In the end, Jason Kidd stole this Brooklyn Nets job as if it were a lazy cross-court pass. He was lurking out of sight, waiting for the right moment to pounce, and pounce he did as soon as it was clear the Nets wanted star power from a pool of available coaches that included no true stars.
Lionel Hollins or George Karl in Brooklyn? Thanks, but no thanks. Brian Shaw? He's a widely respected assistant with extensive postseason experience, but if he's really everybody's All-American, why did the Lakers hire the middling likes of Mike Brown and Mike D'Antoni instead of him?
Kidd saw his opportunity when Phil Jackson batted away the Nets like he would a horsefly, when Celtics GM Danny Ainge refused Brooklyn's request for a sit-down with Doc Rivers, and when Nets GM Billy King refused to warm to the idea of returning Jeff Van Gundy to New York.
The Nets were probably going to hire Shaw, and Kidd likely figured if he couldn't beat him out, maybe he'd never beat anyone out in a race to land a big NBA job. So Kidd attacked an area of weakness and launched something of a stealth campaign.
As always, the point guard saw this unfolding picture two frames ahead of everyone else.
That's how Kidd retired as a broken-down, 40-year-old New York Knick one minute, then became the buttoned-up, 40-year-old coach of the Brooklyn Nets the next.
And don't bother betting against him, either, because Kidd already saved the Nets from a situation far more dire than this one. When he was traded from Phoenix to New Jersey in 2001, the point guard was handed a 26-56 team and the keys to a franchise that had managed to lose at least 50 games 10 times in the previous 15 seasons. He promised 40 victories at first, and then a 41-41 record after some thought, and ignored those who swore he was positively mad while he led the Nets to the most improbable back-to-back trips to the Finals the league has ever seen.
This time around, Kidd actually inherits a team with enough talent to go 49-33, and enough holes in its game to get Avery Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo fired.
Fired? Yeah, Kidd knows a thing or three about coaches getting fired. As a remarkably unselfish player on the court, and one who could be impossibly selfish off it, his own body count extends back to his college days at Cal. Kidd finished his first career with more blood on his hands than Macbeth. Mike Woodson might be breathing a little easier now; someone in position to know said Kidd wasn't crazy about his X's and O's, either.
Only now Kidd gets to find out that this coaching thing isn't quite as easy as it appears. There's a lot of grinding involved, a lot of daily tasks your average Hall of Fame player wouldn't want to deal with. A head coach can't hide from the news media when he's having a bad day. A head coach can't fake a migraine and boycott a game when feeling unappreciated.
A head coach can't get arrested on a drunken-driving charge in the Hamptons, not when such a serious lapse in judgment would call into question his ability to lead.
Chances are, Jason Kidd understands all of this. Chances are, he's convinced he can impose his will on Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson the way he imposed his will on Kenyon Martin, Kerry Kittles and Keith Van Horn in a different life.
The Nets were smart to gamble a second time on Kidd, too, at least when it was obvious Jackson and Rivers were off the board. Brooklyn proved in the first-round series with Chicago that it still lacks the competitive fire required of a legitimate contender. Kidd can embody that fighting spirit, at least until he passes it down to Williams.
"He has the fire in the belly we need," Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov said in a statement, "and has achieved as a player everything the Brooklyn Nets are striving to achieve. We believe he will lead us there."
And if he ultimately fails to inspire the Nets to greater heights, to the title Prokhorov has promised to deliver sooner than later (or at least to a competitive conference-final faceoff with Miami), Kidd will meet the same fate that buried several of his former coaches. How ironic would it be if Williams, a trained coach-killer himself, is the one to someday deliver the fatal stab?
Kidd doesn't have to worry about that just yet. He doesn't have to worry about people saying that great players don't often make for great coaches (see Magic Johnson) any more than he has to wonder if Mark Jackson's success with Golden State proves that sideline experience isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Kidd is his own man. He will rise, or fall, on his own coaching merits, or lack thereof.
"Championship teams are built on being prepared, playing unselfishly and being held accountable, and that's how I expect to coach this basketball team," Kidd said in a statement.
Given the alternative options, Kidd makes sense for the Nets in the here and now. The novelty of Year 1 at the Barclays Center is going, going, gone with Jay-Z, and the franchise needs a fresh identity, a new driving force. Kidd has a better chance to be that figure than Brian Shaw, who, despite his endless meeting with King, put the courtesy back in courtesy interview.
A source with knowledge of Kidd's meetings with the Nets said the future Hall of Famer's presence was one advantage he had over Shaw. "That was one thing that really stood out," the source said. "When he walked into the building, people were at attention. Jason still had that aura about him."
Kidd wasn't afraid to elevate a wretched team in Jersey, to nearly carry it to a championship, and he isn't afraid now to accept Prokhorov's parade-or-bust mandate, and to make Brooklyn a much more relevant corner of New York's sporting landscape.
The visionary point guard already showed he's still playing a game nobody else sees. Just when the entire league was busy bidding him farewell, Kidd came out of nowhere to make the steal of his basketball life.
One more time with the Nets, it's his ball and his team. Jason Kidd didn't fail in shorts and sneakers 11 years ago, and the smart money says he won't fail in a jacket and tie now.