By Steve Lichtenstein
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What, Julius Erving wasn’t available?
Maybe if Nets general manager Billy King had caught “The Doctor” documentary on NBATV earlier, then…
Ah, I can’t figure out what went through King’s mind as he navigated the waters in search of the perfect catch to coach his high-priced club. He had to know the stakes in this hire; owner Mikhail Prokhorov breathing down his neck with unreasonable expectations.
Yet, as far as I can tell, the search went something like this:
May 4—Nets lose Game 7 at home to injury-riddled Bulls in first round of playoffs.
May 6—King seeks out Phil Jackson, owner of 11 NBA championship rings as coach, to gauge his interest. There is none. King also visibly upset he didn’t win the $600 million Powerball jackpot.
May 7-June 8—King bides time, seemingly waiting for certain teams’ playoff runs to end so he can request permission to interview serious candidates, such as Memphis coach Lionel Hollins or Indiana assistant Brian Shaw. The word is out that Boston coach Doc Rivers has his bags packed, but general manager Danny Ainge would never let him skip to a division rival.
June 9—King meets with recently retired Hall of Fame-bound point guard Jason Kidd, who, along with Erving, is the most beloved figure in the franchise’s mostly dismal history, to discuss Kidd’s future off the court.
June 11—King interviews Shaw at length. Presumably eats a meal. Hires Kidd to be Brooklyn’s head coach, reportedly for three years.
So much for due diligence.
I just don’t get it. It was reported that Kidd “impressed” King during his meeting. With what? His shiny championship ring?
Kidd was a once-in-a-generation player who had extraordinary powers to see the court, but that in itself is not a qualification to be a head coach in the NBA. If that’s King’s rationale, it diminishes the hard work put in by all the successful coaches who were not so spectacular when they played.
There are some who mention Mark Jackson or Rivers as examples of point guards who had success without interning as assistants to counterweight Magic Johnson’s dreadful turn as Lakers coach. Except that neither of those men took the reins immediately after playing. Jackson and Rivers both traveled around the league for multiple seasons as broadcasters, with Rivers admitting in an interview last year that he used that time to take notes to better transition into coaching.
Larry Bird, another icon who went into coaching, spent five years assisting in the Celtics’ front office before taking the Pacers’ gig. Even Avery Johnson, who Carlesimo replaced after King fired him in December, at least apprenticed under Don Nelson for five months prior to taking over in Dallas.
This is unprecedented. Did King even think this through? How’s this going to work, with Kidd starting from scratch? It’s been assumed that Kidd will construct a staff of experienced assistants to, you know, actually design the program.
One name being floated is former Nets head coach Lawrence Frank, who got that job when Kidd threw two-time Eastern Conference champion Byron Scott overboard in the middle of the 2003-04 season.
In case anyone forgot, the Nets proceeded to deteriorate until Frank was fired after starting the 2009-10 season with 16 straight losses. His tenure these last two seasons in Detroit (54-94) was no better.
Frank’s Nets teams were known for double-teaming the ball for no reason, which led to loads of wide-open three-pointers and defensive three-second technicals, and lots of playing time allocated to players with no known offensive game. Keith Bogans, the Nets free agent swingman, would be a perfect fit should he choose to come back.
Kidd the player played at a fast pace. That would certainly suit Brooklyn point guard Deron Williams as well as certain others like forward Gerald Wallace. Except that’s not how these Nets are built—there’s few young legs like Richard Jefferson and Kenyon Martin to run with Williams here. The other two of the Nets’ Big Three, guard Joe Johnson and center Brook Lopez, live in the halfcourt, pounding the ball on isolations.
Beyond Xs and Os, it’s the coach’s responsibility to manage people. Of course, most players in the League have great respect for Kidd, having seen how his special brand of basketball makes others better (which leads to them making more money).
Still, what’s the over-under on when Williams chafes in the media about his vacation buddy’s strategy? That relationship could be deserving of its own reality show, with the media looking for signs daily to see if things turn sour.
Not that this will necessarily happen, but what if Kidd feels the need to call his own number at some point? Backup point guard C.J. Watson plans to opt out of his contract, making him a free agent. The Nets can only offer him up to 120 percent of the league minimum. I would think that someone will top that after Watson this season converted 41.1 percent of his three-pointers, best among Nets regulars, even though he was one of the main goats in the Bulls series.
Tyshawn Taylor, who saw only limited action in his rookie campaign, is the only other point guard on the roster. The Nets are salary-cap strapped, which means they’ll have to scavenge through the scrap heap to find a veteran replacement for Watson.
Unless Kidd really hasn’t lost that competitive edge and didn’t want to go out with that 10-game scoreless streak during the Knicks’ postseason run. Who would be surprised to see another marvelous athlete return to the sport he loved soon after announcing to the world he had given it up? It’s a cliché.
Maybe that’s what King had up his sleeve all along. Yeah, let’s go with that, instead of the lazy panic move intended to temporarily dominate the back pages that it appears to be.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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