Jason Kidd, during a frustrating final playoff run in May (Getty Images)
Jason Kidd, with that marvelous basketball IQ of his, may one day turn out to be the greatest head coach in NBA history. This isn’t the reason, though, that he’s the absolute best choice for the Brooklyn Nets.
Kidd, who was hired on Wednesday just days after ending his playing career, is the perfect hire for the Nets because he’s the most Brooklyn Nets-y hire the Brooklyn Nets could possibly hope to hire. Outside of signing on Magic Johnson or Justin Bieber’s giant hat to lead the team, Kidd was the biggest name the Nets could go for. And in a remarkable 11-month stint since finishing up the team’s final season in New Jersey, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov and general manager Billy King have put together a lineup full of massive contracts featuring the biggest names that were available at their particular times.
Of course, they’ll go nowhere, but that isn’t the point. The point is the press conference on Thursday, or the flashing bulbs that will await Kidd’s first home game on basic cable TV next fall. Even if Kidd turns out to be the second coming of Red Auerbach – who ran a 143-82 record coaching with two teams before taking over the Boston Celtics – the focus right now is hiring a big name that can please Mssrs. Prokhorov and King, two basketball minds that have proven to have the patience of a Le Sueur pea over their respective NBA careers.
This is why Brian Shaw, the associate head coach of a team that was by far and away the best defensive squad in the NBA this year while taking the defending champs to a seventh game despite missing former All-Star Danny Granger for most of the season, was dismissed even after a lengthy meeting on Wednesday. The Pacers’ associate coach is a coaching great in waiting, but upon hearing about mutual interest between Shaw and the Nets last month I honestly was disappointed. Why waste a talent like Shaw’s that on a roster like this?
Brooklyn had its moments down the stretch of 2012-13, especially when star guard Deron Williams was engaged, but the team is set to spend over $86 million next year on a roster that isn’t scaring anyone, even with the Potential Greatest Coach Ever at the helm. The year after that, even after declining four player options, they’ll be at the luxury tax level with just six players on the roster. It’s true that Prokhorov doesn’t mind paying huge luxury tax bills, but his personal income isn’t the concern here. The concern is the flexibility, as tax-paying teams can’t work out sign and trade deals, and are limited in the exceptions they can hand to players to round out the roster.Dwight Howard this offseason. No third or fourth team is going to preemptively take on Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries’ contracts (because both would be required to be cut from the books to get under the tax) long enough to let another team deal for Brook Lopez while handing the Nets Dwight Howard. Humphries’ deal does have some value mainly due to it working as an expiring contract in the year before the major 2014 free agent class, but the only GM that has been interested in Wallace over the last few years is King, and we’re pretty sure that NBA rules stipulate that Prokhorov (despite his wealth) isn’t allowed to buy another team just for King to trade Wallace to.
This is why, despite initial frustration, Shaw should be happy that the Nets looked in Kidd’s direction. And why Kidd – who has long showcased an iffy touch in dreaming up personnel decisions at his various stops as a player – is the absolute right guy.
The lack of coaching experience doesn’t bother me as much. Recruiting Lawrence Frank to dream up plays and Tim Grgurich to work with the players behind the scenes will set up a terrific support system for Kidd to ease into his job. The problem with all this, though, is that the Nets are a win-now team. They need to make a splash right away while in Williams’ prime, and with Wallace fading. And they’ve hired a neophyte coach that will be learning on the job.
It’s worked before. The Indiana Pacers hired Larry Bird to coach their team in 1997 despite his lack of experience, and he made the Eastern finals in consecutive years before making it to the NBA Finals in 2000 with Rick Carlisle and Frank Harter acting as de facto offensive/defensive coaches. Indiana, though, was a ready-made, championship-caliber team in 1997-98. The 2013-14 Brooklyn Nets, unless you’re swayed by all these big names, are not. Understand that P.J. Carlesimo wasn’t the reason Nate Robinson shot Brooklyn out of the playoffs last month.
The Nets are in this position because they lost out on all the biggest names for various reasons, and had to settle for approximations. Deron Williams instead of Chris Paul. Joe Johnson instead of Carmelo Anthony. Brook Lopez with the max deal last summer, instead of Dwight Howard. The Nets are also in this position because they’re paying their particular Big Three as if they were Paul, Carmelo, and Dwight.
Jason Kidd and his staff won’t be able to fix that. Not because Kidd will fall flat on his face as a coach, but because the Brooklyn Nets as currently situated just are not fixable.
You sure you didn’t want to take just one year off, Jason?
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