Holding Court: Jason Kidd just adds to his bad rep
Younger NBA fans ought to know more about Jason Kidd than the man who just got the coaching job in Milwaukee after a rather uneven first season as a rookie coach for the veteran-laden Brooklyn Nets.
Kidd, after all, has had a history of personal and professional indiscretions, if not outright transgressions, that he has to be viewed not only from the prism of his having a job to do but also from the perspective of how he relates with other people, particularly his colleagues in his profession.
Now, we’re not about to pontificate here, much less cast judgment on the character of a person like Kidd, a 10-time All-Star as a player and, some say surefire future Hall of Famer. But we feel there’s a need to look into the circumstances of his hiring by the Bucks, as well as his departure from Brooklyn, where he spent almost seven years of his prime as a player and earned those credentials to be considered as a candidate for the shrine in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Doing this would then give especially those who didn’t quite catch Kidd’s prime as a pro of 19 years a better perspective of what, who and how the 41-year-old six-time All-Pro evolved into the person that he is today, and how he figures to act in the days to come in Milwaukee. Again, not to try to sound like a clairvoyant but if and when something happens, we’d be able to say, “Didn’t we tell you?”
Kidd’s eventful, sometimes-twisting but short journey that eventually took him to Suds City didn’t follow the usual script that attends such a hiring. In simple terms, he, with the help of his agent Jeff Schwartz who was said to wield “incredible” power and influence with the Nets’ majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov, earlier tried to grab full control of the basketball operations in Brooklyn, asking for a job title that would allow him to run the team and put him above general manager Billy King.
Zach Lowe, writing for Grantland, described the attempt as Machiavellian. “But Machiavelli was rational,” Lowe said. “Kidd would seem to lack any understanding of his place in the world if he truly believes himself worthy of the kind of dual role Doc Rivers, Stan Van Gundy, and (to a degree) Gregg Popovich worked their whole lives to get. This was the equivalent of Jordan Crawford saying he might be better than Michael Jordan.”
But if Kidd expected Prokhorov, the third-richest Russian according to Forbes with a net worth of $10.9 billion, to accede to his bidding, he got the surprise of his life when he was flatly denied. To Prokhorov and his colleagues, the attempt at the power grab represented a sense of betrayal among them after having earlier given Kidd special treatment and certain concessions.
Back in December, when the Nets had a slow start, management seriously considered firing Kidd, who, fresh from his retirement with cross-town rival New York, was clearly having difficulty adjusting to the job on the bench. But Nets officials, some of whom had wanted to bring in Lionel Hollins to replace Kidd, eventually decided to give their former star a chance.
They were hoping that the star-studded roster, which included Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the last two of whom the Nets acquired from Boston in a trade in the offseason, would eventually prove equal to its $100 million payroll, the highest in league history (that doesn’t even include $90 million in luxury tax payments), and enable Kidd to weather the early storm.
On top of this, they also acceded to Kidd’s pleading to make Lawrence Frank the highest-paid assistant coach in the league, giving him an escalating six-year deal worth more than $6 million. But just weeks after the season started, Kidd asked management to demote Frank, and although the team’s leadership did not agree with it since it believed Frank was doing a fine job, it eventually relented just to keep the peace and gave the impression it was a collective decision. Truth is, it was only Kidd’s, in order to placate “all his insecurities and need to place blame,” as one insider put it.
As part of his bluster, Kidd for a time declared he would personally pay the balance of Frank’s contract but he quickly backtracked, and ownership was left in the end to pay the balance.
With help from his veterans, however, Kidd did turn the Nets’ season around to push them to the No. 6 seed in the playoffs, where they beat Toronto in seven games in the first round but ultimately lost in five games to Miami in the second round.
But Kidd had shown potential as a very good coach, making up for Lopez’s almost-season-long injury absence by turning the Nets into an efficient small-ball unit that maximized the three-point shot and forced numerous turnovers on defense. He demonstrated his creativity midway through the Toronto series by replacing Shaun Livingston in the starting lineup with Alan Anderson to space the floor, a move that proved crucial to the Nets’ first-round triumph.
He also impressed management back in December by “unilaterally” banishing Andray Blatche, the same big man whom the Philippine Congress naturalized to be able to play for Gilas Pilipinas in this coming August’s FIBA World Cup and the Asian Games, reportedly because of his poor conditioning and game preparedness. Kidd told the 6-foot-11 power forward-center to come back only when he was ready while the Nets cloaked the absence, which was a virtual suspension, as driven by “personal reasons,” but Kidd showed right there the strong leadership that the club wanted.
