In a different life, Jason Kidd was the visionary who changed everything for the franchise that was the New Jersey Nets, once among the great laughingstocks in all of sports. He was the quarterback who declared those hopeless Nets would actually win half their games and reach the playoffs, and then answered the laughter by carrying his team on two consecutive trips to the Finals.
He took something dysfunctional and made it functional at the highest levels of the NBA. That was Jason Kidd the dynamic leader, a point guard who saw the floor every bit as clearly as Magic Johnson did.
Jason Kidd the employee? Jason Kidd the franchise-first citizen? In those categories, he was never going into anyone's Hall of Fame. So for those who have spent enough time around Kidd, Saturday night's news over his failed power grab and talks to take control of the Milwaukee Bucks was a shock to many and a surprise to none.
Off the floor, Kidd has always believed in the divide-and-conquer approach. By trying and failing to supplant his boss, GM Billy King, as overlord of personnel, the rookie head coach left his team in Brooklyn exactly as he first found it in New Jersey: Same Old Nets.
It didn't matter that owner Mikhail Prokhorov had invested nearly $200 million in Kidd's first roster.
"Nothing was ever good enough for Jason," said one league source close to the situation. "He always had to be appeased on personnel, and he would play Monday morning quarterback if it didn't work out. It was like a kid constantly asking for new toys to stay happy. ... If he doesn't get what he wants he sits in the corner and sucks his thumb and pouts until he gets it, and he doesn't care about the consequences."
Kidd absolutely had to have his former New Jersey coach, Lawrence Frank, as his on-site wise man in Year 1. King and Prokhorov agreed to make Frank the league's highest-paid assistant, to give him an unprecedented package, to help shepherd Kidd through this brand new experience.
"He's a guy I can lean on," Kidd said of Frank at the time, "ask him any question. He pretty much has all the answers. ... I'm very lucky to have a special guy like that."
Fifteen minutes into this special relationship, Kidd was demanding that his superiors demote Frank and pay off the balance of his contract. Though he was warned by Brooklyn officials that such a move would make the organization look like, you know, the Same Old Nets, Kidd refused to move off his stance.
With or without Frank, and with or without Kidd's embarrassing soda-spilling stunt, he was arguably the league's worst coach over the first two months of the season. Kidd was so overmatched in his second career that King had no choice but to seriously consider firing him around Christmastime.
To his credit, Kidd pulled himself off the floor and delivered the Nets to the playoffs and a first-round Game 7 victory over Toronto. But as much as he was celebrated for the second-half turnaround, Kidd managed five fewer regular-season victories than the dispatched Avery Johnson (14-14) and P.J. Carlesimo (35-19) combined for the previous season.
Kidd did a decent job as a rookie, not a great one. He was supposed to get the best out of his fellow point guard, Deron Williams, and that never happened. The Nets were happy to continue the partnership, anyway, in the expectation Kidd would grow on the job.
But then his friend Marc Lasry became a co-owner of the Bucks. But then Steve Kerr and Derek Fisher scored five-year contracts with the Golden State Warriors and the New York Knicks that dwarfed Kidd's $10.5 million deal over four years (including $7.5 million guaranteed) with the Brooklyn Nets. Suddenly Kidd decided the time was right to execute a hard back-door cut on King, just like the hard back-door cuts he'd made on his coaches in the past.
A man of many excesses, Prokhorov finally said enough was enough. He wasn't about to promote Kidd to run basketball operations, and he wasn't about to stop him from fast-breaking it to Milwaukee, where coach Larry Drew and GM John Hammond still have no idea what just hit them.
Maybe Kidd will end up only as Milwaukee's team president, banking more money for less work. "But I can see Jason waiting until the Bucks are good enough, and then coaching them," said a second league source.
Either way, history says it won't end well in Milwaukee. As a college and pro player Kidd had a record of helping to run off coaches, including the one who led the Nets to those Finals: Byron Scott. His domestic abuse case cost him his job in Phoenix. Rod Thorn, then president of the Nets, made the deal with the Suns and restored his career, and as a show of appreciation, Kidd ultimately demanded a trade to the Lakers and forced his way to Dallas, even calling in sick (as a show of protest, Nets officials believed) for a game against the Knicks. He would be arrested on a drunken-driving charge after signing with those Knicks in 2012, and then suspended for his first two games as Nets coach last season after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor in the case.
The Bucks are going to take their chances regardless. The Nets? Once they recover, they might hire Lionel Hollins in an ever-elusive search for stability. But yes, it's going to take a while to recover.
They took a big gamble on a head coach, and got humiliated more than once over the course of one turbulent year. Now the Brooklyn Nets look just as dysfunctional as the New Jersey Nets looked before Jason Kidd walked into their lives way back when.