NEW YORK -- Last June, with the season over and the Nets front office beginning to turn the page to the next one, Brooklyn’s brain trust gathered to discuss the team’s future. In the meeting, Jason Kidd offered a suggestion: How about flipping Brook Lopez to Milwaukee for Larry Sanders? The idea was met with a few raised eyebrows -- Lopez was an All-Star center, albeit one coming off foot surgery, while Sanders was a shot-blocking tweener with a questionable reputation -- and after watching some film of Sanders, according to sources, G.M. Billy King decided to let it go.
A few weeks later, Kidd was off to Milwaukee, a failed power play resulting in his exodus from Brooklyn. Kidd has a long history with Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry, a billionaire hedge fund manager who was once Kidd’s financial adviser. And as Nets officials watched Kidd smile from in front of a Bucks logo they wondered: Did Kidd try to take Lopez with him?
"I don't know," said a team official. "But that was the first thing I thought. With Jason, you never know what he's thinking."
Kidd returned to Brooklyn on Wednesday, to the franchise that retired his number, to the organization that handed him a head coaching job before he ever really earned one. The fans have not forgotten Kidd’s duplicity: He was lustily booed when introduced, with one fan bellowing “Kidd you suck” during a pause in the national anthem. No one can take away what Kidd has done for the Nets. The two Eastern Conference championship banners hanging from the rafters are evidence of that, but on this night no one had any interest in remembering.
For his part, Kidd denies any underhandedness. He said he did not try to make a power play, declared he had no relationship with King and implied that the true story of his departure was twisted because the flow of information was coming from the Nets, not him. He holds reports that the Nets discussed firing him last season as a shield, one that justifies every subsequent decision.
“I think it really helped me to see what I was dealing with, what type of people I was dealing with,” Kidd said. “Give me a fair chance to coach a team that had injuries, we make a big trade. But I think --understand that they did want to fire me in December -- I think it just shows what type of people I was dealing with.”
In many ways, Kidd’s history is revisionist. The Nets supported Kidd publicly and privately through a miserable first two months of the season, standing by his every decision, encouraging skeptics to give him a chance. Kidd had never been King’s first choice (that was Brian Shaw), but King stood firmly behind him. The Nets preferred Randy Ayers as Kidd’s top assistant, but supported Kidd’s decision to bring in Lawrence Frank, and allowed him to demote Frank (and his $1 million salary) to a glorified scout a month into the season.
Kidd is in Milwaukee now, and both sides are probably better for it. The Nets quickly replaced Kidd with Lionel Hollins, a more experienced hand whose style is better suited for the Nets bigger bodied roster. Kidd is with the Bucks, a young team with modest expectations. His job isn’t to lead a $180 million roster deep into the playoffs. His job is to gradually develop hyped rookie Jabari Parker and surprising second-year forward Giannis Antetokounmpo into better players. Milwaukee beat Brooklyn 122-118 in triple overtime on Wednesday, and by all accounts Kidd has done an excellent job. The Bucks have already won nearly half as many games this season (7) as last (15) and in the woebegone Eastern Conference the team has a legitimate chance to make the playoffs.
Kidd walked out of Barclays Center with a win on Wednesday, and make no mistake: Nets officials were miserable about it. The bad blood will linger, no matter how hard Kidd pleas for everyone to move on. “Coaches get traded, it’s part of the business,” Kidd said. “Eventually, both sides can move on.” Kidd will always be a Nets legend, will always be remembered for pulling the franchise out of the depths of irrelevance. But there will be no next chapter. For Jason Kidd and the Nets, the book is closed forever.