Posts Tagged ‘Billy King’

Nets’ Plumlee ready to move on sans Kidd


VIDEO: Mason Plumlee talks after his big Summer League Day 1 game

ORLANDO, Fla. — It was just over a week ago when Mason Plumlee attended the unveiling of the site Nets’ new practice facility in Brooklyn.

Now he’s hustling up and down the court at the Amway Center, just as surprised as everyone else that the Nets will be unveiling new head coach Lionel Hollins in the wake of Jason Kidd’s sudden and sloppy departure.

“I was blindsided like a defensive end (rushing a quarterback),” Plumlee said. “I was very surprised. I think everybody was. I know you (media) guys were. I was, but it’s part of it.”

Plumlee rang up 23 points on 8-for-11 shooting and pulled down seven rebounds as the Nets opened with an easy win over the Pacers in the first day of play at the Orlando Pro Summer League. He took over for stretches and shined on both ends of the court, consistently turning turnovers into easy baskets and free-throw chances.

He’s looking to build on his first NBA season when he averaged 7.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game for the Nets. Following the All-Star break, he posted 13 games with 10 or more points and eight games with eight or more rebounds. That production got the 6-foot-11 Plumlee a fourth-place finish in Rookie of the Year voting and a spot on the All-Rookie first team.

Often playing as the only big man in a lineup with four outside shooters, Plumlee was a comfortable and effective fit in Kidd’s offensive system. That could change under Hollins.

“I wish him (Kidd) well,” Plumlee said. “I’ve said constantly I had a great time playing for him. I enjoyed him as a coach. But now I’m looking forward to playing for coach Hollins. I haven’t met him yet, but I’m looking forward to that.”

It’s been a tumultuous week for the entire organization as Kidd lost out on a power struggle with general manager Billy King and was eventually allowed to take over as coach of the Bucks in exchange for two second-round draft picks (2015 and 2019).

It seemed like one minute Plumlee was watching a ceremonial shovel put into the ground as part of a long-term future plan of stability and, in the next, the ground around him was shaky.

“It’s just good to get out on the court,” he said. “It’s weird, you don’t hear about too many transitions like this, so it’s just good to get back out on the court and play.”

Bucks, Kidd move on from clumsy hiring, claim one job’s enough now


VIDEO: Kidd, Bucks discuss how decision came about

MILWAUKEE – When you’re committing the basketball future of your new $550 million toy to Jason Kidd, a fellow who dished 12,091 assists in his 19-year career, it’s no wonder that you might cop an attitude of this too shall pass.

That was the tone of Kidd’s introductory news conference Wednesday as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks, held midday at midcourt of the BMO Harris Bradley Center. It was by the numbers – strictly “business,” a word Kidd used a few times in a “Godfather”-like way – and something to move on from as quickly as possible.

Questions were limited (one reporter counted a total of 15), follow-ups were discouraged and then it was over. No customary huddles immediately afterward for 1-on-1 interviews, TV stand-ups or idle chatter. This had the feel of a business meeting – once the CEOs were finished, the employees were expected to disperse and return to their cubicles.

Certainly, Bucks management had valid reasons for not wanting to linger too long in the moment. Kidd’s hiring (and Larry Drew‘s firing as predecessor) had been botched badly. A reported power play by Kidd in Brooklyn – the head coach with one year’s experience allegedly angling for personnel control and a lofty title, only to be rebuffed – was followed by some power flexing in Milwaukee that rewarded Kidd and the guys who hired him, despite what looks like clumsy, sneaky or pushy behavior.

Marc Lasry and Wes Edens, the Bucks’ new co-owners, sought and asked for permission to talk with Kidd about their head coaching position while they still had a head coach (Drew). Lasry’s personal relationship with Kidd predates their purchase of the franchise in April, back to his time as a Nets minority owner and work as the former All-Star point guard’s financial advisor.

Only after Lasry and Edens had decided to hire Kidd, as news of the front-office intrigue was breaking in a New York Post story, did they cut GM John Hammond into the loop. His task? Negotiate compensation with the Nets for a guy who, for all anyone knows, might have designs on his Hammond’s job too.

Things moved quickly from there: Drew was fired (taking with him $5 million owed over the next two seasons). Kidd’s departure from Brooklyn was made official. The Bucks announced his hiring. And by Wednesday, the only remaining chore was to sell it. Or at least wait impatiently for everyone to swallow.

One of the questions for the new owners was whether this was a rookie mistake in a business very different from where they made their hedge-fund billions, or an indication of a new, heavy-handed, smartest-guys-in-the-room approach to Bucks basketball decisions.

“I’m going to tell you it was very much newness,” Lasry said. “We’ve learned a lot in this process. Our view hasn’t changed from the beginning, that all the basketball operations and everything goes through John. And I think in this process we learned we made a mistake. And I think we’ve learned that pretty well.”

