The storyline emanating from the beat writers is the future prospects, or lackthereof of GM/head coach Kiki Vandeweghe. With incoming owner Mikhail Prokhorov more or less confirming that Rod Thorn and Brett Yormark are going to stick around as President and CEO, and rumors circulating that Andrei Vatuin, who worked with Prokhorov with CSKA Moscow, may be joining the Nets’ front office, the status of Kiki has been ominously quiet.
“I was brought in initially to help rebuild the team,” Vandeweghe told Fred Kerber in the Post. “We had some success doing that in Denver and Dallas. I’m proud of the things we’ve got going.
The fact that the Nets are finally starting to play better basketball in the season’s last 6 weeks makes Kiki look like less of a pollyanna for saying this. However, for the most part, his tenure as both GM and coach he been a disaster filled with drama and underachieving. But is it Kiki’s fault? Dave D’Alessandro plays devil’s advocate:
There are no good ways to play this for a guy who never considered himself anything but a team-builder, one who was resistant to taking over as head coach for the first time in his career back on Dec. 2.
But Vandeweghe can’t say he didn’t sign up for this. He can’t say that the franchise was too cheap to go out and find an experienced guy, which everyone knows was the case. He can’t even say that he hated what he has endured these last four months, because the opposite is true — he got a kick out of coaching.
From my own perspective, I always found it odd that if Prokhorov is judging strictly on performance here, that Kiki is a goner while Thorn stays. Thorn is as much responsible for this mess as Kiki is. While I do have a soft spot for Thorn primarily for what he did with the organization in the early 2000s, and I think some of his draft picks (Marcus Williams, Antoine Wright) are unfairly assailed due to 20-20 hindsight, perhaps if Thorn did a better job building the depth of this team below Kidd, Jefferson and Carter, this team wouldn’t have been challenging for the worst of all time for a majority of this season.
However, I do agree with general idea that Kiki must go. For me, I lost total respect for Kiki during the Del Harris debacle. If Kiki tried to back door Harris into the head coaching chair behind Thorn’s back, as Peter Vescey reported and Harris more or less confirmed on the record, then Kiki probably should have been fired months ago. A stunt like that was disrespectful to Thorn and disrespectful to the organization. Additionally, Harris would have been a terrible choice as coach of this team. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that since Harris left, and assistant John Loyer was promoted to be Kiki’s right-hand man, the Nets grabbed 6 of their 10 wins and have a point differentiation of about -6, compared to about -11 during Harris’ tenure. We’ve also seen the growth of Terrence Williams and the silencing of the perpetually cranky Chris Douglas-Roberts. The Kiki/Harris tandem, which by most accounts was led by Harris as the one with actual coaching experience, had the Nets as an embarrassingly uncompetitive team, while alienating the team’s younger players, who naturally used Twitter, the media and other outlets to lash out. Harris was not the guy to lead a bunch of young, brash players. Period.
So with that said, I won’t be shedding a tear for Kiki Vandeweghe. He’s best known as a team builder, yet one of his biggest projects as part of the team’s rebuilding – Yi Jianlian – was a total flop who has been an albatross for this organization. Courtney Lee has evolved into a nice role player, and Terrence Williams looks to finally be “getting it,” but the team is still going to need to get lucky with the lottery and be fortunate in free agency to still be in any position to compete for a playoff spot next season. So most of the legitimate “rebuilding” is going to be done long after Kiki’s gone.