When the Brooklyn Nets signed Jason Kidd to be their new head coach, it looked like they took a risk. Kidd was playing professional basketball – albeit very badly – only weeks ago; he has as much (formal) coaching experience at 40 as he did when he was born. He’s long been regarded as one of the league’s most intelligent players, and, as a career point guard, he’s always been at least to some extent involved with orchestrating a team, but that’s not the same as coaching, which involves politics and ego-managing in addition to the old basketball strategery. Mark Jackson proved last year that basketball knowledge might be the least important part if you surround yourself with the right assistants; I’m not entirely sure Mark Jackson knows that you’re allowed to design a gameplan, and the Warriors still won a playoff series.
And yet: this only focuses on a minor part of the situation. Of course the Nets would prefer that Jason Kidd turns out to be a good coach, and that he keeps their on-court product from resembling the tepid, sticky mess that was Brooklyn basketball in 2012-13. (Devin Khapertian elaborates a little more on this for his great Nets site The Brooklyn Game.) But for a franchise still trying to justify why anyone should care about them, owned by a mogul who craves pomp and extravagance, Kidd is the sexy hire, the big name, and he’s consistent with the tactics the Nets have used throughout their first year of existence: Shock and Awe.
When the Nets announced their move to Brooklyn, they used Jay-Z, one of the borough’s ambassadors, to give them glamour. They built a brand new stadium in a hub of downtown Brooklyn, a stadium that looks like it could come alive at any moment and start destroying major American landmarks. And they got Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace more for their names than their potential to take the Nets to a championship. Those players will constrain the team’s payroll for years and hamstring their ability to actually accrue the assets or the infrastructure to win; they prevented themselves from following either blueprint that winning NBA teams have developed in the last few years, which are on the one hand gathering a trio of max-contract superstars (the Heat, the Thunder), or on the other creating an almost baseball-like developmental system that results in a cohesive crew of homegrown talent (the Spurs, the Pacers.)
All of this happened for short-term reasons. The Nets seem to care less about winning a championship than creating a product that sells, and the way to do that is with immediate, splashy maneuvering. Kidd fits that bill, just like Joe Johnson did before him, just like Jay-Z did before him, just like the stadium did before him. With Kidd on the bench, Prokhorov creates an artificial reason to watch and follow the team even if they turn out to once again be mediocre; if the experiment fails, they’ll ship him out of town and start again. This kind of inattention to long-term development is usually a bad strategy, but you can kind see what Prokhorov might be thinking if you squint: better to take big swings and bring in new fans and keep the new arena three-quarters full – on the expectation that one of those swings will eventually land – than to bottom out in a traditional “rebuilding” and leave the arena empty of fans and bereft of big names.
If Kidd bombs as a coach, the Nets are no worse off than they already are, no farther from being a franchise that anyone cares about, and they will have at least had eyeballs on them while they struggled. If he succeeds, then the franchise has its first killer app, and he’s 100% Brooklyn Nets, connecting them back to New Jersey, where Kidd was the team’s most famous player besides Dr. J. That’s what Prokhorov wants, and that’s why the Shock and Awe system is in place. If he can’t win immediately, he at least wants people to watch him lose.
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