Lasry and Kidd, after about 15 minutes, did come back to the court to meet with media types individually or in small clusters. Still, they shed little additional light on the timeline.

Here are two possibilities: Kidd wanted power in Brooklyn, got told no, then turned to his friend Lasry for a back door. Or Kidd and Lasry had kicked around the idea of them working together in Milwaukee – the Bucks did finish 15-67, after all, so a coaching change had to cross someone‘s mind – and the eventual Hall of Famer ruffled his Nets bosses’ feathers to earn his freedom.

Lasry said he couldn’t recall which day it was last week that Kidd’s agent, Jeff Schwartz, made the first contact to gauge their interest in working with Kidd. Kidd wasn’t clear on whether he pushed so hard in Brooklyn because he knew he already had a Plan B waiting.

But they both admitted that Milwaukee considered no other coaching candidates and Kidd considered no other strategies, including mending a bridge in Brooklyn.

Instead, it was as if they wanted to sell a bridge in Brooklyn.

Kidd even disputed the alleged origins of the shenanigans, questioning countless reports that he wanted to usurp Nets GM Billy King. He even dodged a question about taking heat for that, and for chasing another coach’s job, by talking about the criticism that all coaches face for losing or having the wrong player take a game-winning shot.

Later, Kidd said: “It’s not about power. You guys [reporters] ran with that. It’s not about power. As I think [I said when] I was introduced, I’m the coach, so I’m the coach and I was the coach in Brooklyn. And I’m going to be the coach here. So it’s not about power. It’s about the guys getting better and here in Milwaukee that’s what I’m going to do.”

He is right from that standpoint.

People can wring their hands and cluck disapproval all they want over the style of Kidd’s job switcheroo, but the substance is what matters: Lasry and Edens have the guy they want on Milwaukee’s sideline and Kidd has to show that whatever he contributed to a veteran-laden team with lofty playoff hopess can translate to a rebuilding club on training wheels. The Bucks send a group, including draft prize Jabari Parker and last year’s phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo, to the Las Vegas Summer League Monday for practices in advance of the July 11 opener.

“For me, it’s about who I was as a player,” Kidd said. “My job was to make the guys around me better. I take the same approach as a coach. I want to make those 15 guys better.

“The one thing I told the guys last year, trust me and respect me. That’s what I had. I got to see a lot last year as a rookie coach. When you see the Shaun Livingstons of the world have the season he had, Alan Anderson got better, and they’re being rewarded [in free agency]. I feel like I can do the same thing here.”

Hammond praised Kidd as the ultimate “coach on the court,” the ideal for point guards. He mentioned working Doc Rivers and Mark Jackson in their playing days, before the two former NBA guards found success as head coaches without serving as assistants.

“You could see they had that ability to see the game, know the game,” Hammond said. “And you saw then, if they wanted to do it someday, they can be a coach and be a great coach. I feel exactly the same way about Jason Kidd.”

Maybe Kidd can, if he stays focused on coaching, rather than career-climbing or comparing contracts (he is believed to have a three-year deal worth $4 million to $5 million annually, putting him in Steve Kerr’s and Derek Fisher‘s neighborhood). He has left a trail of bad exits and hard feelings dating back to his college years at Cal, but he said Wednesday he hopes to find something positive even in the shaky stuff.

“When you look at my career, 19 years, I can look back at going to Dallas as a 19- [or] 20-year old,” Kidd said. “Being surrounded with talented players like Jimmy [Jackson] and Jamal [Mashburn]. High expectations. There might have been a couple of controversial things about being selfish or unselfish.

“But those are things that I can draw back from as a player and share with these players first-hand. There are going to be some growing pains, but they can always be looked upon as a learning experience and that we get better each time we take the floor.”

Then Kidd talked about the biggest lesson from his one season in Brooklyn. He and his new bosses seemed not to pick up on the irony.

“Patience,” Kidd said.


VIDEO: Kidd discusses the Bucks’ roster

Hang time podcast (episode 167) featuring Kristen Ledlow


VIDEO: Jason Kidd is introduced as the new coach of the Milwaukee Bucks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Since when do coaching changes, unorthodox coaching changes like the one that impacts both the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks, trump the start of free agency?

Since Jason Kidd showed up in the coaching ranks and turned things upside down.

It takes some serious star power, or some absolutely drama-filled action, to knock LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, the World Cup and all the other free agents out of the headlines, even for a few hours. But Kidd did it with his escape to Milwaukee after a failed power play in Brooklyn.

We examine the Kidd fit in Milwaukee, free agency, where Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers fit into this summer, Kevin Love, #NBA Style and so much more on Episode 167 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring NBA TV’s Kristen Ledlow.

