The worst-case scenario is Isiah Thomas, of course. But the worst-case scenario in everything is generally Isiah Thomas.
Hiring a Hall of Fame point guard as a coach, despite how difficult it can be for those with a great playmaker’s weird prescience and superheroic vision to effectively communicate vital basketball mundanities to mortals? It’s not the worst idea, but also: Isiah Thomas. Presuming that the aforementioned ex-player coaching candidate, having previously been a winner, has had conferred upon him — through some dimly understood osmotic process, maybe, or just by having been born with an inner winner within, or some other jock-rhetoric Successory — an innate and contagious sense of What It Takes? All possible, sure, but: Isiah Thomas. Going to Jamba Juice? It’s your digestive tract, friend, but pause for a moment and consider: What if Isiah Thomas is in there, just hanging around, twinkle-eyed and half-tumid, purring something unconvincing about accountability?
As profoundly as some brilliant players have failed as coaches and executives, the idea that this springs from those coaches’ inability to understand why the players in their charge don’t just do it perfectly every time seems less convincing, or anyway less salient, than the fact that a great many great athletes are not necessarily your best or most high-functioning human beings. We know that Jason Kidd played basketball in a state of dazzlingly-astute and relentlessly-generous grace for going on two decades; we know, to the extent that DWI arrests and The Smoking Gun gives us knowledge, that Kidd has been more or less the opposite of his on-court self away the court.
But knowing all that doesn’t mean we know what kind of coach Jason Kidd will be. He could be a vain, impatient authoritarian or an aloof no-shits-to-giver. Or he might be able to communicate his intuitive understanding of the game as deftly as he performed it, and he might be able to motivate Deron Williams, the least and grumpiest of the NBA’s superstars. Kidd will, if given the right assistant coaches — Lawrence Frank, who coached Kidd for three seasons in Jersey, has been mentioned — almost certainly not embarrass himself. But anyway, this is beside the point.
It’s beside the point because the team that hired Jason Kidd is the Brooklyn Nets, and the one thing that has defined that organisation during its drearily slow extrication from New Jersey and throughout the ambitiously-branded and supremely-buzzy mediocrity of its first year in Brooklyn has been a steady lack of concern with things basketball-related. However well the Kidd hiring works out or doesn’t, it fits very well into the Nets way of doing things. The idea was and is always to be bold and make a splash. So here’s the splash.
There is, of course, a basketball reason for hiring Jason Kidd. Tom Ziller went over it in his column on the hire, and it amounts to “Mark Jackson, who is also a long-tenured NBA point guard and first-time head coach, has done a pretty good job with the Golden State Warriors so far.” Given how little is actually known about what and how much coaches contribute to a team’s success, there are probably worse reasons for hiring a coach. Given that Vinny Del Negro is also available, there are definitely worse candidates for this job than a freshly-retired Jason Kidd.
But the Nets have operated with buzz and hashtaggy sizzle as their prime directives ever since owner Mikhail Prokhorov bought the team and brought them to Brooklyn. Some of this is on team CEO Brett Yormark, a spooky-eyed stunt marketer who uses the word “brand” more frequently than most people use prepositions, and who giddily turned the team into a satire in synergized, buzz-grabbing unbearability during its zombie days in Jersey. Some of it is on Prokhorov, who appears to be a more charming and significantly more distractible Russian-speaking version of George Steinbrenner, idly hiring and firing coaches, sternly demanding a winner and then going back to supervising the artisans dipping his Jet-Skis in platinum or appliquéing rubies onto his loafers.
This is fine, as far as it goes: It’s Prokhorov’s team, after all, and it would take a brave soul to move a rebuilding team into a swank new taxpayer-subsidized arena. But Prokhorov’s demand for a winning team and the flubbiness with which his front office built him one has created its own set of problems. The Nets are thoroughly stuck with the very expensive, very meh roster they’ve got — in Gerald Wallace and Joe Johnson, Brooklyn may have the league’s two most untradeable contracts, give or take an Amar’e Stoudemire — which won’t make things any easier for Kidd. There isn’t necessarily a coach alive who could spin this Nets roster into a NBA championship team. The Nets likely won’t be really lousy for some time, most likely, but it’s tough to imagine a way in which they get significantly better as currently constructed. Jackson’s job in Golden State was to develop a young, talented core; Kidd’s job is to coax new brilliance from a capped-out, topped-out roster of declining veterans and to discuss cartoons with Brook Lopez on an as-needed basis.
But here we are talking about basketball, again, and so missing the point.
The Nets’ problem isn’t that they’re top-heavy, capped-out and ageing, although those are indeed problems. The bigger problem is that they’ve consistently chosen branded-out, buzz-chasing artifice over the dull work of building the organisation. This team was built wrong, recklessly and hastily and shortsightedly, and with the wrong goals in mind. Here’s a gaudy insta-mansion, leveraged to the hilt, and the owner’s only plan to stave off foreclosure is to expand the infinity pool and redo the gold leaf on the garage door.
It’s Prokhorov’s team, in other words, but it increasingly feels like one built with one of former minority owner Jay-Z’s lower moments during his just-saying-expensive-things late-career period. The Nets seem content to and intent upon spending the next few years bellowing “new watch alert,” sticking one gaudy diamond over another, ignoring that the watch straining under all that dazzle is already several hours slow and losing time daily.
More from SB Nation:
• Comeback Kidd: Nets hire franchise’s greatest player
This story was originally published by SB Nation.
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