Given the seemingly interminable length of the NBA offseason, it seems like ages ago that we were having a nice little laugh at newly minted Brooklyn Nets head coach Jason Kidd for leaving his team's bench in the midst of an Orlando Summer League game — one, it is important to note, that he was not actually coaching — to go take a phone call:
The brief step-away, caught by NBA TV's cameras, seemed especially funny considering Summer League was the recently retired point guard's first live action as a head coach, that he'd begun his coaching career earlier that week with an almost immediate technical foul, and that the SummerNets were down by 15 points when he took a powder. There were plenty of potential explanations bandied about for Kidd's exit, including this one, forwarded by New York Daily News beat man Stefan Bondy:
Maybe Jason Kidd was taking a phone call from Andrei Kirilenko— Stefan Bondy (@NYDNInterNets) July 11, 2013
At the time, you'll recall, the Nets were in pursuit of the former Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves forward to add a versatile, defensive-minded veteran presence to their bench behind draft-night trade targets Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. As I'm sure you know, they wound up getting the 32-year-old Russian for a song, an agreement that ruffled some feathers but was ultimately found to be clean by league standards.
And, as it turns out, Bondy's initial wondering/joke was actually right on the money, according to Tim Bontemps of the New York Post:
Before [Kirilenko] made his decision, however, he needed to talk to Jason Kidd about what his role would be. So Kirilenko put in a call — one that happened to come while the newly hired coach was watching the team’s summer league game in Orlando — and liked what he heard.
“We spoke about how he sees me on the floor, and how he sees me in the team,” Kirilenko said following training camp practice at Duke University Wednesday morning. “He explained the thing I was basically projecting in my head.
“I understand that Paul [Pierce] is probably going to be in the starting lineup, but I’ve never been a guy who is worried about starting or coming off the bench. I was worried more about my playing time, and he told me I was definitely going to have a lot of time, because we have a very experienced and aging team, so during the season some of the guys are going to be out, some of the guys are going to be in and it’s going to be a great rotation at the forward position.
“I wanted to make sure that we are kind of on the same page, and that they’re not just getting me to be like a third or fourth forward who is there just in case, but a guy who is playing and who you depend on.” [...]
Despite not having anything to do with that day’s game, the video of Kidd leaving the gym to take a phone call soon went viral, and he was on the receiving end of more than a few jokes in its wake.
“I had no choice [but to take it],” Kidd said with a smile. “[But] when I got off the phone with him, I thought we had a good chance.”
Clearly, Kidd's sales pitch — “Winning,” Kidd told Bontemps. “We have a chance to win." — was persuasive, because the deal was done mere hours later. But the Call Broadcast Round the World wasn't the only phoner that played a key role in Kirilenko making his way to Brooklyn, according to Jared Zwerling of Bleacher Report:
At the time, Kirilenko was in serious discussions with three non-playoff teams for bigger salaries, [agent Marc] Fleisher said. But [Nets general manager Billy] King was persistent, and two days later he texted Fleisher again with an offer.
Kirilenko put more thought into it, especially after talking to his former Utah Jazz teammate Deron Williams. Kirilenko was intrigued about teaming up with Williams again. And, Williams said, the Nets point guard suggested to Kirilenko that he sign for less money for one season.
Kirilenko then came back to Fleisher with a stunning decision.
"Andrei and his wife [Masha] talked it over, and then he said, 'I'm going to do it,'" Fleisher said. "It came as a complete shock to me after he showed no willingness even the day before. He basically thought that while he wasn't opposed to making more money, it came down to playing for a competitive team that could win a title. Also, his wife is in the fashion industry, and New York is great for that."
In the end, then, you can chalk up Kirilenko's signing to King's persistence, two well-timed calls (one made, one received) by a pair of star point guards and, because Andrei's smart, a long talk with the missus. And after all that reaching-out-and-touching-someone (phrasing), the Nets landed the biggest remaining prize in free agency — a seasoned veteran capable of defending multiple positions and contributing on offense without the ball in his hand — for just two years at the taxpayer's midlevel exception.
Sure makes walking out on a Summer League game seem mighty worth it, huh?