We also made sure to track down our main man Rick Fox this week. He called in from the other side of the world (he’s on location in South Africa), so we’re going to need to collect donations to pay his cell phone bill. Thanks!

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Bucks risk vibe, goodwill reset with Kidd


VIDEO: Draft review: Jabari Parker’s potential impact

Jabari Parker should ask the Milwaukee Bucks for a trade. Today.

If it’s buzz kill the Bucks want, that’d give them buzz kill. Why stop at the reports of buddy ball about to be played between new co-owner Marc Lasry and Jason Kidd, the Brooklyn Nets’ soon-to-be former head coach angling for power and money atop the Milwaukee team’s food chain? Go straight to Parker and remind him that, in the business of the NBA, things he talks about such as loyalty, humility and gratitude are but a rube’s game.

Then the classy kid taken No. 2 Thursday in the Draft, the franchise’s latest and greatest hope, can appropriately approach his livelihood with the necessary cynicism, ruthlessness and selfishness.

You know, like the unclassy Kidd.

Bad enough that Kidd, after one middling season as the Nets head coach, would attempt a power play within that organization to grab more authority – and allegedly a sweetened contract from the four-year deal he signed just 12 months ago – over the man (general manager Billy King) who hired him. The New York Post was first among several outlets reporting Kidd’s Machiavellian maneuver Saturday, a coup apparently snuffed by Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov.

Worse, though, is that Lasry – the private-equity billionaire described as a “past financial partner” with Kidd, possibly as an advisor – would entertain installing Kidd as the Bucks’ president of basketball operations. That’s the lofty position for which Milwaukee apparently has sought permission to interview him. Talk of compensation (second-round draft pick?) already is in play, should Brooklyn release Kidd from the final two years of his deal.

It is a bad idea on so many levels.

First, the Bucks are full-up, their front office and coaching jobs staffed by highly competent individuals. GM John Hammond is fresh off his most rewarding Draft night ever, on the heels of a stellar 2013 move in drafting below-the-radar phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo and second-round point guard Nate Wolters. And lest Lasry or anyone else think that the Bucks merely did the no-brain thing Thursday – grabbing the best available player once Andrew Wiggins went to Cleveland – he’d be overlooking the rapport Parker already seems to have with Hammond, coach Larry Drew and their staffs, seeded in pre-draft workouts and conversations and growing toward a bond.

As for Drew, he’s a proven head coach – more proven than Kidd – after three playoff appearances in Atlanta (with smaller payrolls and less talent than Kidd’s Nets) and his grace under fire during last season’s 15-67 tanking mission.

B-b-b-but Kidd only wants to be Hammond’s and Drew’s boss? Right. Kidd wants what he wants when he wants it. He is a Hall of Fame-bound point guard with one spotty season as a coach, zero experience as an executive and chronicled flaws in his people skills. It requires no great leaps to imagine Kidd blowing out both Hammond and Drew in short order – which would be wrong even if his name were Jason Popovich.

[UPDATE, 6/30: Multiple outlets, including the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, reported later Sunday that the Bucks were talking with Kidd only about coming in as head coach. Again, Milwaukee already has a head coach, so dangling his job while he's still in it is horrible management form for Lasry -- while interviewing for it is a serious breach by Kidd of the NBA's unwritten "coaches' code." Also: Kidd was hired "only" as a coach 12 months ago. That didn't stop his power grab in Brooklyn, did it?]

The New York- and New Jersey-based media accounts of Kidd’s attempted power play within the Nets were rife with tales of Kidd’s clubhouse lawyering, coach undercutting and ego-driven antics, both in his playing days and since. Last season, after pushing for veteran coach Lawrence Frank to be hired at big money as his right-hand man, Kidd turned on Frank early in the season and got him banished from the bench.

The antithesis off the court, it seems, of the pass-first playmaker he was on the court, Kidd also has a domestic abuse charge on his resume and a guilty plea to drunk driving, hiccups that – for all of Wisconsin’s taverns – aren’t dismissed as easily in a smaller, image-conscious market such as Milwaukee.

Then there’s this bonus of a bad reason: Kidd reportedly grew envious of the bigger coaching paychecks of fellow former NBA point guards Steve Kerr and Derek Fisher, similar newbies to the sidelines who signed five-year, $25 million deals recently with Golden State and New York respectively. Heck, in an offseason of coach/owner madness – Tyronne Lue as the highest paid assistant in league history, management titles spliced on almost perfunctorily – it’s feasible that Kidd grabbed at the Nets’ personnel reins with the intent of having things blow up. Then he could shake free to link up with Lasry.

