Nearly four years ago, Jason Kidd swung for the fences and unsuccessfully tried to become the Nets General Manager by boldy ousting the General Manager who was still employed. It was a gusty calculation. If successful, it would have been a move up, from coach to the one making the decisions. But the palace coup failed in a disastrous house on fire debacle. It was followed by the knife in Kidd’s back, thrust there by the Nets who leaked Kidd’s naked ambitions to the media, embarrassing Kidd and portraying him as maniacal. But even that social media failure didn’t put a dent in Kidd’s ego. He exhaled. He picked up stakes and went half way across the country to his friends in Milwaukee.
Milwaukee already had a coach, Larry Drew. But Kidd doesn’t worry about propriety. He sees no issue ripping a job away from someone, if he is the beneficiary. After Larry Drew was kicked to the curb, Kidd famously retorted, “it’s business”.
Sending Drew out the door and into the unemployment line was one more Jason Kidd Machiavellian narrative he has attached to his name by his own behavior.
Now Jason Kidd knows what that feels like. He is the one in the unemployment line, fired like Larry Drew was fired but this is worse because Larry Drew’s season was over when Kidd forced his way in. Kidd was removed in season. It’s business. Yes. But was it warranted?
Whether Kidd was responsible for Malcom Brogdon’s Rookie of the Year or Giannis’ development, it is splitting hairs. He was their coach when they achieved so he deserves credit.
Rarely does a coaching change more than halfway through the season mean what teams want it to mean. Habits and patterns are already formed, including a style of play. That was Kidd’s weakness. A team of length and athleticism with an iconic talent like Giannis Antetokounmpo was mediocre, nearly treading water. They should have been better. They were not. But as a team they were mismatched. They have athletic players who should play fast like the Warriors and then they have half court players. The Bucks aren’t exactly sure who they want to be. Part of it was Kidd’s problem and part of it was the outcome of front office moves. Although Bledsoe is a talent, he is not Steph Curry. But Giannis is Kevin Durant. So how to integrate both players abilities? Not to mention Khris Middleton. That is why Kidd doesn’t have a job.
He had one winnng season, one losing season, one break even season, and this season. He never won more than 42 games. He won 4 playoff games and lost 8. Every year of his four seasons, Kidd’s team was in the top 10 in field goal percentage. Three of the four years, they were in the top ten in steals and assists and blocks. They were never in the top ten in offensive rebounding, defensive rebounding and total rebouding, nor were they in the top ten in scoring and offensive efficiency. Only once did they have a defensive rating in the top 10 and that was his first year.
Their defense this year was as bad as it could get. Near the bottom in three point defense, overall defense and points allowed. Mix that in with the Bucks not having the ability to score a lot of points and this was the handwriting on the wall. Rome was burning.
Coaches matter. Jason Kidd knows that. Every since he beat Duke in the NCAA tournament, an upset win for Cal, Kidd has been a lightening rod for controversy or some would say, an egocentric run amok.
He got his college coach, Lou Campanelli, fired. He was part of a Toni Braxton love mess with teammate Jim Jackson that derailed the young Mavs stars from doing anything special in Dallas while they brooded and acted like eighth graders. He pled guilty to domestic abuse for an assault upon his then wife Joumanna and in the divorce documents he was portrayed as a serial abuser. He forced Byron Scott out as coach of the Nets. So isn’t this karma?
He was arrested for driving while intoxicated. He spilled soda on the court to force an official timeout (he was out of his) in a game against the Lakers that his team ultimately lost. He demoted Lawrence Frank, his assistant, after paying him a league high $1 million to assist him as a rookie coach. When he engineered a coup to oust Billy Hunter, it was one more embarrassing chapter that dented his character even further.
The failed coup only reintroduced the familiar Kidd bio as an out of control, entitled, ambitious former athlete who will go to any lengths to get what he wanted. This summed it up in USA Today Sports Media Group (The Big Lead).
“Jason Kidd is a power hungry egomaniac, and this experiment is destined to end poorly in Milwaukee. I feel bad for Jabari Parker, whose intial plunge into the NBA will be with this clown as coach. I feel even worse for Milwaukee coach Larry Drew who never knew this was coming. Watch your back, GM John Hammond.” (Jason McIntrye, 2014).
The clown reference is a mild pejorative compared to all of the things Jason Kidd has been called in the past. But the rest of the summary has halfway lived up to its prediction. John Hammond is in Orlando. Kidd’s critics remain steadfast. They see him as this wild and ruthless bridge burner, damn who gets hurt. It may be true, their assessment of him but he has trumped them in this one very specific detail: he succeeded when almost everyone except Santa Claus assumed he would fail. In Milwaukee, Kidd didn’t suck. Kidd’s reputation was restored in the way it always is resurrected in sports. Winning changes everything. The Bucks were the sixth seed in the playoffs in 2015.
Regardless of the nepotism that brought Kidd to the Bucks because of his friendship with Marc Lasry and Wes Edens, he temporarily restored community goodwill all too willing to look the other way, as is the case with every single fan base asked to measure scandal versus wins. That the ownership group romanced taxpayers into giving a bunch of billionaires welfare to green light another arena so said billionaires could become even richer without burdens is further proof of how things stand in Milwaukee and how Kidd changed the culture. But it was short term as far as victories go.
Bucks fans never entered into crazed, salivating, ride or die mode. In Kidd’s first year, attendance was the 4th worst, 79% capacity. The next year it was slightly better, 81%, but still ranked 26th. Last season was Giannis’ breakout year and attendance was 26th. This year, attendance is 24th. Kidd was never ever able to disprove a negative.
But he is who he is and in that regard the end does justify the means. Machiavelli’s famous phrase, often repeated, often imitated, always the antidote to goodness, is part of Jason Kidd’s biography. Jason Kidd has been a coach who has always failed up. The Bucks were better than the Nets. And whoever is next will be better than the Bucks. That is Kidd’s privilege, that and shame. His firing was leaked on social media similar to how his attempted Nets takeover was leaked on social media.
You do need friends in this business.
All the predictable things were said about underperformance. General Managers fire coaches to keep their job. They are just as complicit. But Kidd frustrates many who expect him to be who he was as a player. Great just stepping on to the floor. Kidd’s issues were always personality driven, even as a player. He has yet to figure this coaching thing out. He knew how to nurture talent. Giannis was heartbroken. He lost his biological father. Now he lost his basketball father. But he’ll grow from this experience. It was the best lesson he could have about the cruelty of NBA strategy.
In 2014, Jason Kidd was exactly right. Don’t cry. It is business.