Tuesday, June 18, 2013

2 Weeks In The Life of Jason Kidd

Now when the news broke about Jason Kidd's retirement I knew I would have to write something about his career. I mean you're talking about one of the best point guards over the past 20 years so it's only right that a tribute to his illustrious career be written. What I wasn't prepared for though, was him being named the new head coach of the Brooklyn Nets less than 2 weeks after his retirement. I had to pause for a moment. I wasn't sure how I felt about it. I knew I would have to write about it but admittedly, I didn't want to make a rush to judgment. 

I don't doubt one bit Kidd's basketball IQ & ability to one day become a head coach, but for me, something seemed off about his hiring. I realized my concern was more about the organization & most importantly, Deron Williams. The method in which the team has chosen to build, centered around Williams, should be at least somewhat of a concern to Nets fans. At his best, Williams is a top 3 NBA point guard but at his worst, he's seems to be a bit of a diva who hasn't had much success in the playoffs. You need to look no further than this past year's playoff ouster by the injury-ravaged Chicago Bulls. 

Williams over the years has been somewhat of an enigma. He came to the Nets from the Utah Jazz having played for Jerry Sloan, one of the toughest but best coaches in the game at the time. There were all types of rumors that Sloan retired because of having to deal with Williams everyday. Supposedly, he had grown tired of Williams' defiant ways. The Jazz surprised everyone by trading Williams even after Sloan was already gone. It seemed a peculiar move since they may have been able to keep Sloan if they traded Williams sooner. That says a lot about how the Jazz felt about the direction they were headed in with Williams as the lead player on their roster. 

When he came to the Nets, his new coach was Avery Johnson, who was known as being hard on his point guards. It seemed that Williams would be in a situation more to his liking with Johnson having won a championship as a player playing the same position as him. However, after a couple of losing seasons together, it seemed that Williams had just begun to tune Johnson out. 

The Nets publicly defended Williams after firing Johnson saying he had nothing to do with it, but after his problems with Sloan, one can't help but speculate that Williams at least indirectly had a lot to do with it. There was a point early in the season where Williams openly questioned Johnson's offensive system, even going so far as to say he was more comfortable in Sloan's. A couple of days after that story broke, I was talking to a Nets fan friend of mine & I jokingly asked him what the over/under was for when Johnson gets fired. I knew that when the star player begins to question the coach in the media like that, it's a bad sign. Sure enough within hours of our conversation, it was announced Johnson was being replaced with PJ Carlesimo. 

After Johnson was fired, Williams immediately started playing better which seemed to put to rest the question surrounding his injuries. There was even a quote from a teammate who when asked if he could point to what the biggest difference between Johnson & Carlesimo was, motioned towards Deron Williams suggesting that his attitude was the biggest difference. There seemed to be some feeling in the locker room at least that he was just playing harder for Carlesimo. 

The Nets organization themselves made the right move landing Williams, especially when you look back at what they actually gave up to get him but they've had to throw caution to the wind & completely give him the keys to the organization. Joe Johnson may have been the go-to guy for the Nets this past season, but make no mistake this is Deron Williams' team. The Nets will go as far as he takes them over the next few years. 

So Jason Kidd's biggest task may not be making the adjustment from player to head coach, it will probably be somehow maximizing Deron Williams' skills & more importantly turning him into a leader both on & off the court. There's really no more excuses for Williams. He has a good if not great supporting cast  & now he has a head coach who just 12 months ago was talking about playing with him. If they are unsuccessful, Kidd will probably get a pass being that it's his first year ever coaching on any level while Williams will not, nor should he. 

The Nets meanwhile have shown at times to have a little bit of the New York Jets in them. In other words, they seem to like drawing attention to themselves before they've accomplished anything. If you live outside of the NY area that may not resonate with you but trust me, within the NY metro area, they have gone out of their way to make themselves worth talking about. From the minority ownership of Jay-Z to things like huge ads hanging right outside of Madison Square Garden, home of the Knicks. I can't help but wonder if the owner Mikhail Prokhorov was as much looking to make a big splash as he was wanting to hire the right guy.

It's not as if there's a shortage of good coaches available with guys like Lionel Hollins, Brian Shaw & even my favorite, George Karl (see: The Truth About George Karl Is...) available. Again, I'm not suggesting that Kidd was the wrong choice but the thing is, in life, your reason for doing something can be as important as the choice that you made. So if the Nets made this move in part to placate Williams even further & not because they honestly believed Kidd was the best option available, then it could come back to haunt them.

Guys becoming rookie head coaches & having success is not totally uncommon. Right here in the NY area we've seen it 1st hand when Jeff Van Gundy took over for Pat Riley to coach the Knicks & then more recently when Lawrence Frank took over the New Jersey Nets replacing Byron Scott. The obvious big difference between those 2 & Kidd is, they were both assistant coaches before becoming head coaches. The most recent guy is Marc Jackson in Golden State. Although he has a much younger team & his superstar is coming into his own, unlike the established veteran Williams is. Also, Jackson spent many years in broadcasting before becoming a head coach so at the very least, he sat in on coach sessions & practices in preparation for games.  

You can't help but wonder how both Kidd & Williams will handle any significant losing. Especially if it requires Kidd holding Williams accountable. You'd like to think the respect he has for Kidd will prevent any major issues, but going from being friends off the court to now one being head coach is like being in a relationship & then moving in together. You learn things about one another when you move in together that you never knew about each other. It can either make your bond stronger or ruin it. Hopefully for the Nets, Williams & Kidd, it will grow stronger, because if not, with the Nets salary cap situation it could make for a bad situation.