Unfortunately, Lasry and his partner Wesley Edens were at the Draft in Brooklyn Thursday night, not in St. Francis, Wis., at the Bucks headquarters or down on the Lake Michigan lakefront for the team’s fan party. The co-owners missed out on the vibe that carried the night and that Milwaukee so desperately needed. With Parker’s selection and his appreciative reaction, the Bucks hit a good team/good guy reset button, a shared sense of renewal that runs from the front office to the newest, most special rookie.

They’re now at risk of turning the franchise into Kidd’s private ATM and personal preening mirror. Parker hasn’t scored a point or swiped a pass, but already he deserves better.

Report: Kidd loses power play in Brooklyn, free to talk with Bucks

After being denied a promotion by the Nets, Jason Kidd was granted permission to talk to the Bucks.

After being denied a promotion by the Nets, Jason Kidd was granted permission to talk to the Bucks.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Jason Kidd‘s run as coach in Brooklyn could soon be over after just one season, courtesy of his own ambition.

Kidd was denied a promotion with the Nets and, in the wake of that failed attempt to increase his power to include personnel decisions, was granted permission to discuss future employment with the Milwaukee Bucks, according to a report from Tim Bontemps of the New York Post.

The Bucks, of course, already have a coach in Larry Drew. So it’s unclear exactly which job Kidd is exploring in Milwaukee. Both Kidd and Drew just finished their first seasons, respectively, in their current positions.

Kidd’s reported power play puts him in a precarious position with the Nets, who have loads of other decisions to make, including what to do with Kevin Garnett and the final year of his contract, and might have to add a coaching search to their to-do-list.

If Kidd tried to undercut Nets GM Billy King and failed, he’s almost certainly out of a job in Brooklyn. For this news to break on the eve of free agency makes for an extremely bizarre process as the Nets try to reload for the 2014-15 season.

There’s an excellent chance they’ll do so without the services of Kidd, whose methods, per the Post, were nothing if not bold:

According to a league source, Kidd recently approached ownership with a series of demands, including the role of overseeing the Nets’ basketball operations department in addition to his head coaching responsibilities. The source said Kidd didn’t want general manager Billy King to be dismissed, but wanted to be given a title and placed above him in the organizational hierarchy.

Ownership declined to grant Kidd that kind of power, which is rare for any coach in the league to have. The source said ownership felt Kidd wasn’t ready for that kind of responsibility after having only one year of coaching experience — the team finished his first season on the bench with a 44-38 record, good for sixth in the Eastern Conference — and allowed Kidd to seek other opportunities.

The franchise then was approached by the Bucks to speak with Kidd about the prospect of hiring him, and have done so with the Nets’ permission.

Kidd has a small ownership stake in the Nets, so perhaps he felt he was well within his rights to ask for more power. But someone else within the organization clearly didn’t agree with his way of doing business.

Whatever role the Bucks have played or will play in this process can only be further complicated by them speaking to a coach of an Eastern Conference rival while they already have a coach under contract.

Whatever happens in Milwaukee, it’s clear Kidd’s days are numbered in Brooklyn.

Report: No punching this Big Ticket yet


VIDEO: The Starters: Time to retire?

Welcome back, Big Ticket.

Nothing’s official yet, but the signs and tweets out of Brooklyn suggest that Kevin Garnett will return in 2014-15 for the final season of his contract and the 20th season of his Hall of Fame-worthy career.

The Nets are operating as if Garnett will be back for a second year in their organization, based on general manager Billy King‘s comments to reporters Wednesday in East Rutherford, N.J. The team’s GM has had some conversations with the 38-year-old power forward and said Garnett has begun offseason workouts earlier this summer, after his least productive season ever. Appearing in just 54 games and averaging only 20.5 minutes, the 6-foot-11 veteran averaged 6.5 points and 6.6 rebounds while making only 44.1 percent of his 6.6 field-goal attempts per game – all career lows. His per-36 minutes numbers looked better – 11.4 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 1.3 bpg – but Garnett missed 20 of 21 games late in the schedule with back issues.

Exiting after Brooklyn’s elimination by Miami from the East semifinals, Garnett skipped a final postgame session with reporters and gave no indication of his 2014-15 plans. But then, that’s been his M.O. even in his prime. Then, typically, he would gear up mentally and physically on the beaches near his Malibu, Calif., home, as the summer turned to fall and the opening of NBA training camps neared.

That’s how it looks to be pointing again – there is a $12 million salary to be had in this final year of his contract – and that’s fine with the Nets. Especially Mason Plumlee, Garnett’s backup/potential successor.

“All the guys who’ve had the chance to be his teammate, say if he’s not here next year, I know I’d miss him,” Plumlee said late last season, after spending most of the year apprenticing under Garnett. “Anybody who’s spent a season with him, they appreciate how unique of a teammate he is. You don’t have many guys who are so about everybody else on the team, to where they’re lending their wisdom, their time. He shares everything he’s been through, mistakes he’s made, everything.”

