Seven years ago, Jason Kidd tried to become the Nets General Manager by boldly ousting the current General Manager. 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. His lack of loyalty triggered bitterness. Kidd was rewarded with the proverbial knife to the 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 halfway across the country to his friends in Milwaukee.
Milwaukee already had a coach, Larry Drew. But Kidd, trying to salvage his reputation, didn’t worry about propriety. He saw no issue ripping a job away from someone if he was the beneficiary. After Larry Drew was kicked to the curb, Kidd famously retorted, “it’s business”.
And then four years later, it was business. Jason Kidd was the one in the unemployment line, fired like Larry Drew was fired but worse because Larry Drew’s season was over when Kidd forced his way in. Kidd was removed in season. No one seemed to care that under Kidd’s watch Malcolm Brogdon was Rookie of the Year, and Giannis’ was developing at a faster rater than imagined. Jason Kidd had obvious weaknesses.
A team with length and athleticism with an iconic talent like Giannis Antetokounmpo was mediocre, based on the standings. They were nearly treading water. They should have been better. They were not. But as a team they were mismatched. They had athletic players who should have played fast like the Warriors and then they had half-court players. Back then, the Bucks weren’t exactly sure who they wanted to be. Part of it was Kidd’s problem and part of it was the outcome of front office moves and impatience. Eric Bledsoe was not Steph Curry. Giannis wasn’t a two-time MVP. Not to mention Khris Middleton’s underachievement.
Kidd resurrected his career in Los Angeles and won a ring as he assisted Frank Vogel. Kidd always fails up. But he never intended to be an assistant coach for long. Now that Danny Ainge is retiring and Brad Stevens is upstairs and the Celtics need a coach, Jason Kidd is on the radar.
The Celtics are an attractive job. They have an iconic talent in Jayson Tatum and a versatile wing in Jaylen Brown, and a $30 million dollar failure in Kemba Walker, and toughness in Marcus Smart. But they have no frontcourt size to deal with Joel Embiid or Kevin Durant. In a point guard league, they are woefully undermanned.
Is Kidd the answer?
Facts. Kidd had one winning season, one losing season, one break-even season, and the season he was fired. He never won more than 42 games. He won 4 playoff games and lost 8. Every year of his four seasons, Kidd’s teams were 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 rebounding, 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.
The year he was fired, the Bucks defense was insanely atrocious. Near the bottom in three-point defense, overall defense, and points allowed. Mix that in with the Bucks anemic scoring chops and it was the handwriting on the wall. Rome was burning.
Coaches matter. Jason Kidd knows that. Ever since he beat Duke in the NCAA tournament, an upset win for Cal, Kidd has been a lightning 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, an ambitious former athlete who will go to any lengths to get what he wanted. It was summed up by 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. 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 greenlight another arena so said billionaires could become even richer without burdens is further proof of how things stood in Milwaukee and how Kidd changed the culture. But it was short-term as far as victories go.
Bucks fans never entered into a 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. Giannis’ breakout year, attendance was 26th. When he was fired, attendance was 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. The Lakers were better than the Bucks. The Celtics have better talent under-25 than the Lakers. That is Kidd’s privilege;
You do need friends in this business.
But Kidd frustrates many who expect him to be who he was as a player. Kidd’s issues were always personality-driven, even as a player. He has yet to figure this coaching thing out and if he gets the Boston job there will be hiccups. But Kidd knew how to nurture talent. Giannis was heartbroken when Kidd was fired. Giannis lost his biological father and then he lost his basketball father. But he adapted.
Is the NBA ready for Jason Kidd 2.0, a championship coach intent on repeating Rajon Rondo’s footsteps, who won as a Celtic and a Laker? Is Kidd good enough for Boston? Clearly, they need a whisperer for Kemba. But the Celtics also need roster help. This season they were at the bottom of the pack in free throw attempts, defensive rebounds, assists, 3-point defense. They were an average scoring team and an awful defensive team- only one rostered player had a defensive rating under 112 and Robert Williams didn’t play 20 minutes a game. The C’s have defensive issues that is fixed with the roster.
But Jason Kidd was the right hand of Frank Vogel whose team had the best defensive rating after LeBron James and Anthony Davis were injured. He must have learned something.
But have the Celtics learned something? The Brad Stevens eight-year experiment had its moments, three Conference Finals, only one year missing the playoffs. But the Celtics under Stevens lost in the first round as much as they lost in the ECF. Would Jason Kidd have done a better job?
Not that Jason Kidd. But this Jason Kidd has matured and evolved since his Milwaukee disaster. If Brad Stevens was a gamble, then Jason Kidd is a risk, a calculated one that may just work.