Amid the presence of a billionaire owner, a superteam-crazed executive and the decorated roster he assembled, it's rookie coach Jason Kidd wielding the biggest stick inside the Brooklyn Nets franchise.
The cutting criticisms surrounding the team's sluggish 5-14 start fall squarely on the 40-year-old's shoulders. Any praise warranted for a revival will come his way if that happens.
But none of that will change his standing atop the organization.
While his coaching qualifications can be, and are being, questioned, his influence in Brooklyn cannot be. And there's a growing mountain of evidence to support that fact.
The Rise and Fall of Lawrence Frank
When Nets general manager Billy King handed Kidd the coaching reins just weeks after his playing career came to a close, the move was bold but safeguarded.
Longtime NBA coach Lawrence Frank was the human safety net.
Frank, who coached Kidd with these same Nets from 2004-08, appeared to be the perfect wingman to help Kidd through his transition from player to coach.
According to ESPNNewYork.com's Mike Mazzeo, Kidd himself saw it that way:
There's a lot of people that have come out publicly saying that I need to get a seasoned staff, and that's what I'm looking at, people who maybe have been head coaches in this league or have been assistants and understand what it take to have some success so I can learn on the job. One of those candidates is Lawrence Frank that I'm trying to get because we get along well, I trust him and I think he understands what it takes to have some success in this league.
Frank, who was fired by the Detroit Pistons in April, landed in Brooklyn with a six-year deal that made him the highest-paid assistant in the league.
Just 17 games into the season, though, Frank was abruptly stripped of his coaching duties:
Lawrence Frank has been "reassigned" to doing daily reports, Kidd announces. No longer on the Nets' bench as asst coach.— Howard Beck (@HowardBeck) December 3, 2013
Multiple reports suggest this was hardly a sudden development.
Sources told ESPN.com's Ohm Youngmisuk and Marc Stein that trouble began brewing when Kidd picked Joe Prunty, not Frank, as interim coach while Kidd served a two-game suspension to the start the season. Frank was reportedly "hurt" by the decision.
Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Kidd later "blistered" Frank in a staff meeting shortly after Brooklyn's 21-point loss to the Orlando Magic in Kidd's coaching debut on Nov. 3. Smoke loomed over the Brooklyn sky that night as this coaching bridge started burning.
"With Jason," a source told Wojnarowski, "Once he turns on you, he turns. That's how he was as a player, and that's what we're seeing again now."
On the surface, Kidd cited philosophical differences as the reason for Frank's reassignment. But a source told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News that Frank had been "bad-mouthing Kidd to others around the league, apparently unhappy with Kidd and the partnership."
Another source told SI.com's Chris Mannix that Kidd was frustrated by "the more vocal Frank aggressively trying to run practice in a way Kidd didn't."
Obviously, this was anything but the ideal coaching relationship for a situation as volatile and desperate as this. Still, the money the Nets are willing to swallow to break this pairing is staggering:
If anyone needs a reminder of ownership's longterm support of Kidd, note that they'll be eating $7M in Frank's salary to satisfy him.— NetsDaily.com (@NetsDaily) December 4, 2013
Even Mikhail Prokhorov can't part with $7 million easily.
But he'll do it for his coach. That's who Kidd is, and that's who he'll continue to be for a long time.
The Nets are sinking so fast someone might want to check those support cables on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Kidd's team isn't just losing games, it's being systematically led to the slaughterhouse. The Nets have already suffered seven double-digit losses, four of which were decided by at least 19 points.
Neither is Brooklyn's minus-8.0 net rating, which ranks 28th in the NBA, or its fourth-place standing in the worst division in basketball.
Yet none of this changes the Nets' views about their first-year head coach.
"Guys still believe in Jason as their leader," King recently told Mazzeo.
Perhaps there's some validation for that belief. Brooklyn's star-studded roster has barely played together.
Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry have all missed time due to injury. Garnett's missed a couple games because of Father Time. Joe Johnson is the only starter to appear in all 18 of Brooklyn's games.
And despite the miniature championship window this team has, there is no way to speed up Kidd's on-the-job training.
He didn't get the buffer year away from the game that Brian Shaw did. As Shaw told Bleacher Report's Howard Beck, Phil Jackson said he needed that time for the players to "respect you as a coach."
Kidd's growing pains are magnified by the Brooklyn spotlight, but they're no different from what all first-time coaches experience. Stan Van Gundy explained that on NBC Sports Radio (h/t NBC Sports' Kurt Helin):
He may grow into a very, very fine coach — but no one is a great coach when they first start. I’m sure Doc Rivers would tell you in all honesty that he is a far better coach now than he was when he first started. Not to say he wasn’t good when he started but you get a lot better over time.
The injury-ravaged rotation might bring nightly surprises. The mounting loss pile is a shocking concern.
But as the New York Post's Mike Vaccaro noted, the Brooklyn brass realizes what is has with Kidd:
It was silly and remains silly to think Kidd should find his way onto the griddle if the Nets’ season keeps cratering. Prokhorov and Billy King knew precisely what they were hiring in June: a rookie coach who’d never even spent time assisting his kids’ summer league teams.
So, the sky can keep falling in Brooklyn or a welcome wind of change could still salvage Prokhorov's $180 million plan.
Frankly, none of it matters to Kidd's future.
He has the kind of shelter any worker could ask for—the steadfast backing of his bosses.