Plumlee, Brooklyn’s top pick out of Duke in last year’s draft, had heard all about Garnett’s ferocity – with rivals and sometimes teammates – by the time he arrived last fall. Then he got an earful more from longtime coach and NBA analyst Doug Collins. “He went on and on, about how this was the best situation for me, that it didn’t matter that I fell in the draft,” Plumlee said. “He couldn’t say enough good things about [Garnett].”

The veteran made a project out of the rookie and it showed: Plumlee averaged 6.4 points and 3.5 rebounds in November and December but was up to 9.2 and 6.1 in March and April, earning a spot on the all-rookie first team.

“He’s the best for a young guy coming in,” Plumlee said. “He takes as much time as anybody to talk, to help, to explain stuff. Not just basketball stuff but off the court – your money, dealing with family and friends. His mentorship extends beyond just basketball.”

That came mostly in conversation on planes, the sort of stuff that has Sam Mitchell – newly named Minnesota assistant coach and Garnett’s mentor there two decades ago – convinced his old friend should carve out a role in Minnesota’s management once he retires.

Nets coach Jason Kidd also noted the influence Garnett had on younger players such as Plumlee. “From day 1 in training camp, Kevin sharing what he knows about the game and what it takes to be successful, you can see Mason has taken that information and has used it wisely,” Kidd said.

Some of those lessons still occur on the floor.

“The most impressive thing is, he always has an understanding of where he’s supposed to be,” Plumlee said. “And at this point in his career, he’s consumed with getting the next guy going, getting the next guy open. He’s all about screening to get Paul [Pierce] open, get Joe [Johnson] open. And then obviously everything on defense. How he talks. How he guards.”

In returning, Garnett would join only Kevin Willis (21), Robert Parish (21) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in playing at least 20 NBA seasons. The 15-time All-Star already ranks 10th all-time in games, sixth in minutes, third in defensive rebounds, 11th in rebounds 17th in points, 18th in steals, 20th in blocks and 49th in assists.

Nets’ long list of questions starts with Pierce and Garnett … and Lopez … and …

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Best of Inside: Blazers and Nets go fishing

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The most expensive roster in NBA history faces questions this summer. And it doesn’t have the flexibility to find all the answers.

The Brooklyn Nets have hit the offseason with a five-game conference semifinals defeat at the hands of the Miami Heat. Their $102 million dollar payroll and $90 million luxury tax bill got them just five playoff victories.

In a press release on Thursday, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov called it a “crazy season.” Every team has its ups and downs, but Brooklyn’s were rather unique.

On Jan. 1, the Nets were 10-21 and had lost their best player, Brook Lopez, for the season. Then they went 34-17 over the final three and a half months, thriving with a smaller and more skilled lineup. They beat the Heat four times over the course of the season, had fourth-quarter leads in three of the five playoff games, and were within two points in a fourth. With Joe Johnson carrying the load, their offense became pretty potent in the postseason.

If the Nets were a young team, they’d have something strong to build on. But only three players from their 11-man rotation will be under the age of 29 when next season begins, and one of those could choose to sign elsewhere this summer. Andray Blatche said Thursday that he will decline his $1.4 million player option for next season.

The Nets’ most important free agent is Paul Pierce, who will turn 37 in October. He wants to keep playing, but gave no indication of where he might want to be next fall.

“When I get a chance to sit back, really put my thinking hat on, I’ll figure out what’s next,” Pierce said after Game 5 on Wednesday. “I think I still have something in the tank I can give a team. So maybe one or two [years] at the most, and see where I’m at.”

Kevin Garnett has some thinking to do as well. As part of the trade that brought him from Boston, the Nets guaranteed Garnett the $12 million on his contract next season. But he averaged just 20 minutes per game, was an offensive liability, and missed all of March with back issues.

Garnett turns 38 years old on Monday, ranks fifth all-time in minutes played, and just finished his 19th season. That’s exactly how many seasons Nets coach Jason Kidd had played when he decided to retire and walk away from $6 million a year ago.

Garnett would be giving up twice that amount and can still make an impact on defense. But he’s a prideful dude and may not want to see his skills diminish any further.

“He’s done it for a long time at a very high level,” Kidd said Thursday. “The biggest thing and concerns that I’ve talked to him about is you don’t want to leave with someone carrying you off the court.”

Garnett didn’t speak to the media after Game 5 or at the Nets’ practice facility on Thursday. Nets GM Billy King said that he spoke with Garnett on the plane ride home from Miami.

“Get away, spend some time and talk with your family then we’ll talk again,” King told Garnett. “There’s no need for an answer now.”

