NBA fans can argue all day about who is better, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James.
But as great as Bryant and James are, the most important player in this country's hopes of winning an Olympic gold medal for the first time since 2000 is Jason Kidd.
Tomorrow morning, USA Basketball will name the 12-member team for the Beijing Olympics. It wouldn't be a surprise if USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo writes Kidd's name in first, over even Bryant and James.
"I'm not supposed to say anything," said Kidd, "but I talked to Jerry and I'm looking forward to participating this summer. Everybody that's participating has gotten a phone call from Jerry. It's pretty much set."
Kidd was the starting point guard when the US won the gold in Sydney in 2000. He will be playing for his sixth US team and will be the only player on the roster who played in Sydney.
The biggest thing missing when the Americans won bronze at the 2004 Olympics and 2006 World Championships was a veteran point guard to get all the superstars on the same page. With that in mind, Colangelo worked his magic to get Kidd back in red, white, and blue last year. US coach Mike Krzyzewski called Kidd "a tremendous addition."
"His veteran leadership and focus were critical in our success, and his court vision is as good as I've ever seen," Krzyzewski said. "He is a joy to coach, and when he is on the court, it is literally like having a coach on the floor."
Kidd averaged a mere 1.8 points per game during the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship, but he ranked first in assist/turnover ratio (9.2-1). The US clinched an Olympic berth by winning the FIBA Americas Championship, and USA Basketball named Kidd its Male Athlete of the Year.
"It's a great challenge," said Kidd. "But going into this Olympics, it's not going to be easy because there are so many different countries that are good.
"I'm looking forward to the challenge. My [NBA] season ended early so I'm a little antsy about getting back and playing basketball. Especially after watching the Finals and seeing Boston win, seeing the game being played at a high level."
Begging for an opportunity to win, the 34-year-old Kidd was dealt by New Jersey to the Mavericks on Feb. 19. Skeptics wondered whether Kidd was on the downside of his career, but he averaged 9.9 points, 9.5 assists, and 6.5 rebounds in 29 games with the Mavericks.
Still, Dallas didn't adjust to the major change until late in the regular season, and the hot Hornets knocked out Dallas in the first round of the playoffs. Soon after, coach Avery Johnson was fired.
The Mavericks have a new coach in ex-Celtic Rick Carlisle, and he and Kidd have already begun getting on the same page.
"There are always high expectations," Kidd said. "When I came to Dallas, unfortunately, with the Western Conference the way it was, we did everything we could to try to win and we came up short. But with training camp and with everything being together, we'll have a better chance coming into next season."
Kidd, however, isn't thinking NBA right now. He's thinking gold medal. And with his unselfish play leading the way, expect order to be restored in the basketball world and an Olympic gold to be brought back to the country that invented the game.
A scouting report on surprising partiesOne NBA scout's assessment of the biggest surprises among draft prospects who returned to school and who stayed in the draft.
1. Chase Budinger, Arizona sophomore forward.
Scout comment: "That one was the biggest surprise. I thought for sure, with the players they lost at Arizona, the coaching upheaval, his draft status, I thought he was a mid-teens type of guy. When I heard that when he worked out for Phoenix, they didn't guarantee him at 15, and then when New Jersey didn't guarantee him at 21, that's what got him out. He's a kid that wasn't happy with his draft selection."
2. Ty Lawson, North Carolina sophomore guard.
Scout comment: "Speed, quickness, comes from a winning program. He's always been at a higher level in high school and college. He isn't the best shooter, but he has an effect on the game like [Rajon] Rondo, even when he isn't making outside jumpers. Speed is a tremendous advantage. I thought he'd be perfect in Denver's situation. I don't think he was comfortable with his draft selection. The DUI gave him reservations, but I saw him as a mid-20s guy anyway."
3. Lester Hudson, Tennessee-Martin junior guard.
Scout comment: "I don't know if he was a first-round pick, but I think he could have contributed to a team this coming season. I think he wants to be a first-round guy. At the end of the day, I think that's why he went back. He's an aggressive scorer. He's older than most guys and he had to work for everything he got."
SURPRISES STAYING IN
1. J.J. Hickson, North Carolina State freshman forward.
Scout comment: "I thought he would have went back to help his draft selection. He doesn't play outside the paint, he's not a big kid, and he gets all his buckets by the basket. He has a lot of work to do to expand his game to make himself a threat outside of 10 feet. He's got limited ability in the paint."
