell is why we did this trade."
The ramifications, however, could get very complicated -- and ugly.
Thorn, whose team picked up journeyman subs Rodney Buford and Jacque Vaughn yesterday, said last night that his conversation with Kidd about the Kittles deal was brief.
"I talked to someone who was with him," Thorn said. "I talked to Jason for about three seconds."
Presumably enough time for Kidd to slam down the phone. While Thorn would not confirm Kidd's mood or whether a meeting was requested, Kidd's anger over the sacrifice of his backcourt partner was felt throughout the organization -- so much that it is now widely assumed that he will demand a trade.
Agent Jeff Schwartz, who was traveling yesterday, did not return calls seeking comment. But another member of Kidd's inner circle predicted the worst.
"He took the Nets' money because they told him they were going to try to win the championship -- false pretenses," Kidd's friend said. "Knowing Jason, he'll want out. I'd bet that he's not playing until they trade him."
The Nets have now lost three of their top seven players -- Kenyon Martin, Rodney Rogers and Kittles -- and received no live bodies in return. They have also trimmed their payroll from $62 million to its present $47.5 million, and there is no guarantee that they are done hacking more salaries. It is possible, for example, that the Nets will buy out Lucious Harris, who has $2.65 million coming to him next season.
It also appears as though they would dissuade Mourning from returning, even though he has been in the gym almost daily for the past two months. According to Zo's friend, he told the Nets that he would like to play again, and showed ample readiness with a strong performance at his charity game last week. But the team would rather see him retire -- thereby allowing it to save $12 million after the last two years of his salary come off the salary cap.
Mourning's agent, Jeff Wechsler, said last night that a comeback from last December's kidney transplant "hasn't come up -- Alonzo made his comments earlier this summer that he has no plans to play, and I'd believe what Alonzo says."
Thorn added, "He's been working out, and there's certainly no doubt that if he can play he would like to play...but it's too early to comment about it."
When asked whether the bean counters would welcome Mourning back, Thorn's response was intentionally vague: "If he's able to play," he said, "I'm sure he'll be here."
Kittles leaves New Jersey after 496 games covering seven seasons, in which time he became the Nets' second-leading scorer behind Buck Williams. He also had more steals than any other Net besides Darwin Cook, played more minutes than anyone other than Williams, and led the franchise in most 3-point categories.
Still, Thorn referred to Kittles as "a role player. If you look at our team, we have spots to fill. By making this trade it puts us in a better position to fill other spots."
Besides the Clippers' second-round pick next year, the Nets also get a $9.8 million exception that can be used only in a trade, but they are not likely to use it. To fill out the roster, Thorn has targeted Ron Mercer and Newark native Eric Williams, hopeful they'd be willing to split their midlevel exception, that extra $4.9 million fund that capped-out teams can spend on free agents.
"There's interest on the Nets' part and the lure of New Jersey is attractive on Eric's part," agent Mark Bartelstein said yesterday. "I think he'd be a great fit in a variety of ways."