The Nets could lose three starters this summer, because Shaun Livingston is also a free agent. After a breakout season, he’ll be coveted by several teams, and the Nets can only pay him with the tax payer’s mid-level exception (a three-year contract starting at $3.3 million per year).

The Nets could have Lopez back at full strength, and they could not. He’s had three surgeries on his right foot in the last three years and an additional repair on his left ankle in March. His team, meanwhile, changed their style and played their best without him.

But Kidd and King have little choice but to bank on Johnson, Lopez and Deron Williams, who are owed a total of $121 million over the next two seasons.

King has little flexibility in improving the roster beyond his high-priced stars. He doesn’t have any draft picks (to use or to trade) and nothing beyond that tax-payer’s mid-level exception to offer free agents (including Croatian guard Bojan Bogdanovic, whose draft rights they own), though Pierce can be brought back (and handsomely compensated) via Bird rights.

What King has to hope for is a better and healthier Williams (who may undergo surgery on one or both ankles this summer), a healthy Lopez, and a Johnson that plays more consistently like he played in the postseason. The chances of all three of those situations going their way seem slim.

Maybe the most solid thing the Nets can build on is Kidd’s development as a coach. He’s got a great feel for the game and, after those early-season struggles, found an identity for his team. He managed a deep rotation about as well as you could this season. And with the respect of players around the league, the Nets will find free agents who want to play for him. If Livingston stays, loyalty to Kidd may be the biggest reason.

It’s not like the Eastern Conference is passing the Nets by. If they bring most of their veterans back and avoid the slow start in their second year together, they can be right back among the best teams in the conference. Every other East playoff team has its own questions to answer this summer.

“Our goal is to try to bring as much as the core back,” King said, “add to the core and go at it again.”

Kidd has come a long way in a few months


VIDEO: Jason Kidd talks with Rachel Nichols about his growth process as an NBA coach

BROOKLYN – Jason Kidd‘s coaching career began a little like his playing career ended.

As a player, he missed his last 18 shots. As a coach, he lost 21 of his first 31 games with the most expensive roster in NBA history. He was fined $50,000 for purposely spilling a drink so that his assistant coach could draw up a play. Through December, the Brooklyn Nets were below-average on both ends of the floor and were particularly brutal defensively.

Early in November, ESPN.com’s David Thorpe called Kidd “the worst coach in the NBA.” Later that month, Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck quoted an scout who didn’t think much of Kidd, the coach.

A veteran scout, interviewed earlier in the day and speaking on the condition of anonymity, called Kidd’s bench comportment “terrible,” observing that the play-calling has fallen mostly to his top assistants, Lawrence Frank and John Welch.

“He doesn’t do anything,” said the scout, who has watched the Nets several times. “He doesn’t make calls. John Welch does all the offense. Lawrence does all the defense. … I don’t know what Kidd does. I don’t think you can grade him and say he’s bad. You can give him an incomplete.”

Things have changed quite a bit. The Nets are 27-12 (best in the Eastern Conference) since the new year began, with a top-10 defense, despite a two-game slide this week.

The turnaround coincided with a seemingly sudden lineup change that created a new defensive identity. The Nets went from a bad team on Dec. 31 (when they were thumped by the San Antonio Spurs) to a good one two nights later (when they won in Oklahoma City).

But the players will tell you that they just needed time to get healthy and get to know one another. Deron Williams missed 11 of the team’s first 20 games, Andrei Kirilenko missed 26 of the first 30, and Brook Lopez missed nine of the first 24 before being lost for the season on Dec. 20. The Nets’ projected $82 million starting lineup played a total of 90 minutes together.

So, yeah, they needed some time to hit their stride. So did Kidd.

During the Nets’ episode of Real Training Camp in October, Kidd  was barely heard from. He was mostly on the sidelines as his assistants — like Lawrence Frank here — ran practice.

Kidd should have known when he hired Frank that he would look to take charge. That’s who Frank is. And Kidd, in hindsight, probably could have found a way to tone down his fiery assistant. Instead, as the losing mounted, the two knocked heads and in early December, Kidd kicked him off the bench.

It was a key moment in Kidd’s development as a coach.  Once his lead assistant was gone, he had no choice but to find his own voice.

Finding his way


VIDEO: Go inside the huddle with Jason Kidd during the Nets-Spurs game

“Everybody has to know who’s in charge,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said back in January. “And that’s the head coach. He’s the one calling the shots. I’ve never seen any one of the Pips try to lead. That’s Gladys’ role. Let Gladys be Gladys.”

In Brooklyn, Gladys is singing stronger than ever.

“He wasn’t being involved as much [in training camp],” Kirilenko said of Kidd recently. “He was watching more and observing. Now, he’s involved more and he’s talking more.”

