Saturday, November 23, 2013

Blame Kidd? As Nets "hit another rock bottom," some target neophyte coach (but how much is his fault?)

Yes, the Brooklyn Nets did beat the defending champion Miami Heat, suggesting it was a reasonable bet to build a squad to win this year, with owner Mikhail Prokhorov willing to pay a huge luxury tax for some aging stars.

Since then, they've been terrible, beset by injuries to their older (Andrei Kirilenko, Jason Terry, Kevin Garnett) and not-so-old (Brook Lopez, Deron Williams) players, with no time to gel as a squad. Last night's 30-point loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves left them 3-9. Nets hit another rock bottom in Minnesota, ESPN reported.

They have some bright spots, like the play (though not last night) of bench pick-ups Shaun Livingston and Alan Anderson, as well as rookie Mason Plumlee, but the big names are surely disappointments. And it's more than that, as ESPN's Mike Mazzeo wrote: "Missing your best players makes it tough. Getting outplayed makes it nearly impossible."

So there's been enormous speculation about whether it was wise to hire star point guard Jason Kidd as coach just days after he announced his retirement from professional basketball as a Knick.  There's a Twitter account, albeit with little more than 100 followers, called Fire Jason Kidd. The wisecracks keep coming.
The Daily News's Stefan Bondy reported, Jason Kidd says Nets aren't getting his message after being steamrolled by Timberwolves:

Somewhere in Russia or wherever he’s doing business these days, Mikhail Prokhorov is wasting a lot of money for an assembly of players looking older by the quarter. At least he can afford it. The Russian owner hasn’t uttered a peep since the victory over Miami on Nov. 1, while the Nets are insisting Kidd’s job is not in jeopardy.

One saving grace for the Nets is the Knicks are equally lousy, and they seem to have less potential than the Nets. And if the Nets--who've hardly been able to show what they can do as a team--can beat Miami or Indiana or San Antonio and/or advance in the playoffs, much will be forgiven.

How much to blame Kidd?

The question is how much patience Nets brass and Prokhorov have, and whether the team's struggles--however explainable if not excusable--should be laid on the coach.
Unscientific poll from Brooklyn Game readers

Devin Kharpertian of The Brooklyn Game wrote 11/21/13 that Kidd couldn't be blamed for the team construction--for which GM Billy King still deserves credit--or the injuries, though he hasn't been great at calling plays or motivating players. But he has, as was planned, a cast of top assistants:
Kidd will stay the year. Even if they crash and burn for 71 more games, the Nets won't give up on what they acknowledge was a long-term experiment this quickly. He could've begun his career an assistant coach, like so many other players have done on their way to the head job. But here's the trick: other than the title on his business card, isn't that exactly what he's doing? And if so, who does this mess land on: Kidd for taking the position, the front office for signing him to it, or his assistants for not backing him up?
On 11/21/13, the Daily News's Bondy wrote Jason Kidd starting to sound delusional as Nets dodge reality:
The Nets have taken an approach with themselves and the media to focus on the positive, believing it’s better to encourage than to kick in the behind.
The problem with that is Jason Kidd is starting to sound delusional.
“Every time we take the floor I feel like this is the moment it’s going to turn,” the coach said. “Because guys have done everything we’ve asked, and gotten better each time we’ve taken the floor.”
There are reasons to believe the Nets will turn around this mess, but their steady improvement is not one of them. It would be much easier to argue the Nets have just gotten worse, especially since the high mark was the second game of the season in a victory over Miami.
Still Bondy suggested the Nets would survive:
In the end, Brooklyn might be saved by the crummy Atlantic Division and its forgiveness of poor records. Every team is at least two games under .500, and an automatic top-four seed goes to the winner.
Columnist Adrian Wojnarowski wrote on YahooSports 11/22/13 that Kidd gets an incomplete:
Repetition matters for a coach the way it does for a player. In his first job, Kidd has a blessing and curse: great talent, greater expectations and perhaps the potential for the harshest judgment a rookie coach has ever endured.
...Players have been coming and going so often, there's been little chance to develop cohesion and trust. People can kill Kidd for running so much isolation, so few plays, but that's been far more a product of the roster's void of cohesion than the coach's incompetence.
In Sports on Earth, Colin McGowan wrote The Jason Kidd Experiment, acknowledging the confusion:
Everything is crashing down on Jason Kidd. ESPN’s David Thorpe, during a Truehoop TV segment in which he graded various coaches’ performances, called him the worst coach in the NBA. Howard Beck of Bleacher Report talked to a scout who told him that Kidd doesn’t do anything in terms of calling plays on offense or defense. Kidd blamed himself for a blowout loss against Portland on Monday. It’s hard to determine the degree to which a coach is responsible for a team’s success or failure, but both the media and Kidd seem to agree: He’s not adapting smoothly to his new vocation.
Even if the Nets continue to comport themselves on the court like grumpy basset hounds and play a style of basketball that offends the notion of style, there’s a lot about them that’s interesting. The premise alone sings: A legendary coach on the floor retires and takes over a squad composed of his aging contemporaries and a backcourt with the most disproportionate talent-to-charisma ratio in the league. They’ll be worth paying attention to throughout the year, perhaps especially if they implode.
The character question

Kidd is a lock for the Hall of Fame, but his off-the-court "character" issues likely won't be ignored. The Daily News reported 11/3/13:
If Jeff Van Gundy had his way, Jason Kidd would still be serving his suspension for DWI, and might be forced to miss the entire season.
The former Knicks coach ranted against the NBA for dishing out light penalties for serious offenses such as DWI’s and domestic abuse.
Kidd, one of the greatest point guards in the history of the league, was arrested for drunken driving last year and served a two-game suspension to start the season, missing games against Cleveland and the home opener vs. Miami on Friday.
It put in a little relief the unfortunate choice of sponsor for a Nets poll regarding Kidd, at right.

