By Steve Lichtenstein
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Good riddance, J-Kidd.
Hey, Milwaukee: Got any room in your front office for Billy King as well?
Proving once again that the Nets’ summers are more interesting than their springs, reports surfaced over the weekend that Jason Kidd, coming off an up-and-down rookie season as Nets head coach, is engineering an employment transfer to the Bucks. The Nets are said to be accommodating, pending fair compensation.
There have been several reported motivations behind Kidd’s maneuver, from Kidd going over general manager King’s head to urging certain roster alterations and getting shot down to pure greed. Kidd obviously read about the high-end salary contracts earned by Steve Kerr and Derek Fisher and quite possibly feels shortchanged.
The supposed point of no return was when Kidd made a direct plea to Brooklyn’s ownership that he should leapfrog over King in the Nets’ front-office hierarchy. Kidd allegedly wanted the team to trade All-Star center Brook Lopez, who is set to return from a season that ended prematurely when he broke his right foot for a third time.
Kidd was able to resuscitate the Nets’ season after a dismal 10-21 start when, after Lopez went down, he changed the team’s identity by going with a smaller starting lineup. He reportedly had no interest in going back to big and slow.
Though Kidd was properly rebuffed, in this case his reasoning wasn’t entirely wrong.
The Nets were a disastrous defensive and rebounding team at the start of last season when everyone was healthy. The offense depended on four guys who worked best with the ball in their hands in one-on-one isolations. With the promotion of Shaun Livingston to the starting lineup, the Nets moved the ball better on offense and were much more active on the other end.
Still, Kidd’s action was a blatant sign of disrespect towards his boss and necessitated a response.
I was against Kidd’s hiring from the start, believing that a more experienced coach was better suited to deal with the obvious chemistry issues any team would encounter when its general manager treats his club like a fantasy team.
Instead, King went a different way.
He chose Kidd, who was just 10 days removed from his retirement as a player, to lead a team that had win-now expectations.
I wrote at the time of Kidd’s hiring that King had to get this one right. King received mulligans for inheriting Avery Johnson and then replacing him in December 2012 on an intern basis with P.J. Carlesimo, who did a respectable job getting the Nets into the playoffs before getting severely outcoached in a winnable series against the depleted Bulls.
King had to know last summer that whoever he chose for 2013-14 would bear his stamp.
The $190 million (including luxury taxes) Nets finished just six games over .500 in a historically-weak Eastern Conference and put up a token fight in a five-game series loss to Miami in the second round of the playoffs.
Kidd deserves a good chunk of the blame for this underachievement, as he was horribly unprepared for life on the sidelines. He initially delegated a lion’s share of the strategy implementation to assistant coach Lawrence Frank, whose past teams played as if the game was still being played under 1990s NBA rules.
The Frank experiment didn’t even last two months. Kidd banished Frank from the bench in early December, relegating the league’s highest-paid assistant to report-writing duties.
King went along with this and more, including Kidd’s early-season two-game suspension for a DWI and embarrassing fine for Soda-gate. And don’t get me started on Kidd’s endgame tactics, including the Nets’ continued failures to execute simple inbounds plays.
Kidd’s latest power play, however, could not be tolerated.
Apparently Kidd felt that one year as coach made him qualified to run the personnel department, like he’s Phil Jackson. So let him go run the Bucks into the ground.
Not that King has accomplished anything at this level, either. A failure in Philadelphia, King has had all the advantages of owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s fortune here in Brooklyn and hasn’t come close to delivering the core mission of building a championship contender.
This whole situation is just a mess, even by the standards of this woebegone franchise’s history. If it weren’t for the timing, King should be shoved out the door with Kidd.
Unfortunately, the uncertainty surrounding the Nets now puts them in an even more perilous predicament. Already salary-cap stretched, the Nets are facing the possibility of losing as many as four (or five, if this incident causes center Kevin Garnett to retire) key rotation players — including starters Paul Pierce and Livingston — in the free-agency period that starts this week. Add in that it appears the Nets will soon be looking for their fourth coach over the last 18 months.
I’d bet that one of the items on prospective players’ minds when choosing their workplace is who will be in charge. It’s also worth noting that Pierce and Livingston happen to be represented by Jeff Schwartz, Kidd’s agent. Not that an agent would use that as leverage or anything.
That’s because, technically, Kidd is still the Nets’ coach. King reportedly gave the Bucks permission to contact Kidd on Friday, but there’s the matter of compensation that needs to be ironed out. The going rate for such poaching is a first-round draft pick, but the Bucks’ initial proffer was a mere second-rounder.
So all we can do is wait. I’m sure Kidd, who in 2008 forced a trade from the Nets when he was their signature star in New Jersey, will eventually get his way to close this sad chapter.
If only some other team wanted King that badly.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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