Flash back to February of 2008. The disappointment over the Mavericks blowing the 2006 Finals was 20 months old but still fresh. A 67-win 2007 season had ended with the embarrassment of a first round loss to eighth-seeded Golden State. Despite those disappointments, the Mavericks had decided to stick largely with the same core through a pair of offseasons. They were now at the bottom of a crowded Western Conference playoff picture, fighting with Denver and Golden State for their lives, and they looked like they could be the weak link in that trio. The offense was a mess. It lacked an instigator and someone who could get Dirk Nowitzki the ball in good spots.
The Mavericks decided that the price for an almost-35-years-old Jason Kidd - primarily Devin Harris and two first round picks, plus a lot of money - was worth paying. Some supported the deal immediately, citing the obvious immediate gain, as well as Harris' deficiencies and the picks' lack of value. Many others (yours truly included) derided the deal as a desperate, short-sighted move by a team in decline. Just speaking for myself, I felt that team could not be salvaged (and it wasn't - the Mavs lost in five first-round games to New Orleans), and I wondered how much an aging Kidd would have beyond that season. I also worried that a 2010 first-rounder could be more important than the Mavericks realized. They were on the edge of the lottery that season and, just as now, had one of the older teams in the NBA. Unlike their current roster, they didn't have a quartet of intriguing young players with the potential to refresh the rotation. They frankly hadn't even attempted to acquire such players during Avery Johnson's time in Dallas.
Kidd wasn't the savior in 2008, and despite the addition of a more innovative coach in Rick Carlisle and a series win in 2009, he still hadn't really turned the Mavericks' fortunes through the 2009-10 season. A relative flurry of moves: a trade for Shawn Marion, the drafting of Rodrigue Beaubois, a trade of Josh Howard for Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson, a trade for Tyson Chandler, and two in-season pickups of Peja Stojakovic and Corey Brewer had completely overhauled the rotation, but late in the 2010 season the team sagged. The efforts appeared once again to go for naught, and Kidd appeared likely to head for his age 38/39 season without any significant playoff impact. Despite his obvious impact on the team and the franchise, I still felt remorse for the trade that sent a scoring, defending guard with ten years of extra legs away for a dwindling asset.
Then this happened. As Mike Prada recently said, 17 years after being drafted second overall, Jason Kidd did save the franchise in a way. The goal is certainly still a ring. That goes for Kidd, for Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry, for Rick Carlisle, and for Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban, who took the risky step in 2008. But even if it does not end in a championship, this 2011 NBA Finals run has partially validated the careers of all of those people. None of them has won anything yet, but this second run has showed that there was something here (beyond Dirk) worth salvaging, and it wouldn't have happened without Kidd. It is safe now to consider the (last) Jason Kidd trade fully validated.