Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, so said Abraham Lincoln. Larry Drew was a victim of such power and then he was the beneficiary of the consequences when the powerful scatter bodies and wreck themselves.
Larry Drew had an eleven year playing career and then a 22 year NBA coaching career. 18 of those 22 years Larry Drew was an assistant. He was an assistant for the Lakers in the Shaq-Kobe era but before Phil Jackson came aboard. He went to the Pistons, the Wizards, the Nets and the Hawks. When the Hawks fired Mike Woodson in 2010, Larry Drew became the head coach.
With the Hawks, Larry Drew coached Al Horford, Josh Smith, Jeff Teague and Joe Johnson. Under Drew, the Hawks won 44 games, 40 games in the lockout year, and 44 games in 2012-13. He couldn’t get his team to perform in the playoffs. His Hawks playoff record was 10-14.
They were a mediocre scoring team, never better than 14th in the league in his Hawks three years. He was a defensive coach but in the playoffs it’s about putting the ball in the hole. He was replaced by Mike Budenholzer of the Spurs system who embraced ball movement and a socialistic ethic. After he was dismissed, he was hired by the Milwaukee Bucks. His first season was 2013-14.
It was a miserable year. In the 2013 draft the Bucks drafted an unknown Greek, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Khris Middleton had just finished his rookie year. The Bucks had O.J. Mayo, and an old Caron Butler, speedy but hot and cold Brandon Knight, and Zaza Pachulia. The Bucks couldn’t make shots, rebound, create turnovers. They only scored 95 points a game. Drew’s specialty, defense, was falling on deaf ears. The Bucks were last in 3-point defense and 25th in defense overall.
The season ended with a thud. The Bucks lost 20 out of their last 23 games. The last game of the season the Bucks played the team that rid themselves of Larry Drew without regret, the Atlanta Hawks. The Bucks lost by 8 points. And that was that. Summer vacation. Drafting Jabari Parker. Thinking about next year.
Except. The drama was just beginning.
In Brooklyn, Jason Kidd was exerting his power. The Nets had a good season. They went to the playoffs and lost in the second round to LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Kidd was learning on the fly how to coach. He had some hiccups. Like when he spilled water on the Lakers because he was out of timeouts and wanted an official timeout. He was fined $50,000. Or, paying Lawrence Frank the highest salary for an assistant and then demoting Lawrence Frank because he didn’t like his input. But the numbers were the numbers. 44 wins. 11th in defense. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Deron Williams weren’t the powerhouse that Mikhail Prokhorov thought they would be but they were competitive.
But power. It’s a Jason Kidd thing. He made his college coach (Lou Campanelli) go away. He made one of his pro coaches go away (Bryon Scott who despises Kidd to this day). Once the exit interviews were over, Kidd went all in on his eroticization of the power he thought he had.
Kidd wanted to be the most important person in the Nets organization, particularly over GM Billy KIng. He made a series of demands in which if he had his way Billy King would have to answer to him. It was power rather than ambition. Kidd was very aware new head coaches Derek Fisher and Steve Kerr were offered a higher salary than he was making. Jealousy was behind his machinations. But if it worked, it would have been a brilliant example of privilege.
Except the Nets weren’t amused. They were a little bit salty by it. The power play failed and the Nets made sure to damage Kidd by leaking it to the media to shame him, cutting a deal among themeselves as they laughed. Kidd’s reputation, always murky, went into the gutter. Hostile takeovers are routine in business but the key is being successful at it. Kidd was not. So he went to plan B. The Milwuakee Bucks.
The new owner of the Bucks, Marc Lasry, was a friend of Kidd’s. Kidd reached out once he failed at acquiring more power. His second act was to go after a job that wasn’t open, a NBA coaching no-no. Coaches respect other coaches. There is a loyalty factor. But Kidd doesn’t play by those rules. He had the connections so he went for it. It was pretty simple from there. Lasry delivered Kidd the job to save his reputation, gave the Nets some draft picks to even the score. Larry Drew didn’t matter, was a casualty, was suddenly unemployed.
Drew then became an assistant with the Cleveland Cavaliers and their new coach David Blatt. Surprisingly, in what was supposed to be a development year for the Cavaliers, LeBron James returned home. Tyronn Lue was also hired.
Four years later, David Blatt is gone, Kyrie Irving is gone, Ty Lue is out for health reasons and Larry Drew is back coaching. Ty Lue is expected to return by the playoffs. Larry Drew will attempt to get the Cavs health and chemistry right before they tackle a tough Eastern Conference, the best they have had to face since LeBron James return.
The Larry Drew story will fade back to miniscule once Lue returns. He is the interim like Luke Walton was the interim when Steve Kerr took a leave of absence. How the team performs for Drew will determine if he is sought out this summer for vacancies, maybe Orlando (with Frank Vogel on the hot seat).
But there is a perfect irony in what happened on Monday night. Larry Drew coached his first NBA game since Jason Kidd happened to him. He coached against the team that pushed him to the curb because of nepotism.
Not quite four years later, Kidd has been fired and Larry Drew is an interim head coach.
The Cavaliers delivered Larry Drew a win. All the Cavs care about is keeping their 3rd seed in tact, holding off the Pacers or Wizards. But for those of us who believe in karma and what goes around comes around- if you are miserable you get misery, if you are good you get goodness- then Drew proved a point. He has a NBA title that Jason Kidd is responsible for. Kidd pushed Larry Drew into the Cavs orbit. The Cavs have thrived. The Cavs and the Bucks may play each other in the first round of the playoffs.
Larry Drew was only in Milwaukee one year so it’s not like he has a lot of memories to store if he has to return to Milwaukee for a 7-game series. Nevertheless, he didn’t get what he deserved. Most people don’t. In a reversal of fortune, Jason Kidd is now the one unemployed so maybe karma is real afterall. Maybe people do get what they deserve.
Jason Kidd learned he was fired on Twitter. Larry Drew may be back in the Finals. If nothing else, justice has the last word.