When Deron Williams returned to the lineup, pushing the Brooklyn Nets to four victories in five games, the players publicly marched with the coach on his self-indulged explanation for the sudden success: Lawrence Frank was gone, and Jason Kidd's refurbished defense had been an immense difference.
Privately, the Nets understood this idea was complete garbage. The defense hadn't changed much, except it was funny how much better it looked when the franchise star returned and the ball began to go into the basket. Simplified defense, Kidd pushed. One voice. If the coach said so, sure, the players responded to reporters. Whatever.
While the Nets knew it was nonsense, they had Kidd's back anyway.
The Nets had tried to be supportive of Kidd, but patience is running low on the belief he can deliver the structure and organization desperately needed. As the Nets have devolved into chaos, Kidd has increasingly isolated himself within the locker room and organization, sources told Yahoo Sports. From management to players, Kidd has shown an inability to manage crisis and keep the respect of his players.
Rifts exist between old players and new, trust eroded with every humiliating loss in this 9-19 season.
And yet, somehow, Kidd believes he can keep publicly eviscerating his players' character and desire and spare himself blame and responsibility. For those around the Nets with a sense of history and irony, they remember Kidd running ex-coach Byron Scott out of his job for offenses born of this failed playbook.
Here's the question management is grappling with: Does Brooklyn start unloading its star players and stay the course with the coach, or unload the coach and let someone else manage these star players?
The loss of center Brook Lopez doesn't deliver Kidd the guarantee of surviving his first season. Whatever the dismal Atlantic Division standings say about the Nets trailing first place by only three games, Kidd won't reach the All-Star break without restoring order to his team.
More than once, sources said, players have stood in the locker room and told Kidd they don't understand their roles, that there's confusion about their principles. When the Nets players keep insisting they don't have a team identity, they're offering code words for Kidd's inability to give them clear structure, organization and vision.
Long before training camp in September, the coaching staff met for hours, discussed a defensive system and Kidd then worked with Frank to implement it in the preseason. Soon, Kidd changed his mind. Suddenly, the authority he had given Frank to be a strong voice had been rescinded.
Suddenly, Kidd the player was back with the Nets. In crisis, he wanted a scapegoat. This was such a players' mentality: Trade Frank, cut him – just don't make me deal with the issue. As a head coach, the job is to manage a staff, work through problems. Kidd refused, and it's deeply contributed to how lost he has become now.
Owner Mikhail Prokhorov can pay $180 million in payroll and luxury tax without blinking, but even the richest of the rich have no tolerance for paying millions to make an assistant coach go away – especially when Kidd himself had pushed so hard to make Frank the highest-paid assistant in the league.
All along, Kidd keeps pushing a fictional storyline that there were "differing agendas" with Frank, a suggestion that his assistant coach had been undermining him. The Nets were running the defense Kidd wanted this summer, and Frank had been the presence in practice that Kidd had encouraged upon his hiring. In the end, Kidd wanted "yes" men around him. Now, there's no one to challenge him. In so many ways, Kidd is all alone on this job.
Of course, Kidd had been warned. Before he pushed out Frank, sources said, other assistant coaches pleaded with him: Please don't do this. The message to Kidd was this: Even if you think you don't need him, the rest of us do. Kidd didn't listen to his staff, nor management on this impulsive act.
Now, the Nets are living with the consequences. Within the locker room, there was a sense Kidd quit on them in the Christmas Day loss to the Chicago Bulls, sources told Yahoo Sports. Within nine points in the third quarter, Kidd pulled his starters and sent four substitutes into the game. When this happens, how long until people wonder whether Kidd is trying to get himself fired?
For all the stories about Kidd's grandstanding speeches in the locker room, calling out players in private and public, make no mistake: He's losing these Nets the way Scott lost Kidd a decade ago. Eventually, the players need a plan, need substance. There's no faster way to lose a locker room than calling Kevin Garnett a quitter.
If Kidd wants an early exit with the $10 million left on his contract, he's following the proper blueprint: Blame the players, alienate everyone and, above all, keep losing. All those years ago, his final act to bail on the Nets was feigning a headache, sitting out a game against the Knicks and accelerating a trade to the Dallas Mavericks. Kidd wanted out of the losing, and he quit on the franchise.
Only now, Kidd can't complain there's no talent with the Nets. Only now, there's nowhere else for him to run in the NBA, nowhere else to go. Only now, it's Jason Kidd on the clock.