Give and Go: Is Jason Kidd nuts?
Give And Go is a recurring feature in which Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney bat an NBA topic du jour back and forth.
Today's topic: Jason Kidd forcing his way out of Brooklyn, leading to the Nets trading Kidd to the Bucks for two second-round picks.
1. Is Jason Kidd nuts?
Ben Golliver: I think a few false assumptions are driving the "Jason Kidd is completely insane!" narrative. First, that everything was all well and good in Brooklyn until last week. Second, that Kidd would undertake his power play in Brooklyn without already having a good idea -- likely a tampering-skirting promise -- that he would land in Milwaukee.
If you believe that Kidd blew up a totally functional work environment with no back-up plan then, sure, he is nuts. But if, instead, you acknowledge that his relationship had been strained with GM Billy King for months and he had a clear ejection plan, likely one involving a more handsome salary, less stress and the possibility for greater authority, then he starts to look devious, rather than insane.
I think it's also important to keep in mind Brooklyn's general direction in assessing Kidd's actions. Milwaukee was the NBA's most depressing outpost last season, no two ways about it. But the Brooklyn job is not a great one, not with Deron Williams in and out of the lineup, not with Brook Lopez's injury issues, not with Father Time hounding Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, not with a demanding ownership group expecting success after it has funneled in hundreds of millions of dollars, and not without any level of flexibility to meaningfully upgrade the roster. A best-case scenario for Brooklyn next year is the same thing it went through this year, a conference semifinals berth, which just isn't enough, not for the demanding New York market, and not as a return for Mikhail Prokhorov's spending.
Why deal with all of that when you can work for your long-time buddy in a hope-starved Milwaukee market that, no matter what happens, will enjoy a more successful season in 2014-15 than it did in 2013-14? Bucks ownership and Kidd will have lots of fences to mend given their actions during this saga, particularly related to the harsh blindsiding of Larry Drew. Milwaukee's acquisition of Kidd is nothing if not bold, and the new owners should have some license to put their stamp on an organization they acquired when it was at absolute rock bottom.
Rob Mahoney: Only in the same way he always has been. Kidd has long had a clumsy Machiavellian streak – a hunger for control that previously resulted in trades made and coaches fired. Here his power play ended in both, with Milwaukee giving up two second-round picks and dismissing head coach Larry Drew to give Kidd the Usurper his parachute. It's natural, on some level, for Kidd (or any coach) to want power. Their profession is as unstable as ever. Winning coaches are being released left and right, from Lionel Hollins to George Karl to Mark Jackson. Securing the title of team president would insulate Kidd from that fate, insofar as it would position him above Nets GM Billy King in the organizational hierarchy and leave his job security solely in the hands of Mikhail Prokhorov.
What's batty is that Kidd would think this to be the right time to make that play. After coaching for all of one modestly successful season – not merely with the Nets, but ever – Kidd made a run at the very general manager who hired him. Clearly he miscalculated in doing so. Kidd's fate was reportedly sealed long before the Nets and Bucks agreed to final terms for his release, as would make sense given the attempted coup. There's nothing at all wrong with moving from a salary-locked, aging Brooklyn team to a Milwaukee rebuild, particularly when the latter has room for the kind of upward mobility Kidd craves. That Kidd thought he had the political capital to execute his takeover of the Nets front office, though, was brash and silly.
2. Who should be the next coach of the Nets?
Golliver: There isn't a coach alive that can truly fix this mess. The one person I would steer clear of would be Mark Jackson, given how his exit in Golden State played out. Warriors owner Joe Lacob took the rare step of going on the record in saying that Jackson needed to do a better job of "managing up." Given the circumstances of Kidd's exit, that should be a deal-breaker. Rather than risk history repeating itself, Brooklyn should seek an experienced coach with a postseason track record. Former Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins fits that bill, but one wonders how his demanding personality would mesh with Deron Williams.
Mahoney: A flexible, experienced coach makes the most sense given the personnel involved. Why not George Karl? He wouldn't be importing the style from his fast-breaking Nuggets teams as much as his own ingenuity; Karl, though often typecast as a transition-dependent coach, is adaptive to circumstance. Denver ran relentlessly under Karl because trading away Carmelo Anthony left the Nuggets without reliable half-court creators. He did what he could to control matchups and create advantages on both ends, in the process giving Denver a chance to compete. Brooklyn could use a touch of the same. Assuming the Nets are able to bring back Paul Pierce in free agency and restructure the supporting cast, this will again be a fairly balanced, versatile group. Karl strikes me as a perfect coach to make sense of it – to incorporate the inverted post-ups of Pierce and Joe Johnson, to find some life in the game of Deron Williams, to leverage the athleticism of Mason Plumlee, to best utilize those skills of Kevin Garnett's that are not in decline and to clear space for Brook Lopez to work.