If the Nets, however, thought they could parlay that leadership into many years of productive bench work, they were rudely surprised when Kidd and Schwartz came to Prokhorov last month and laid down what they wanted. Already, there were rumblings that Kidd was not happy with King as the primary orchestrator of Brooklyn’s personnel moves. Back in December and January, Kidd reportedly approached Prokhorov to express concerns about King’s performance, his commitment as well as his vision for the future. Though he never pitched himself for the job at that point, his displeasure with King supposedly escalated when Jason Terry and Reggie Evans were traded to Sacramento for guard Marcus Thornton.
Kidd’s eventual power play gained momentum when Milwaukee, whose new ownership that bought the Bucks for $550 million last April included Marc Lasry, a former Kidd confidant and business partner, sought the Nets’ permission to talk to Kidd earlier in June, presumably about its head coaching post that was still occupied by Larry Drew. When the Nets did not respond quickly, Kidd and his team started their play for the Nets’ double job in earnest.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports said that Kidd’s hunger for more power and money had actually gone into overdrive when Steve Kerr and Derek Fisher, two former role players with no previous head coaching experience, were signed this summer into contracts that were substantially bigger than the Nets had given Kidd. While Kidd only got a three-year, $10.5 million deal, Golden State gave Kerr a four-year deal worth $16 million and the Knicks gave Fisher a four-year contract worth $20 million. This was on top of Van Gundy’s hiring by Detroit as both president of basketball operations and headman after being fired in 2012 by Orlando.
“That got him – especially Fisher,” an official close to the situation said.
But seemingly lost on Kidd was the fact that at the time he was hired by Brooklyn, he was an unappealing candidate to any other team but the Nets, with whom he might have had the most history despite having won an NBA title with Dallas in 2011 after leading them to two consecutive NBA finals in 2002 and 2003. His less-than-savory history made teams wary of giving him a shot as head coach when it became apparent he was calling it a career – at least until he has proven himself – nor did it give Brooklyn the confidence to pay him more than his market value.
The Nets, however, were willing to take a chance on him despite a driving-while-intoxicated guilty plea that stemmed from a charge in 2012 when he joined the Knicks, leaving him suspended for his first two games as an NBA headman. This, of course, is on top of his career-long history of clashing with front-office executives and coaches, which has also led to his seldom having had a graceful exit from any team he had played with. This included his original drafting team Dallas where he won co-Rookie of the Year honors in 1995 with Detroit’s Grant Hill and where he clashed with fellow star Jimmy Jackson over a supposed love triangle that involved singer Toni Braxton, Phoenix, New Jersey, and Dallas again where he was thought to have bailed out to force his way into New York for his final season.
“There have often been hard feelings and acrimony necessitating a move, or the cause of him forcing his way out,” Wojnarowski said.
The list of less-than-wholesome incidents Kidd has been involved in while with the NBA is indeed long. Before the Nets traded Kidd back to Dallas in 2008, team officials believed he had faked a migraine to miss a game against the Knicks. When Byron Scott was fired by the Nets as headman in 2004, there was an unconfirmed notion that it was Kidd who worked for his ouster. Of course, who can forget that game against the LA Lakers in November, where Kidd asked Nets guard Tyshawn Taylor to bump into him on his way out in a substitution so he could spill his soda on the floor to cause a game delay and enable the Nets to map out a play with Brooklyn out of timeouts? Kidd was fined $50,000 by the league for that stunt, and another $25,000 for complaining about a lack of fouls called against Toronto in a 115-113 loss in their playoff series against the Raptors.
And just while Kidd was near his peak as a player in January 2001, he was arrested and pleaded guilty to a domestic-abuse charge for assaulting his then-wife Joumana. He was ordered to attend anger management classes for six months and also completed the mandatory counseling. The couple, which has three children, filed for divorce in 2007, with Joumana claiming that Jason, among countless instances of abuse, “broke her rib and damaged her hearing by smashing her head into… a car.” Kidd now has two children with his second wife Porschla, whom he married in 2011.
But what definitely takes the cake thus far among Kidd’s list of indiscretions is his botched power grab in Brooklyn, and his subsequent play in Milwaukee that reportedly also involved, at first, full control of the Bucks’ basketball operations. Kidd reportedly didn’t plan to take over as president and coach right away, but was definitely intrigued by the “higher-paying, lower-workload life” of a top executive. It was something that was initially met with derision by the basketball community not only because it essentially constituted another power grab, this time against Bucks GM John Hammond and his top deputy David Morway, but also because Kidd has not had any front-office experience whatsoever.
“For an NBA figure with such a damaged personal reputation – never mind front-office experience – the possibility of Kidd being afforded this kind of power and responsibility is being met with downright mockery among NBA owners and executives,” Wojnarowski wrote.
