What exactly are you blaming Jason Kidd for?
That’s not an accusation. That’s a real question. What about this mess lands on him? You can’t blame him for the construction of this team — that’s on Billy King, who I argued in July made the right move, an argument I stand by. You can’t blame him for Kevin Garnett’s body breaking down, that’s the fault of Mother Nature. You can’t blame him for Deron Williams’s ankles, or Brook Lopez’s ankles, or Andrei Kirilenko’s back, unless you think Kidd has a direct line to the basketball Gods. So what is it?
Kidd’s struggles may come in the play-calling department. Though he called a great play to get Joe Johnson an open three against the Indiana Pacers, he also gets fault for his lack of creativity down the stretch against a not-so-tough Charlotte Bobcats team, when the offense stagnated, only for Andray Blatche to accidentally bail them out en route to a near-victory. Here’s the composition of the Nets offense late, which featured a few screen-and-rolls but mostly bad shots and Blatche bailouts:
But Kidd is a figurehead; a brilliant basketball mind with no coaching experience that was going to rely heavily on his star-studded cast of assistants to lessen his learning curve. This was a given, and an expectation, from the day they signed him.
The Nets expected Lawrence Frank, one of the league’s top assistants, to set up a defensive scheme simple enough to understand but tough enough to implement out of training camp. Hasn’t happened yet — the Nets rank 26th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, and dead last when Brook Lopez is off the floor.
They expected John Welch, an offensive guru with the Denver Nuggets who learned under Jerry Tarkanian and George Karl, to design an offense to complement and maximize the diverse array of skillsets of the Nets starters. The Nets offense currently ranks 20th in the NBA in offensive efficiency, and occasionally looks like players trading off possessions — particularly in the third quarter.
A scout, speaking with former Nets beat reporter at the New York Times and current Bleacher Report columnist Howard Beck on condition of anonymity, put it plainly: “Kidd doesn’t do anything.” That’s a major criticism of Kidd, but it’s also a veiled damnation of his assistants, who were signed to carry the load.
Despite the dismal 3-8 results, the plan from the start hasn’t changed. Welch & Frank handle the offense and defense, respectively. Roy Rogers develops the big men (and kudos to him for his work with Lopez). Eric Hughes and Joe Prunty do player development. Charles Klask looks at analytics. Kidd is a visionary, who imparts his wisdom in occasional bursts, and though he’s occasionally hands-on, you’ll see Lawrence Frank talking more than Kidd in any given practice. In theory, it could work. It just hasn’t, at least not yet.
You could also argue that Kidd, for all the respect he garners from players, may not garner similar motivation. Andray Blatche, after a career season, treated the paint like a quarantine zone for most of the early season until Wednesday night’s final quarter. Joe Johnson seems content to float from possession to possession, throw in a few isolations for good measure, and fire away contested shots with impunity. Deron Williams said Wednesday that the team feels “a sense of urgency,” but the Nets rank 23rd in the league in second-chance points, second-to-last in fast-break points, and have taken more shots from midrange than in the restricted area.
The Nets are flush with players who seemingly don’t need motivation from their coach, but after four straight losses put them five games down in the loss column, they certainly need something. A veteran coach? They’ve already got those, six of them, all with coaching experience, two with head coaching experience in the NBA and abroad.
You can stop calling for his head on the BrooklyKnight’s shield: Kidd will stay the year. Even if they crash and burn for 71 more games, the Nets won’t give up on what they acknowledge was a long-term experiment this quickly. He could’ve begun his career an assistant coach, like so many other players have done on their way to the head job. But here’s the trick: other than the title on his business card, isn’t that exactly what he’s doing? And if so, who does this mess land on: Kidd for taking the position, the front office for signing him to it, or his assistants for not backing him up?