Jason Kidd Joining Bucks Puts Brooklyn Nets' Title Hopes on Life Support

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Jason Kidd Joining Bucks Puts Brooklyn Nets' Title Hopes on Life Support
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Jason Kidd jilted the Brooklyn Nets, leaving amid a haze of controversy and disaffection, fracturing relationships, cheapening a coaching legacy in its infancy and, more importantly, kibbling already infirm title hopes.

The move was made official on Monday: Kidd will join the Milwaukee Bucks, bringing a bitter end to roughly 48 hours of unsettling, somewhat disorienting rumors that wreaked havoc on a run-of-the-mill offseason weekend:

This remains a power grab few saw coming. Although Bleacher Report's Howard Beck—who fittingly identifies Kidd as a "ruthless opportunist"—reveals that behind-the-scenes commotion rattled Brooklyn's off-court infrastructure and laid the groundwork for this irretrievably hopeless situation, there are still lingering elements of surprise, questions that continue to have no answers.

Why? What makes Kidd believe he can usurp those above him, like general manager Billy King?

Was this hijacking attempt really months in the making? 

What happens to the Nets now?

That last one is more pressing, the most difficult inquest.

Left alone, with Kidd still in tow, the Nets' league and conference standings were fluid. Their championship aspirations were fragile—so delicate and indeterminable they could and would be swayed by moves made outside and inside the organization.

Bidding farewell to Kidd worsens matters. This seemingly smug, egotistical power play unfolded at the most inopportune time. The Nets already had a coach—a flowering coach by all accounts.

On-court personnel was top priority. Retaining key free agents was the primary objective. Finding ways to deepen a cap-crippling roster with additional, needle-nudging talent would take center stage afterward.

Hiring a new coach is now at the forefront of the Nets' issues, noticeably setting them back, turning ostensible formalities into matters of contention.

This isn't to say Kidd was the decaying glue holding the Nets together. This isn't even to suggest that he himself isn't immediately replaceable.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Someone like Hollins can help the Nets move on from Kidd.

Despite guiding the Nets to 44 wins and a second-round playoff appearance, Kidd is not paramount to their success. Like Grantland's Zach Lowe posits, the Nets will actually be better off long-term when factoring in the circumstances under which Kidd left and their list of potential successors: 

Back to the Nets: They’ll resolve this Kidd thing soon enough and move on. Kidd will have to rehabilitate what is left of his reputation. ...

The Nets will have to hire a new coach, and you know the big-name candidates by now: Lionel Hollins (the favorite), Mark Jackson, George Karl, Billy Donovan, Kevin Ollie, John Calipari, and more. 

Brooklyn can move on from a coaching standpoint. Case closed. Lionel Hollins and George Karl, along with every college stud the Nets may pursue, are ideal hires for win-now franchises. 

Call them upgrades. Established candidates are better fits for championship hopefuls anyway. Kidd's initial hire created quite a stir.

Entrusting the Nets' veteran-packed roster to him was a risky gambit. The Nets knew it. They still know it. They realize he isn't indispensable as a coach, hence King's blithely unconcerned reaction to his departure:

Perception is still everything, though. And that's where this Kidd business hurts the Nets most. 

They handled this ordeal extremely well by refusing to bend at Kidd's behest. But as The Wall Street Journal's Alex Raskin explains, the timing of his departure spawns free-agent complications:

Instead, having balked at the chance to give Kidd authority over team personnel, the Nets are scrambling to assemble a new coaching staff or risk losing free agents such as [Paul] Pierce, [Shaun] Livingston, Andray Blatche and Alan Anderson on top of [Kevin] Garnett, who could still choose retirement rather than return for a 20th NBA season.

Retaining Shaun Livingston and Andray Blatche—and even Alan Anderson—would always be a challenge. Both Livingston and Blatche outperformed their contracts—they earned under $2.3 million combined in 2013-14—and are due for significant raises.

Cap constraints could force them to sign elsewhere. The Nets have nearly $85.9 million in guaranteed salary committed to next season, according to ShamSports. Their salary obligations would easily exceed $100 million if everyone returned.

Among the assumed returnees is—or rather, was—Kevin Garnett.

"Yes," King said when asked if he believes Garnett will play at a high level in 2014-15, per ESPN New York's Ohm Youngmisuk. "I think he's preparing earlier this year than he did last summer."

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
New layers of mystery have been added to Pierce's and Garnett's futures in Brooklyn.

Garnett's return would be the first domino to fall, the first step in keeping this contending albeit imperfect core together. If he forewent retirement, Paul Pierce, an unrestricted free agent, would likely be back. Others could follow suit, knowing they had a chance to build upon last season's finish.

Yet in the wake of Kidd's departure, everything changes. Free agency is barely underway, and the Nets' offseason actions are already shrouded in uncertainty, per CBS Sports' Ken Berger:

Leading the pack of ambiguous ventures is Pierce, who is generating mountains of interest, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein:

Losing Pierce would be catastrophic. He averaged a career-low 13.5 points per game last season, but his leadership and experience is, unlike Kidd's coaching acumen, irreplaceable. And so is the influence he has over Garnett.

If Pierce signs with the Clippers, Lowe acknowledges there's no gauging the collateral damage that may follow:

They will have to negotiate free agency from a tricky spot. Kidd’s agent, Jeff Schwartz, the orchestrator of Kidd’s hiring as head coach in the first place, also represents Paul Pierce — a key free agent who has value around the league. Kevin Garnett probably wants his last big NBA paycheck, but if Pierce leaves, who knows if Garnett may retire and forgo the last year of his contract. The Nets are limited in what they can offer Livingston, who may be out the door already.

Armed with a no-trade clause, Garnett can also try to orchestrate his departure from Brooklyn. Either way, the Nets could be down Pierce, Garnett, Livingston and Blatche in no time at all, pinning them to a familiar place: the middle.

Good luck convincing free agents to sign at a discount following these theatrics if current players plot escapes of their own.

Without any cap space to burn, the Nets would be forced to build around the injury-prone, fading and expensive Deron Williams, the reliable-yet-overpaid Joe Johnson and the fragile Brook Lopez. If each of those players remains healthy and plays up to the most optimistic expectations, the Nets are a playoff team.

But they are not a championship team.

Contending isn't even an ironclad option if one or both of Pierce and Garnett stick around.

Valuable role players may seek more lucrative paydays somewhere else. The Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers can all use this offseason to markedly improve. The Washington Wizards and Indiana Pacers are equipped to, at the very least, maintain their status quo.

What's to become of an aging, possibly depleted Nets club that is learning a new system once again, all while facing distractions Kidd's ornery exit left behind?

Nothing spectacular.

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Nothing good.

Nothing worthy of the championship owner Mikhail Prokhorov and King unknowingly tethered to a savagely ambitious head coach.

"The franchise has to be bigger than one person," King said of Kidd, per the New York Post's Tim Bontemps.

Bigger than one coach, but not the (potential) ripple effects from his contrived exit.

Those can be overcome; those can be conquered in time. But not now. Not next season.

Not when Kidd's self-serving agenda stands to cost the Nets more than just a head coach.

 

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