Jason Kidd did good things as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets. Though many had the star-laden Brooklyn outfit pegged to fight for the Atlantic Division crown and easily exceed 50-some wins, it was clear from the outset of 2013-14 that these aging Nets were rapidly declining. A midseason foot injury to Brook Lopez knocked the All-Star-level center out for the season, and after the first two months the team had dug itself a 10-21 hole.
Kidd’s work on both ends helped turn things around, as he re-worked his defensive scheme and relied on a small ball lineup on the other end. The squad finished with a 34-17 mark, and even took a first-round series from the Atlantic champs from Toronto. A second-round ouster after having taken just one game against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semis seems like a disappointment in comparison to what was expected from the Nets prior to the season's start, but it certainly was an impressive run once you factor in how bad Brooklyn looked to start the season.
In comparison, Larry Drew’s lone year in Milwaukee was a complete and total bust. Built to make the lower rung of an Eastern playoff bracket that doesn’t preclude sub-.500 teams from entering its ranks, the Bucks looked like a predictable, uninspired group of underachievers. Expecting another eighth seed from that lineup was probably irrational, but the sheer amount of losses that Milwaukee piled up was borderline shocking. There was locker-room infighting to go alongside indifferent play, and it says quite a bit that Philadelphia reeled off a near-NBA record 26 consecutive losses, and still finished with a better record than the Bucks.
So, why all the hand-wringing about Jason Kidd replacing Larry Drew as Bucks head coach?
Because Jason Kidd is the worst, mostly.
To be fair, Nets general manager Billy King is not much better, at least in terms of tangible work. It’s true that Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov was the check-writing influence behind some of King’s biggest win-now blunders, pushing his GM to acquire players at any cost in order to follow through on his championship promise, but King has a long history of making terribly short-sighted moves on his own – without being able to blame a tempestuous Larry Brown or Mikhail Prokhorov along the way.
That is to say, most wouldn’t want to work under Billy King either, despite his largesse. And most armchair critics probably think they could run an NBA team better than King, least of all a former NBA All-Star, championship point guard and now well-regarded NBA head coach. To go about it in the way that Kidd has, reportedly berating his bosses and interviewing for the jobs of two other Milwaukee Bucks employees, is reprehensible.
Kidd has adeptly taken advantage of two star-struck new money Bucks owners, eager to now live the “look at me!”-lifestyle that buying an NBA team for over half a billion dollars, apparently, entails. How else could one explain such celebrity-sniffing alacrity in swiftly bringing Kidd in to replace a coach who had been given no indication that he wouldn’t at least be given a chance to turn things around? The Bucks had a terrible record last season, but they do have the rights to several coveted trade assets, and heaps of upcoming second-round picks. It wouldn’t be the strangest turn of events to see those assets be turned into more expensive players, for more showy moves to follow, and for the new Bucks ownership group to cry poverty during the next NBA lockout when things don’t quickly turn around at the speed they expected.
Kidd will coach on, but he’s used up all of his free passes. For someone with such a sterling on-court reputation, he has a repeated series of off-court mistakes that date back to his time in college, from coach-killing to reported malingering to more serious charges like spousal abuse (reportedly in front of his child) and dangerously driving under the influence.
Coaches are a close fraternity with several unwritten sets of rules that aren’t too tough to recognize from a mile away, and it’s more than certain that Kidd won’t have many head coaching counterparts to happily chat up in the minutes before tipoff. Even assistant coaches, worried about working under the man that scuttled Lawrence Frank and forced the firing of longtime assistant Larry Drew (who once coached Drew as an assistant), will be given the stink eye from their cohorts across the sideline.
The Bucks will get better, because they can’t help it, because their health and conditioning will improve, because of Jabari Parker, and because Jason Kidd is a good basketball coach. After months of developing goodwill in terms of a civic-friendly change of ownership, the drafting of Parker, and the knowledge that Milwaukee Bucks fans have deserved better for years, though, it’s going to be pretty tough to enjoy this team’s ascension out of the NBA’s cellar. It’s going to be hard to look past Jason Kidd on that sideline.
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