By Jason Keidel
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A hearty helping of New Yorkers owe Jason Kidd an apology.
Like so many, I implored the Nets to jettison their fledgling coach after they plunged to a 10-21 record to start the season. It was obvious that Kidd, who had yet let the ink dry on his retirement papers before assuming the Nets’ gig, was treating his troops like a colleague rather than a commander.
Then the Nets went 23-9 in 2014 before their loss to the Wizards last week, the best record in the Eastern Conference since Jan. 1.
Kidd was a hardwood savant the moment he held the ball, and was the prized possession in perhaps the biggest heist in hardwood history when the Nets bagged him in exchange for Stephon Marbury over a decade ago. Kidd is the Anti-Carmelo, the essence of inclusion rather than Melo’s exclusion, gunner game.
But I confused his underwhelming mien for an overwhelmed newbie coach. But that’s always been Kidd’s style. And while there were tangible bumps in the road, like canning Lawrence Frank barely a month into the season after signing him to a six-year deal, and his dopey Diet Coke caper to buy some time to draw up a play, Kidd has harnessed the proper energy for this veteran-laden team, the second-oldest in the NBA (behind the Heat).
Sure, the Nets (33-31) have talent in a conference with a severe dearth of decent teams. Only the Heat and Pacers are legitimate playoff teams, much less title contenders. But the Nets could have tanked and blamed their baby-faced leader for it all, keenly aware that you can fire a coach long before you can disband an entire club. Now the Nets are probably the most dangerous team not residing in Indiana and Miami.
Perhaps the only irony in this season is the Nets are giving Kidd the very latitude not afforded PJ Carlesimo, who did a fabulous job after Avery Johnson was shown the door last season. But, despite his obvious coaching acumen, it seems PJ wears on everyone.
And the Nets are doing this without perhaps their most indispensable member, Brooke Lopez. While Deron Williams is their most pricey player, Lopez was seen as their most valuable, a true center in a league lacking gifted big men. Williams seems to play when he wants to, literally, always hurt physically or emotionally, a migraine for a head coach, much less one with Kidd’s one-line coaching bio.
And hats off to Paul Pierce, the ageless graybeard who surely has kept the team from tatters by dint of his dogged, endless love for the game. Pierce has made enough money for 10 lifetimes, yet “The Truth” has plied his trade with his typical, no-nonsense consistency.
And it seems Kidd hasn’t cracked the whip because it wasn’t the right move. Rather, the carrot has been the cure for a team so loaded with veterans. Indeed, a team with fire-breathing stars like Kevin Garnett needs Kidd’s equanimity to smooth it out. He won’t get Coach of the Year consideration because he’s in his maiden campaign and the Nets were supposed to be better than .500. Heck, he can’t even bogart the bold ink in his own town.
The Knicks, perennial losers for 41 seasons, get all the adoration and will surely own the Big Apple to its seedy core now that they’ve reeled in the Zen Master himself. Phil Jackson has been hired to cure the disease the Knicks call a basketball franchise. More than likely, he will fail, like so many of his talented predecessors. But Phil or no Phil, the Nets are forever second fiddle to the Knicks, record be damned.
Just as he did as a player jogging up the court, head up, eyes scanning six moves ahead, like the basketball maestro he has always been, Kidd has made everyone around him look better, while taking none of the credit. So it’s up to us to do it for him, along with an authentic apology.
As always, Jason Kidd is one step ahead of us.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel
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