So far Kidd seems to be handling the team's struggles stoically if somewhat pollyannishly. But it's worth going back to what Mike Vaccaro wrote in the New York Post 10/5/13, What will Nets do when Kidd messes up again?:
From the moment the Nets hired Jason Kidd, they understood they were going to start the 2013-14 season before he would, that the consequences for the drunk-driving charges levied against him 14 months ago were coming, that old bill coming due.
...The crime itself was as much a lapse of common sense as it was of the law, a reminder that even someone who made just south of $190 million as a basketball player can inexplicably opt for a steering wheel instead of a car service. He wants to put it behind him, and so do the Nets, and once he has paid his the debt to the league as he has to the community, that’s certainly his right.
This, however, is what lingers:
The reality that as carefully as King and the rest of the Nets’ brass have crafted this coming season, there is, and will be, one wild card that is impossible to completely ignore, or define...
Kidd didn’t lead a perfect life during his 19 years as a player, we know that. There was an old domestic violence charge before he was traded to the Nets. There was the gangplanking of Byron Scott, a mutiny during which Kidd was the captain. There was, of course, that SUV he drunkenly drove into a telephone pole out East.
The question now is different:
What happens when he suffers a lapse of judgment or wisdom now that he’s a boss, now that he’s in charge of a roster of highly evolved professionals, now that he’s being paid for that very same judgment that has been shown wanting every now and again across a very public basketball life?
An in-depth profile

In the November 2013 issue of Men's Journal, Paul Solotaroff wrote Jason Kidd: The Playmaker Gives Up the Ball:
After a career marked by on-court brilliance and off-court trouble, Jason Kidd is now the Brooklyn Nets' rookie coach, trying to lead a collection of aging, high-priced veterans to a championship on a team owned by a Russian billionaire.
...For a franchise whose history is littered with wagers that rarely, if ever, cashed, bringing Kidd aboard was the biggest risk of all. An epic fail could set them back a decade.
But if anyone is ready to do this and do it here – come flying out of the gate, make the Conference Finals, and win the hearts and minds of entitled fans in the most noxiously fickle sports town on the planet – it is Jason Frederick Kidd; he's like a post-racial, post-you-up James Bond. Put him on the line at the Boston Garden with chants of "wife beater" ringing in his ears, and he calmly drains two free throws for a playoff win. Trade him to Dallas, a floundering team with a me-first superstar, and he persuades Dirk Nowitzki to share the ball en route to the Mavs' first title. "The word pressure is not in my vocabulary," he says, walking into the Nets' grubby practice center off Route 17 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. "I use challenges, and I've won some and lost some of those. This job is really just another challenge."
Solotaroff discusses the dark side, including Kidd's "rep for being a coach killer," his marital problems, and the DWI arrest:.
"Bad decision," he said, stiffening at the mention of the crash. "Lesson learned." 
Not exactly the voice of dear-bought wisdom or glad-to-still-be-alive contrition. But Kidd has always been wiser on the court than off it.
Solotaroff wrote in conclusion:
In the end, though, Kidd's fortunes will rise or fall on the play of his temperamental point guard, Deron Williams. Williams has been brilliant and baleful in equal measure, an All-Star who has clashed with two coaches and underperformed at crunch time. Kidd will get him to play defense, which he's done indifferently; stop dribbling so much in half-court sets; and pass the ball sooner on the break. It should make for great theater, assuming the two see eye to eye. If they don't, though, it'll be Kidd who takes the fall this time. The star with the ball is always the last man standing.
The Nets made a big investment in players and coach. And while it certainly makes sense to give Kidd more time, at some point team owners and general managers do change coaches. For all the reasonable reassurance that Kidd's jobs is safe, remember that the Brooklyn Nets went through two coaches--Avery Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo--in their first year.


Wrote the Daily News's Bondy 11/23/13:
But it’s not too early for this statement: the most expensive roster in NBA history is not a championship team, not as constructed without a time machine. All that offseason talk about raising banners was replaced Friday by Kevin Garnett implying a shakeup is on the horizon.
You think he regrets waiving his no-trade clause?
"You’re going to have the business of basketball come into play, I’m sure, and management is probably going to do what they’ve got to do,” Garnett said, unprompted.
Eighteen-year veterans don’t bring management into the conversation during run-of-the-mill, early-season struggles. Garnett understands the expectations, and the Nets have looked awful.
Perhaps owner Mikhail Prokhorov will fly in on his private jet and blow up the whole thing. He’s paying handsomely for that right, even if canning the coach or the GM this time is an admission of a colossal mistake.
Here’s perspective: the Nets fired Avery Johnson, the reigning Coach of the Month, after a bad stretch of 14 games last season. They then dropped P.J. Carlesimo after he went 33-19 as an interim coach.
These Nets are 3-9, losers of seven of their last eight heading into Sunday’s home game against the Pistons. They may not have their own first-round draft pick until 2019, which you should re-read and let sink in. Forget cap space and free agents. Kidd —who just signed a three-year contract — looks lost on the sideline, searching for answers from a roster lacking the athleticism to be competitive on a nightly basis.

1 comment:

  1. As wrong as I was about the Islanders never moving to Brooklyn (and I was very wrong, though let's wait and see just how awkward the hockey configuration is), I've been 100% right so far on the folly of the Pierce/Garnett deal and the hiring of Jason Kidd. I may yet be proven wrong on those moves, too, but I'll take my chances.