Did that seriously just happen?
By: Joe Mags
A lot has been written about this already, but what a preposterous turn of events in Brooklyn and Milwaukee.
On the Brooklyn side: Their first-year head coach reportedly demanded presidency of the team – a position only the most well-respected and experienced basketball minds are given without previous front office experience – and uses another NBA franchise as a bargaining tool, threatening to jump ship if his demands aren’t met. (And Brooklyn, correctly, called his bluff.) Suddenly Brooklyn, a team that lost a staggering $131 million last season according to Grantland, is now coachless and stuck with a mostly depleted, barbarically expensive roster.
On the Milwaukee side: Mere days after being a feel-good story throughout the Association for their selection of Jabari Parker, the Bucks are now at the center of a coaching controversy the likes of which nobody saw coming – one that certainly darkens their front office’s reputation. After taking on Kidd as head coach, they fire Larry Drew in the coaching equivalent of a cold-blooded murder. The thinking exists that Milwaukee will wait for the dust to settle, most likely next season, before inevitably extending Kidd’s power to a duel head coach/front office position. Meanwhile Drew is out on the street, and General Manager John Hammond, whom they recently extended through 2016, is sitting on a terribly hot seat with the writing on the wall being the Bucks are Jason Kidd‘s team now.
As Zach Lowe so brilliantly wrote: no one is without blood on their hands in this development. For starters, the Bucks are no longer going to be perceived as the charming, small-market team blessed with a pair of fresh young faces any longer. They come off as conniving and indecent in this move, and that’s if the NBA doesn’t find signs that there was collusion between Kidd and Milwaukee in advance of Brooklyn’s blessing for the two sides to talk.
Milwaukee made a choice to take on Kidd – a big name, hall of fame, former player – in order to raise the reach of the team’s brand. Are they going to catch hell for how they acquired Kidd? Yes. But for a franchise that as recently as a year ago was a prime candidate to be bought-and-moved to Seattle, I understand the long-term line of thinking. It’s a dog-eat-dog world: for Milwaukee to compete against larger markets in the East such as Miami and Chicago, they need an edge, and in addition to players like Parker and The Greek Freak, ownership and the front office need to take on a competitive identity as well.
There’s no telling if Kidd will ever make a great executive; he hasn’t coached long enough to tell if he’s very good at that either. But simply adding a former All Star like Kidd to the team’s organization – he has a lot of support from other players; someone who the next wave of talent adored during their childhoods – is good for that franchise.
I wonder, though, how good it is for Parker and The Greek Freak to be mixed up in this storyline. By all accounts two outstanding young men, suddenly they are mixed up in something very sour; Kidd must view Parker and Antetokounmpo as his reward for forcing himself to Milwaukee – a chance to coach two gifted young players, the kind of talents Brooklyn has taken themselves out of the running to acquire after their super short-sided trade with Boston.
Brooklyn is now in a terrible position, one that is a bit unprecedented in league history. With the amount of money they lost last season, and will continue to lose if the roster remains as currently constructed, Mikhail Prokhorov must seriously be considering what prospects, if any, his franchise has at the moment.
They owe Deron Williams and Joe Johnson about $43 million next season, and another $46 million the following season. While Johnson was lucky enough to be selected as an All Star last season, he doesn’t move the needle nearly as much as he used to. Ditto for Williams – I would strongly consider taking the under on “0.5 future All Star appearances” for the former Utah Jazz standout.
The Nets have well over $80 million invested in next season’s roster, and that’s without retaining Paul Pierce or Shaun Livingston, or filling out their roster, or improving their team beyond the No. 6 seed in last year’s East – which, remember, was a really, really bad conference. Brooklyn’s best player, Brook Lopez, is an oft-injured big man who is owed about $32 million the next two seasons. What the team does with Pierce may or may not impact Kevin Garnett‘s likelihood of taking his $12 million player option, yet another incredible overpay.
Worst yet: The Nets owe Boston two future first round picks and the right to swap first rounders in 2017. I don’t know how this happened, but Brooklyn went from a franchise preordained to be young and chic, to a franchise labeled falsely as a contender in 2013-14 because of its rough-and-tough, veteran team (paired paradoxically with a first-time head coach), to now a team that is equally disadvantaged in the short-term and long-term.
The Nets are not just stuck in no-man’s land; they are reinventing the depths of which an NBA team can sink itself, all at a time when owning an NBA franchise, ironically, has never been more lucrative.
And so Prokhorov has a decision to make regarding his future with the organization. Does he dare continue pursuing top-end veterans who merit expensive, guaranteed contracts? Does he attempt to sell off whatever unwanted contracts he can – now much harder to move without the added sweeteners of draft pick compensation – to avoid paying the astronomical tax penalties he has payed over his tenure with the team?
Or does Prokhorov, the ultra-businessman he is, note the $2 billion price tag the once lowly Los Angeles Clippers sold for this spring, and consider what an NBA franchise in Brooklyn might sell for. He bought the team for $200 million in 2009; I venture to guess he could profit something close to three quarters of a billion dollars if he sold the team tomorrow, at least.
Whatever Brooklyn and Prokhorov decide to do this summer will be important to the long-term framework of the team. They need to get younger and healthier, the latter of which might be impossible with the current cast of players. Moving Williams to a team desperate for an upgrade at point guard should be on the table, and allowing Pierce to sign elsewhere – possibly the Clippers, who could also be interested in trading for Garnett – would relieve some, but not all, of the teams tax woes.
The Nets also are tasked with finding a replacement for Kidd at head coach, although I think this is a blessing in disguise. Regardless of which players return next season and what new blood is brought in, Kidd was not the right guy to lead a group of expensive veterans to battle against the best Eastern Conference team since Michael Jordan‘s Bulls. Someone like Lionel Hollins, who could approach the Brooklyn roster similarly to his Memphis Grizzlies teams of the early-2010s, would be a great fit.
Ultimately, this Jason Kidd fiasco is an exhausting distraction for Brooklyn, and a black eye for Milwaukee. If the Bucks wanted to use any of their glut of cap space this summer, they’ll have to sort through a chunk of players who could now be disinterested in joining a franchise that so coldly whacked Drew. Milwaukee will most likely be a bad team next season, focused more on the installation of Kidd as head coach, the rehabilitation of Larry Sanders‘ career, and the initial season of the Parker/Antetokounmpo pairing than winning at large.
Brooklyn is a mystery for next season. They don’t figure to be a player for any elite free agents, players like Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh who could reasonably put them into the conversation as a contender. If they do trade away some of their veterans in an effort to reduce the severity of their tax penalties, a younger Brooklyn team might miss the playoffs and end up in the lottery. I’ll add that the 2015 NBA draft is the last draft in which Brooklyn owns their first rounder outright until 2018; adding a lottery pick to their future plans could go a long way to this franchise rebounding from one of the most embarrassing seasons, both fiscally and within team management, in league history.