2. Ryan Anderson, California sophomore center.
Scout comment: "He's a 6-10 shooter. It was a little bit of a surprise simply because Cal had just hired [coach Mike] Montgomery. He had a solid year. He probably would have been second- or third-team preseason All-American. But the eyes were now on him, which scared him. New coaches. [Scouts] were going to be looking at him from the start of the season, so he wasn't going to get a grace period. Guys would have known him and had questions they wanted him to answer. With a new coach, it might have been hard for him to get his game off."
3. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, UCLA junior small forward.
"I don't know what he was thinking. He had an individually disappointing season for him. He had a lot of hype after his freshman season he never lived up to. Guys expected him to expand his game, become more of a 3, a better shooter, ballhandler. The next two years were disappointment for him. He was kind of exposed in the semifinals [at the Final Four] because they didn't play him really. They dared him to shoot, he did, and he wasn't successful."
Etc.From one court to another
Nearly a year after Ray Allen was traded from the Sonics to the Celtics, his impact on his former team is still being felt in a trial between the city of Seattle and the Professional Basketball Club LLC, which owns the team. Among the arguments the city is making is that the trading of Allen took away the organization's marquee player and dampened fan enthusiasm for the team. The city is trying to argue that the Sonics purposely damaged support by trading Allen and allowing Rashard Lewis to take part in a sign-and-trade with Orlando. "PBC's harms are also self-inflicted," city attorney Paul Lawrence said during the trial. "The financial information prepared for PBC with respect to this past basketball season shows two reasons why they are suffering the losses they did last season. One is because they announced they were moving the team to Oklahoma City three years before the end of their lease term. They didn't have to do that, but they did. And, second, they had poor on-court performance, which, you will hear testimony about, affects attendance, which in return affects revenue. In fact, it was the worst Sonics season in their 41-year history, that followed a trade away of the team's best player, and letting the team's next-best player leave."
Jimmy Jam jubilant
Standing near the Celtics locker room after they won the championship, with tears in his eyes behind his sunglasses, was Grammy-winning record producer James "Jimmy Jam" Harris, who is Kevin Garnett's brother-in-law. Harris introduced Garnett to his future wife, Brandi, when Garnett was playing for the Timberwolves. "Kevin is such a basketball historian," said Harris, who missed an event at the White House to attend Game 6 of the Finals. "When the clock ran out, he kissed the parquet. He kissed the logo in the middle of the floor. And I don't think it could have happened to a better guy to come to this great organization and win. Winning a championship is the ultimate culmination of a player. It's what you want to do. He's not a 'me' guy, he's a 'we' guy. It's funny because Paul [ Pierce] winning the MVP was totally the appropriate thing. And knowing Kevin, he's probably happier that Paul won it than he would have been if he would have won it."
Toasting the champions
In honor of the championship, Pierce has given every Celtic teammate and coach a bottle of Crown Royal XR in a personalized suede version of the Crown Royal bag.
Picks for sale
According to an NBA source, the Celtics and other teams picking late in the first round of the draft are strongly considering trading their pick or getting a prospect they can develop overseas. Memphis, for one, is trying to trade the 28th overall pick. Don't be surprised if the Celtics are interested in such international players as French forward Nicolas Batum, Congo forward/center Serge Ibaka, French center Alexis Ajinca, Turkish center Omer Asik, and Montenegro forward/center Nikola Pekovic. The source said Batum's stock is dropping dramatically because of heart concerns, for which his workout in Toronto was canceled.
On Georgetown center Roy Hibbert's draft stock, one NBA scout said, "Hibbert is going to need a parachute on draft day. The young centers have passed him in the eyes of teams. His stock is just plummeting, when last year he could have been a top-10 pick. Guys were able to really get a good look at him last season, and more questions were answered by his performance last year." The scout also said the 7-foot-2-inch, 278-pounder, an Associated Press second-team All-America selection, would likely be available when the Celtics pick 30th. Keep in mind that Doc Rivers knows Hibbert very well, since his son, Jeremiah, played at Georgetown the past two seasons before transferring to Indiana.
A 1 and a 2?
Rumors have begun swirling that the Heat would consider trading Chicago native Dwyane Wade to the Bulls for the first pick in the draft, plus Tyrus Thomas and Larry Hughes. Miami has the second selection, so such a trade could land the Heat the two top prospects in Memphis guard Derrick Rose and Kansas State forward Michael Beasley. Look for the Timberwolves to select UCLA forward Kevin Love with the third pick.
Back to LA for this Celtic
Gabe Pruitt began playing on ex-Southern Cal teammate and Wizards guard Nick Young's team in the renowned Drew League pro-am yesterday in Los Angeles. Pruitt will be back in Boston July 1 for the Celtics' free agent and development minicamp. "I can't wait to show everybody what I can do," Pruitt said.
Marc J. Spears can be reached at email@example.com