Observing Kidd at one recent shootaround, Nets general manager Billy King said to assistant GM Frank Zanin, “From November to now, it’s night and day. It’s been a joy to watch.”

Kidd will tell you that he and the team grew together, that it took “everybody” to get through those first two months. King believes the improvement started with the coach.

“I think he developed the group,” King told NBA.com, “by spending time talking to individual players and the players as a group. I think he molded them to become a group and be one, rather than be individuals. It comes from sharing the basketball, being accountable.

“And that was him from the beginning. He challenged the guys to share the basketball, to sacrifice for each other.”

After a loss in Boston earlier this month, Kidd looked at the box score and didn’t lament that the Nets shot 4-for-30 from 3-point range, but that their shot distribution was unbalanced. Only four times this season has a Net attempted more than 20 shots in a game, and two of those games went to overtime. Only the Jazz (two) have fewer games of a player taking 20 or more shots. Fourteen teams have 20 or more.

Though five guys are getting paid like stars, it’s a team thing in Brooklyn. Ask Kidd about how a particular player impacted a game and he’d rather talk about the group. Ask him about himself and he probably won’t give you an answer at all (though he did say last week that he never regretted his choice to become a coach just days after retiring).

“We had a lot of long coaches meetings,” he said of his team’s early-season struggles. “We had a lot of long conversations with players. But there was never a panic of, like, ‘Maybe I should have kept playing, maybe we should have went on vacation a little bit longer.’ Sometimes you have to face adversity right off the bat and you get to find out who’s really in and who’s out. And those guys in the locker room are truly in and that’s what makes it special.”

Relying on ‘instincts’


VIDEO: The Starters discuss the Nets improved play

When the Nets were looking for a coach last summer, Kidd told ownership, “We need a leader.” They suggested Kidd and, after an interview, King bought in and sought advice from his college coach.

“Don’t put him in a coaching box,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told King. “Let his instincts take over and he’ll be fine.”

Indeed, there’s probably more Jason Kidd in the coach than coach in Kidd. Or maybe he’s been a coach all along. Those who have watched the New York Knicks the last two seasons would certainly make that argument.

As the best point guard of the last 20 years, Kidd has had his teammates’ respect from Day 1. Now, he’s the closest thing the NBA has had to a player-coach since Dave Cowens in 1979.

“I look at him as the head coach,” Joe Johnson said. “But then I still look at him as a good friend. It’s almost like he’s still a player.”

The respect that players have for Kidd can go a long way. He hasn’t been afraid to bench one or more of his high-priced stars for the entire fourth quarter of a close game. Now that his team has found its identity, he has a feel for what is working and what isn’t.

Orchestrating a successful season


VIDEO: Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck explains the Nets’ path to finding their identity

“From my seat [a few feet away from the bench], I get to see him orchestrate, from offense to defense,” King said. “He’s telling guys where to go and changing plays on the fly.”

And Kidd’s knowledge of what his team needs goes beyond his in-game decisions. Shaun Livingston was his choice for the back-up point guard spot last summer, a decision that has worked out brilliantly. In February, Kidd believed that his team could handle the addition of Jason Collins, and he was right on that one, too.

“The thing that really has struck me is his attention to detail as a rookie coach,” King said, “like player minutes to rotations to sticking with the bench longer than some other people would as a rookie coach. I think he’s managed players’ minutes to try to keep them as fresh as possible. A lot of times, as a rookie coach, they don’t, because they got to keep their best players out there to win that game.”

As a player, Kidd was usually the smartest guy on the floor. As a coach, he’s allowing his basketball mind to flourish.

“There are several teammates who I’ve played with where you can see that they just think the game, and their basketball IQ is off the charts,” Collins said. “J-Kidd was always that way as a teammate. Now, it’s turned into the Xs and Os.”

Kidd knows he still has a long way to go. Asked how comfortable he’s become as a coach, he replied, “I’m still working at it. There’s no comfort level here.”

The playoffs will be another huge test. Given that the Nets, overall, have fallen short of expectations, there are better Coach of the Year candidates. Kidd is still making questionable decisions, like intentionally fouling with the Nets up four points in the final seconds against Toronto earlier this month.

But considering how quickly he has developed and how well he’s recovered from his early growing pains, it’s clear that the Nets have found themselves a winner.

“He’s not going to do something just to be average at it,” King said. “He wants to be great at whatever he does, whether it’s golf, coaching, playing, he wants to be great at it. That’s the approach he took from Day 1 here.”

Back to that early-season criticism of Kidd: When he was hired, there was a consensus among observers that he would need some time to adjust to his new role. In retrospect, that’s exactly what happened in November and December.

Since then? Well, at this point, it would be nice to hear from Beck’s scout again.

