The year is 2003. The San Antonio Spurs have just beaten Jason Kidd and the New Jersey Nets in the NBA Finals. The Spurs feature a dynamic 21-year-old point guard named Tony Parker, but Kidd is the best pure point guard in the league.
The Spurs have just won their second of five eventual titles behind franchise icon Tim Duncan. But San Antonio still wants more — namely, it wants Kidd.
And Kidd wants to be in San Antonio, creating a lethal pairing that would combine the best point guard in a generation with Duncan, the best power forward of all time.
More than a decade later, what might have been still haunts Kidd.
Legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had it all figured it, too. The Spurs wouldn’t even have to give up Parker. An NBA dynasty could have been a mega-dynasty.
“I thought that Jason Kidd being there, being the mentally tough person that he is and with his skills, would be the greatest education for Tony Parker,” Popovich recalled in 2013. “And Tony can go play the 2; he was a scoring guard, anyway. As Jason gets older, let him move over to the 2; let Tony take 1. Brilliant, brilliant. Let’s go get this thing done.”
Now fast forward three more years, to this week. Duncan just retired, wrapping up one of the most admirable careers in NBA history. And Kidd, a surefire Hall of Famer who now coaches the Milwaukee Bucks, reflected on one of the NBA’s greatest what-ifs.
“I thought I was going to be a Spur,” Kidd told ESPN.com about the week of his free agency visit to San Antonio in 2003. “I committed when I was down there on my visit.”
There’s always a “but” though — and this one still haunts Kidd today.
“On my flight home, I think I got cold feet,” Kidd continued. “And sometimes I have nightmares about that. Maybe I could have won a championship or two there. But I got really lucky with Dallas and won a championship.”
Kidd did win a championship as a role player with Dallas in 2011, long after greatness had left him. But electing to stay with the Nets in 2003 proved a poor choice.
In 2004, real estate developer Bruce Ratner bought the Nets with the goal of moving the team to Brooklyn. (Indeed, the franchise played its first home game in the land of bloggers and man-buns in 2012.)
That summer — a year after Kidd staked his future to the Nets instead of the Spurs — New Jersey traded star forward Kenyon Martin for future draft picks in a cost-cutting move. The deal effectively put the Nets out of championship contention, disappointing Kidd and fans of the team alike.
Meanwhile, the Kidd-less Spurs won championships in 2005 and 2007. In 2008, the Nets traded Kidd to the Dallas Mavericks, the team that drafted him and the team with which he’d eventually win that title of his own.
But never mind all that. What might Duncan, Kidd and Parker (not to mention Manu Ginobili, another San Antonio staple) been able to accomplish together?
Well, maybe it wouldn’t have been a mega-dynasty. It turns out Popovich’s professed plan may have not played out as he desired.
“If he came here, I don’t think I would be in San Antonio,” Parker told The Vertical‘s Adrian Wojnarowski years after Kidd changed his mind.
Parker, who is now 34 years old, still runs point for the Spurs. He’s a six-time All-Star and won MVP of the 2007 NBA Finals. Where might he have landed if he’d thrown a fit and demanded out of San Antonio had the Spurs landed Kidd back in ’03?
Who knows — but it makes our little what-if game even more fun to play.