After the Bucks agreed to send two second-round picks to the Nets to allow Kidd to go to Milwaukee, the franchise then announced it was hiring Kidd as its new head coach, leaving Drew by the wayside of a process that neither he nor Hammond even had an inkling of until it broke on June 28, or exactly just three days before Kidd’s introduction was made.
Bucks management tried to make an effort at damage control, with Lasry and partner Wes Edens admitting they made some errors in the entire process and were wrong in not bringing Hammond into the loop earlier.
“We were asked to keep it confidential,” Lasry said.
“In retrospect, that was a mistake. I would tell you that it was very much newness. We’ve learned a lot in this process. Our view, and it hasn’t changed from the beginning, is that all the basketball operations goes through John. In this process, we learned we made a mistake.”
But what about Drew, the biggest casualty in this entire episode thus far? Kidd broke the coach’s code by interviewing for a job that had an occupant. Even Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson, who have much more cachet as coach than Kidd has, always made it a point to avoid discussing jobs that were not open yet. It’s a code of conduct that’s observed league-wide because no matter the competitiveness and the rivalries that inevitably arise among coaches, there remains a healthy respect. Kidd is being bashed for seizing an occupied job by obviously leveraging his relationship with an owner of the franchise.
The unpredictability of the league’s hiring practices has made such stunts for richer contracts and more power, as pulled off by Kidd, possible, particularly when an owner like Lasry gives his consent to such a behavior.
“This is business,” Kidd said matter-of-factly when asked about the swift turn of events. “It’s business. That’s what it comes down to.”
Kidd’s contract with the Bucks is for three years and an estimated $12-$15 million, and he later denied he had any plans of seeking a higher position like he did in Brooklyn or, at first, with his new franchise. He said he is confident that Hammond, whose contract runs up to the 2016 season, can do a good job. “He is great. He’s a leader,” he said. “He understands the league. He’s been doing it for a long time. I trust him like no other.”
The Bucks, meanwhile, swear they only want Kidd as coach, and not in the dual role he pursued in Brooklyn and, as was reported, initially in Milwaukee as well.
Given the events that transpired, however, one gets the feeling that nothing can be certain with Kidd around, and the elements that allow power grabs, or at least coaching grabs, are also very much available.
Hammond and his ilk may be well-advised to keep their ears close to the ground and their eyes open even when their backs are turned.
- Brooklyn ultimately brought in Lionel Hollins to replace Jason Kidd as the Nets’ headman. Hollins, who last coached Memphis in 2013 and has a 214-201 career record, was signed to a contract worth as much as four years and $20 million if the team picks up a fourth-year option.
- The New York Knicks have hired former Lakers assistant Kurt Rambis as associate head coach.
- Rajon Rondo is comfortable with the Boston Celtics’ drafting of Marcus Smart, another point guard. “He kind of reminds me of myself,” Rondo said.
- Former Phoenix forward Channing Frye has agreed to a four-year, $32 million deal with Orlando. The Magic will pay Frye and Ben Gordon a combined $12 million next season.
- Veteran Danny Granger, a Clippers forward of late, has also agreed to terms with Miami on a two-year deal worth $4.2 million, with the Heat using the bi-annual exception. Charlotte’s free-agent forward Josh McRoberts also came to terms on a four-year, $23 million agreement using the full-mid level exception. According to Adrian Wojnarowski, both Granger and McRoberts committed with a “strong belief” that LeBron James will return to Miami, which gets both forwards for $8 million per year.
- The Houston Rockets have reportedly offered free agent Chris Bosh a four-year, $88 million max deal. If Bosh signs with the Rockets, it was reported that Miami will target Carmelo Anthony. Wojnarowski thinks that Houston is indeed the natural landing spot for Bosh. “Can play power forward next to Dwight Howard, make $20 million-plus and return to home state,” he tweeted.
- The Indiana Pacers and Lance Stephenson were reportedly at an impasse last week after the 6-5 guard would not accept Indiana’s offer of $44 million over five years. Stephenson averaged 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists a game last season, and will turn 24 in September. ESPN’s Chris Broussard said that in addition to Dallas and the Lakers, Boston is also showing interest in Stephenson.
Bert A. Ramirez has been a freelance sportswriter/columnist since the '80s, writing mostly about the NBA and once serving as consultant and editor for Tower Sports Magazine, the longest-running locally published NBA magazine, from 1999 to 2008. He has also written columns and articles for such publications as Malaya, Sports Digest, Winners Sports Weekly, Pro Guide, Sports Weekly, Sports Flash,Sports World, Basketball Weekly, and the FIBA's International Basketball, and currently writes a fortnightly column for QC Life and a weekly blog for BostonSports Desk. A former corporate manager, Bert has breathed, drunk, and slept sports most of his life.