Revisiting the Kidd-Marbury Trade

Today, the Nets are at the center of the NBA universe.  They are laden with megastars and the odds-on favorite to win an NBA title.  As we are deep in the off-season, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the recent 20th anniversary of one of the Nets’ most famous trades: the dealing of Stephon Marbury to Phoenix for Jason Kidd. 

The basic story is well-remembered: Kidd turned around a terrible Nets team and brought them to back-to-back Finals in 2001-02 and 2002-03 and generally gave the Nets their best extended run as an NBA team.  Marbury had some good seasons after the trade but was dumped by Phoenix to New York anyway.  Steph’s time in New York is considered a failure and ended very badly and gave Marbury a bad taste to most that he only redeemed by going to play ball in China.  Let’s take a look back at the trade 20 years later and see what more we learn with the benefit of hindsight…

Classic Challenge Trade

The Kidd-Marbury trade was most unique because there were no ancillary considerations.  No draft picks were swapped to even out perceived differences in value.  Chris Dudley, Johnny Newman, and Soumaila Samake were thrown in for cap purposes but Dudley and Newman were waived shortly after and Samake was dealt in a very minor deal.  At the time, Suns owner Jerry Colangelo said that the additional players were dealt “mainly just to make the salary cap numbers work.”

Both teams were all in on the idea that they would better off with a new point guard.  The calculus definitely had some off-the-court components which we will discuss below but here’s how Kidd and Marbury looked as players for the 2000-01 season:

-Kidd, age 27: 16.9 ppg, .510 TS%, 6.4 rpg, 9.8 apg, 19.4 PER, .150 WS48, 4.2 BPM , 4.8 VORP (2 years, $18 million left on contract)

-Marbury, age 23: 23.9 ppg, .540 TS%, 3.1 rpg, 7.6 apg, 22.7 PER, .147 WS48, 4.3 BPM, 4.1 VORP (4 years, $52 million left on contract)

So, the players had nearly equal value, except Marbury was a good deal younger and locked in to a long-term deal.  Marbury was the better scorer, while Kidd could bolt town in two years.  Of course it wasn’t that simple.  As Nets GM Rod Thorn noted at the time, Kidd is “All-NBA in defense and we need help on defense.”  The advanced numbers really bear that out.  Kidd had a DBPM of 1.7, while Marbury was -1.6.

Kidd and Marbury Had Baggage

In addition to the stats, context matters.  Both players had some degrees of toxicity…

Marbury’s Eternal Misery

Marbury  had no legal issues that I could recall (or find upon further search) but there was a sense that he was difficult to deal with.  First, he forced a trade from Minnesota in 1999, even though he appeared to be a perfect bookend to a young Kevin Garnett.  Right after the trade, former teammate Tom Gugliotta ripped Marbury, telling the New York Post that: “Stephon couldn’t take being overshadowed by Kevin Garnett.  It really bothered [Marbury] that Kevin got all that money ($126 million) and [Marbury] had to settle for $50 million less [due to changes in the CBA].  It killed him to see Kevin make the All-Star and Olympic teams and he didn’t.    He wanted to go some place where he could be the man, that’s the bottom line.”

In Jersey, Marbury wasn’t very happy either.  Some of this was understandable.  The Nets were terrible, winning only 47 games over Steph’s two full seasons.  The key players he hoped to play with (Kerry Kittles, Jayson Williams, Keith Van Horn, Kenyon Martin), all suffered injuries.  A March 2001 New York Magazine article summed up Marbury’s misery with the Nets  thusly: “[w]hat’s left [after all the injuries and Nets’ organizational dysfunction] is Marbury, the nonpareil, who finds himself out there on the break with no trailer save Vladimir Stepania, who you know will blow the layup. Which may explain why Marbury caused a stink last year by writing all alone on his sneakers.” 

The sneaker incident was only the most overt complaint (remember in the 1980s and 1990s, before Twitter, when players had to complain by writing messages on their headbands or shoes?  In retrospect, it was adorable).  I actually voluntarily watched many Nets games in 2000-01 and I can attest that Marbury definitely projected unhappiness.  With no inside information, I could see this was not working.  Marbury had reason to be frustrated with the franchise after two and a half terrible seasons.  His misery was so palpable that it was understandable why the team might want to cut him loose for relatively similar value. 

Marbury would go on to have some memorable incidents in New York but those seemed to be caused mostly by how poorly run the Knicks were (the Isiah/Dolan Years were something else). 

JKidd’s More Legal Oriented Issues

This summer, there were articles revisiting some of Kidd’s misadventures as a coach and player.  The notable incidents being revisited:

-In January 2001, Kidd was arrested for domestic violence for hitting his wife during a fight.  They did reconcile (at the time) and the Suns didn’t appear to make a big issue of it at the time.  They did trade him a few months later but, as noted above, Colangelo said the move was purely basketball-related.  No doubt the spousal incident would’ve been more heavily scrutinized in 2021 than it was then.

-In July 2012, Kidd was arrested for DWI when he struck a telephone pole in the Hamptons and knocked out a power grid.  Kidd was a veteran at that point at that point and really should’ve known better.  This was not excusable and could’ve killed someone and suggests that he was exercising terrible judgment.