3. Are you for or against one person being both coach and GM?
Golliver: I'm not adamantly opposed to it, but I do think the ideal setup involves a shared philosophy and a clear division of responsibilities between two different people functioning as GM and coach. That said, letting a single, competent person handle both jobs is preferable to constantly cycling through coaches one after another, which is what many poorly run teams do. Detroit turning things over to Stan Van Gundy is way, way better than letting Joe Dumars hire and fire three more coaches while wasting millions on bad players in free agency. Ultimately, it's more important to set up a sustainable culture and system than it is to adhere strictly to a traditional setup.
No matter what, any person considering a dual role needs a day-to-day manager to help with the nitty-gritty aspects of front-office work, like coordinating the scouts and handling trade calls. Coaching is more than a full-time job, and that should be the primary focus during the season. As this conversation pertains to Kidd, I would be very hesitant to turn off front-office responsibilities to any coach that hasn't demonstrated, over a period of multiple seasons, that he can install and maintain a successful method of playing on both sides of the ball.
Mahoney: I'm in favor, provided the candidate is qualified. Kidd is not. In a sense this entire conversation is that simple: As much as Kidd would personally benefit from having more front office power, to this point he's shown absolutely no reason why he should be entrusted with it. In what world would it make sense to reward Kidd's single, reasonably effective season with such rare security? Kidd isn't Gregg Popovich, Stan Van Gundy or Doc Rivers. He's not even Flip Saunders. Kidd has navigated all of one year at the helm of an NBA team, and not without drama or disappointment. The extent to which he overplayed his hand here is baffling.
4. Are two second-round picks a fair price for Kidd?
Golliver: I think the Celtics' ability to get a first-round pick from the Clippers for Doc Rivers should be viewed as the exception, not the rule. First-round picks are increasingly valuable commodities these days, and there's just no way, given Milwaukee's basement-dwelling status, that a first-round pick would be considered fair compensation for letting Kidd leave when his future in Brooklyn was so obviously untenable. Second-round picks are much more easily bought and sought; Milwaukee's ownership can replenish them easily if they desire. For Brooklyn, something is better than nothing, and the picks could come in handy if the franchise ever decides to reform its gluttonous spending and pursue a build-from-within approach.
Mahoney: I don't think so. Overall, Kidd had a fine rookie season as a head coach, in which he managed veteran talent and made his share of clever adjustments to Brooklyn's playing rotation. His dealing with Lopez's season-ending injury in itself deserves praise. How many coaches would effectively replace Lopez in the starting lineup with Shaun Livingston? How many would then replace Livingston with a shooter like Alan Anderson in the middle of a playoff series? Kidd's choices helped the Nets to stabilize and create an identity. For that he deserves credit.
He doesn't, however, warrant even a pair of second-round picks. The NBA coaching ranks can be cast on a bell curve, with a select few elites, a small group of true inadequates, and the vast majority falling in an acceptable middle. Kidd sits in that glut -- successful enough to earn praise but nowhere yet near the best in the profession. Given that particular distribution, it's strange to me that a team would give up actual basketball assets for the privilege to hire him. Milwaukee is undoubtedly banking on improvement from Kidd, though it remains far more likely that he eventually falls somewhere in the NBA's well-populated middle. To give up picks for a coach like that seems frivolous. To do so when Drew -- an imperfect but decent NBA coach -- was already under contract for two more seasons just seems wasteful.
5. Will Kidd regret bolting for Milwaukee?
Golliver: I doubt it. One would think that a Nets icon, a player who has his jersey number retired, would feel pangs of guilty about his decisions during this process, but I just don't think Kidd is wired that way. "Disloyalty" is a strong charge, perhaps too strong, but “my way or the highway" bridge burning has pretty much been Kidd's modus operandi. The drag of losing will surely weigh on Kidd as he attempts to orchestrate a turnaround; if we've learned anything from this saga, though, it's that he likely won't be wasting too much time planning his next career move. As long as there's another job offer around the corner, it's hard to see Kidd slowing down long enough to reflect on what's happened here.
Mahoney: Maybe in February, when another young Bucks team is squarely outside the Eastern Conference playoff race. In the long run, though, I expect Kidd will get what he wants. He's going to work for an owner whom he knows personally and with a general manager (John Hammond) extended under a previous regime who just last season built the worst team in the league on accident. It may take a minute, but Kidd seems poised to eventually make a run at the same kind of title and responsibility he pursued in Brooklyn. That kind of power won't likely come tinged with regret.
Beyond that, it seems relatively likely that the bottom will fall out for the Nets at some point over the next 2-3 years. There's enough talent and production for Brooklyn to keep competitive, but Garnett is likely a year away from retirement, Pierce could sign elsewhere in free agency, Joe Johnson just turned 33, Deron Williams' ankles are 10 years older than he is, and some combination of Shaun Livingston, Andray Blatche and Alan Anderson could be priced out of the Nets' price range this summer. Almost every draft pick possible has been traded, though in this swap Brooklyn regains its own 2015 second rounder and another from Milwaukee down the line. This is not a team built to sustain. As such, whatever frustration Kidd feels this season will likely fade as Milwaukee moves along its competitive timeline.