The new owners of the Milwaukee Bucks, Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens, made billions of dollars in the world of high finance -- the kind of wild success that makes men think they can do anything. The problem is that the NBA is filled with those kinds of wild success stories. You don’t get to buy a franchise because you ran a single McDonald’s franchise well. The next owner of the Clippers, Steve Ballmer, helped build Microsoft. The last owner of the Bucks, Herb Kohl, helped build the Kohl’s department store chain and served four terms in the United States Senate. Unless an owner inherited a team and/or a crazy amount of money (hi, Jim Dolan!), then he (or she, but usually he) was incredibly successful before entering the league.
And yet, some of these very smart and accomplished people fail. It is inevitable, in an enterprise built on thousands of zero-sum games: Every time a team wins an NBA game, another team loses. And Lasry and Edens are falling into the same trap that often snares new owners. They think they know how to run an NBA team, and they overvalue their own “knowledge” of the league because they have been so successful in more complicated endeavors. That is the only logical explanation for their pursuit of Jason Kidd.
By now, you have seen the nuts and bolts of the story reported in various places: Edens and Lasry want Kidd to coach their team. Lasry has a previous relationship with Kidd (apparently, he served as his financial advisor) and Kidd is obviously a big name, a sure Hall of Famer, the kind of person who supposedly brings “instant credibility” to a franchise.
It seems simple, until you realize instant credibility tends to disappear instantly, and Jason Kidd is not a very good coach. He got the Nets job last year because of his name and didn’t impress many people this past season, though the awful Eastern Conference helped hide his deficiencies. (The Nets won 44 games, which earned them the No. 6 seed in the East but would have left them five games out of a playoff spot in the West.)
There are conflicting reports about whether Kidd will get full control of the Bucks or will simply coach. Either way, this is foolish. Suppose Kidd will only coach. Why are the new owners saddling general manager John Hammond with a coach he surely did not want? Winning organizations don’t force a coach on a general manager just because he knows the owner. And anyway, Milwaukee can find a better coach.
If the plan is to give Kidd full control, that is even more foolish. Kidd is laughably unfit to be a general manager. It’s not just his complete lack of experience. Everything in his history suggests he has the wrong personality for the job.
A general manager must hire coaches, and Kidd has been getting coaches fired since he was at the University California, and he organized a revolt against Lou Campanelli, the man who recruited him. A GM must set a vision for an organization and stick with it through tough times, and Kidd is famous for sabotaging organizations to suit himself. It’s no secret that, with the Nets, Kidd dogged it on the court until the team fired coach Byron Scott. Later, he apparently faked sick to force a trade. Now he is wriggling his way out of Brooklyn after a single season, on lousy terms. When the going gets tough, Jason Kidd gets out of there.
As GM or coach, Kidd would also have to represent the Bucks publicly, and his history on that front is not pretty either: an arrest for domestic violence and another for driving under the influence.
Kidd was an absolutely brilliant player, which partly explains why he battled with so many coaches; often, he was the rare NBA player who understood the game better than his coach did. He also has the kind of charisma that can convince teammates to follow him and others to trust him. In all of those ways, he is a lot like Isiah Thomas, and that’s what the Bucks owners can ultimately expect if they hire Kidd: A great former player with a relationship with the owner -- one who sounds like he knows what he is doing, but whose personality flaws that will ultimately doom him.
The NBA may seem like just a basketball league -- kids’ stuff compared to the world of high finance. But it is a whole new business, and new owners have to learn it after they are in charge. They often discover, rather quickly, that what they thought they knew was wrong. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who made a fortune in the mortgage business, thought he was doing all the right things to keep LeBron James happy until James left Cleveland. I’m sure Marc Lasry did a wonderful job handling Jason Kidd’s business. But why would he want Kidd to handle his?