-In 2013, Kidd was hired as coach of the Nets and he had a few stormy moments.  First , he cursed out assistant coach Lawrence Frank (who was also his former coach with the Nets) and demoted Frank, removing him from the bench and assigning him the more menial task of writing scouting reports.  At the end of the same season, Kidd abruptly resigned as coach when an attempt to amass power from GM Billy King was rebuffed by ownership.  These two incidents certainly make me question if I would want to hire Kidd but are not in the category of severe character flaws. 

-Recent reporting sets forth that Kidd was a bit of a dickhead while coaching the Bucks.   Kidd punished the team for a loss by yelling at them and making them workout on Christmas Day, even though some players had travel plans.  The story is not flattering but not really proof of a deep character flaw as a human.

In short, Kidd has always been a hardass on the court (and off) but, in his early career, he had many legal issues before all this.  Here’s a breakdown of the forgotten baggage that perhaps loomed more in 2001 than it does today:

-According to 1997’s “Money Players” by Armen Keteyian, Harvey Araton, and Martin F. Dardis, Kidd had at least two bad college incidents.  First, “In May 1994, misdemeanor hit-and-run charges were filed when Kidd’s Toyota Land Cruiser, traveling at high speed, clipped another car and careened out of control at 2:50 a.m.”  Kidd had two passengers were who arrested for drunkenness and both had prior conviction for drug sales.  Kidd said that: “[i]t’s being portrayed that I knew these things about my passengers and that I condone these actions.  I did not then, and I do not now.”

A month later, “Kidd was the subject of a civil suit from an eighteen-year-old woman who claimed that Kidd physically abused her in the wee hours after he turned twenty-one on March 24….soon after, another woman sued Kidd for child support….”  All lawsuits were resolved but the incidents did linger to some.

-On Dallas in 1996, Kidd feuded with teammate Jimmy Jackson and demanded one of them be traded.  The rumors of the feud were salacious and indicated that they had a rivalry regarding singer Toni Braxton.  Kidd complained only about Jackson taking too many shots and, according to the San Francisco Gate, “had derided [Jackson] for selfishness [on the court].”   Kidd also fought with new coach Jim Cleamons, who had insisted on a deliberate offense that Kidd hated (rightfully so given the team’s personnel). 

The Mavs abruptly traded Kidd to Phoenix early in the 1996-97 season and that trade had drama too.  Kidd broke his collar bone in his first game with Phoenix but, according to Sports Illustrated, “Kidd is convinced that the Mavs are trying to make him look bad.  He says that after the trade they leaked information that he had been in an early-morning car accident–as a passenger–on Dec. 11, the same day he began suffering from shoulder and neck problems that hindered his play in his final weeks in Dallas.”  Kidd vehemently denied the rumor.

-Kidd’s aura was tinged enough that Grant  Hill was wary of him.  At the time, Hill was the purest young star in the NBA with no legal or Generation X reputation issues.  When Kidd joked that Hill was campaigning to get Kidd on the 1996 Olympic team, Hill flatly denied this saying in Money Players that: “[Kidd] says we’re friends.  He’s not my friend.  I barely see him.”

Kidd’s time in Phoenix was relatively calm compared to college and with Dallas until the January 2001 arrest for spousal abuse.  On the court, the Suns played pretty well but had been eliminated in the first round in four of the five seasons that Kidd starred on the team, including in 2000-01.  It’s clear that the Suns figured the Kidd-led team had run its course and it was worth resetting with the younger Marbury, who was under contract for a longer period of time.  Marbury could be sullen but he didn’t seem to have any high profile feuds, litigation, or car crashes. 

Perception v. Reality: Jersey Won the Trade but Phoenix Did Okay

In 2001-02, Kidd had his usual great season and the Nets won 52 games and made the NBA Finals.  Marbury struggled with ankle injuries and Phoenix fell from 51-31 to 36-46.  The story told at the time was that the Nets totally fleeced Phoenix and Kidd was a true winner.  But that narrative is not complete. 

Kidd did play better and he did make the Nets much better but his contributions were misunderstood.  John Hollinger wrote about this in his 2002 Basketball Prospectus: “The Kidd trade worked about as well as the team could have possibly expected: Marbury had an off year in Phoenix, while Kidd had one of his best seasons….[but] their karma changed in a big way last season…Van Horn missed 33 games in 2000-01; he missed just one in 2001-02.  Most miraculous of all was Kerry Kittles.  He missed all of the previous season with a knee injury, and it was assumed that if his career wasn’t over, he comeback a shadow of his former self.  Instead he returned as though he had never missed a game….”

Kidd was a huge part of Jersey’s success but they had unprecedented health and development from Martin and rookie Richard Jefferson.  Even had Marbury stayed, the Nets were on the upswing.  Kidd is the better point guard but the trade, on paper, was good for Phoenix and Kidd was far from a sure thing coming to the Nets.

The fact is that trade made sense for both sides.  Though they hit the jackpot on the trade, in reality, New Jersey was a bit desperate.  They had suffered through three bad seasons and were willing to give up cost control, take risk of losing Kidd (or that he would do something stupid).  From Phoenix’s side, they were stuck in a root and Marbury let them reboot.  In the end, Marbury played pretty well with Phoenix but the team decided they were better off using him to offload the hefty dead contract of Anfernee Hardaway and using the cap savings to sign Steve Nash.  It’s hard to argue with that logic.  In the end, both Phoenix and New Jersey entered into a mutually beneficial and rational challenge trade.   Would love to see more of those one day.