Jason Kidd coached the Nets once before, when they were based in New Jersey and not being bounced in the first round of the playoffs by a limping Bulls team. Kidd ran a pair of Nets teams that went to the NBA Finals, both from the point guard position and from the bench.
Yes, the bench. Byron Scott was technically the head coach, but it was hardly a secret, then and now, that Kidd didn’t respect Scott. After the huddles, a former Nets player said Kidd would run a play that was defiantly different than the one Scott diagrammed. These episodes were excused as Kidd being Kidd, the smartest player in the league going with his gut, which more than often was correct.
Eventually, Kidd schemed behind the scenes to get Scott fired, and fast-forward to today, we see Kidd landing one of the better available jobs in the NBA, ahead of Scott (who wasn’t interviewed), Brian Shaw and a few others with far more experience. Actually, you and I have as much coaching experience as Kidd, who just retired from playing five minutes ago.
But the hiring of Kidd to run the Nets — officially, this time — is an out-of-the-box decision that might work. It might work because Kidd didn’t become dumber in his five-minute retirement, and he only has to surrounded himself with a quality staff and pacify one player: Deron Williams.
This is all about Williams, you see, because Kidd wouldn’t have the job without him. The Nets handed the franchise over to Williams the moment they handed him a $98 million contract. They empowered him through money and now will do anything and everything to make sure they get their return. If these were the hapless Nets of three years ago, just before D-Will pulled a Jason Kidd and got Jerry Sloan to step down in Utah and himself traded to New Jersey, would Kidd have this job? No way.
But Kidd and Williams are golfing buddies — they play rounds on some of Long Island’s exclusive clubs during the summer — and Williams respects Kidd. Williams didn’t hold Avery Johnson in the highest regard, and P.J. Carlesimo, fired the day after the Nets were bounced by the Bulls, didn’t have a prayer of sticking once Kidd showed interest while still playing for the Knicks. Franchise players get to choose the coach in the NBA; this is nothing new, and it’s happening in L.A. with the Clippers and Chris Paul. Just as Kidd wanted Lawrence Frank instead of Scott, Williams has endorsed the Kidd hiring ever so subtly in public, so as to not give the impression he’s calling the shots (which he is, anyway).
Coaching on the NBA level is mostly about basketball knowledge and getting along with the resident superstar. In that sense, Kidd qualifies. He knows the game and knows D-Will. Everything else, from strategy to how to use timeouts, will fall in place with help from his assistants. And because Kidd was idolized by most if not all the players on the Nets, who grew up watching him play, he brings strong locker-room credibility.
The Nets rightfully need to keep Williams happy because they’re invested deeply in him, financially and through marketing and identity. They must win because they’re stuck with their current core for now and the near future. They could’ve hired Shaw, who coached under Phil Jackson and had great relationships with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, or Lionel Hollins, one of the finalists for Coach of the Year.
But they bring back Jason Kidd, a fascinating choice, an odd choice, a choice that could be an amazing success or a complete reach. And this time, Kidd has the title officially.