“It’s a marathon,” Kidd said. “That’s the nice thing about the NBA season. You can be judged on the first game, but the ones who know best, you’re not judged until the end.”

He was speaking of his team. But he might well have been talking about himself.


VIDEO:
Rod Boone of Newsday talks about the Nets’ recent surge in play

Collins And Nets Breaking Barriers

VIDEO: Jason Collins signs with the Nets

Less than two months ago when they were 10-21 following a New Year’s Eve thumping, one might have believed there was a better chance of seeing an openly gay athlete in a NBA game than seeing Brooklyn in the playoffs.

Now Jason Collins and the Nets will try to break down barriers together.

By signing the 35-year-old 7-footer to a 10-day contract, it could be said the No. 8 seeded team is clawing desperately to hold onto the last playoff spot in the moribund Eastern Conference.

“The decision to sign Jason was a basketball decision,” Nets general manager Billy King said in the statement. “We needed to increase our depth inside, and with his experience and size, we felt he was the right choice for a 10-day contract.”

And maybe if this were 10 or 20 years from now, that’s all it would be, a line of agate type in the transactions column.

For now though, it is one giant leap for sportskind, if only because it is the official opening of the societal and cultural closet door.

“Jason told us that his goal was to earn another contract with an NBA team,” said commissioner Adam Silver. “Today, I want to commend him on achieving his goal. I know everyone in the NBA family is excited for him and proud that our league fosters an inclusive and respectful environment.”

Athlete Ally ambassador and Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried said: “With Jason Collins signing with the Nets today, I believe our world as professional athletes will open up and become less ignorant of gay male athletes playing and more accepting and embracing of the whole situation.”

It was back in April of last year when Collins revealed himself in Sports Illustrated to become the first openly gay male athlete in one of the four major American sports.

That announcement brought praise from President Obama, an invitation to the State of the Union address and a much higher profile than Collins had ever achieved with a 12-year NBA career in which he averaged just 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. Yet it didn’t bring a training camp invitation from any of the 30 NBA clubs.

In the meantime, University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam jumped into the headlines with his announcement that he is gay. Coming from the SEC co-defensive player of the year ahead of the NFL draft and from a 24-year-old at the start of his pro career, Sam’s revelation was immediately considered much more a test of tolerance in the testosterone filled air of sports, even if it had been met with a collective shrug in his own college locker room last fall.

“We would accept it greatly and it shouldn’t be a problem, man,” Nets guard Joe Johnson told reporters last week. “We’ve got a veteran group and I think everybody is pretty comfortable in their own skin. It’s about what he can do to help us out there on that court. That’s what it’s about.”

Point guard Deron Williams said if Collins’ addition would help the team, he’s in favor.

“I think it’s definitely going to be a media circus just because of the situation,” Williams said. “But I think with the type of team that we have, veterans who have played with him before and know him, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

The Nets, in fact, are probably the most logical and comfortable fit for Collins. For one, team owner Mikhail Prokorov campaigned for gay rights during his presidential bid in Russia. What’s more, veterans Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are former teammates of Collins and Pierce was his most ardent backer when Collins came out last spring. Coach Jason Kidd also played alongside Collins with the Nets and will surely help foster an inclusive attitude.

“To each his own,” Pierce said back in April. “It’s probably going to open the door to many more. There’s so many professional athletes, there’s so many human beings, that are scared … because of the exposure of sports and what people might think about it. But I think what he did was a great thing, just to kind of open the door for other athletes who probably now are going to have the courage to come out.”

There has already, of course, been an outcry from some on social media that it is all a story manufactured and overblown for a player whose career has been marginal at best. No one is interested, they say and post and tweet. Yet the fact they have read and posted and tweeted is the clearest contradiction of themselves.

Collins has put himself in the spotlight. However, the Nets also deserve credit for looking past any potential distractions to help shoulder the burden and make history.

Heat All-Star guard Dwyane Wade got the news and summed up what matters on the court about Collins: “One thing I know about him is he fouled very hard. …Welcome back.”

For a chance to pull on the jersey, to lace up the sneakers, to try to help get the once forlorn Nets into the playoffs, smashing one previously unthinkable notion at a time.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 6


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nets get good news on Lopez | Cavs have no deals for Bynum | Report: Nuggets trying to deal Miller | Report: Barbosa set for 10-day with Suns | Wade is back … to back

No. 1: Nets get good news on Lopez surgery — Not only are the Brooklyn Nets winning games in 2014, but the reeling franchise got some good news about Brook Lopez after he had surgery this weekend on his right foot. He’s still done for the season, but at least there is light at the end of the injury-filled tunnel for the Nets’ big man, according to Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News:

For once, the Nets received a bit of good medical news when it comes to an injury. Nets center Brook Lopez underwent successful surgery to fix a fractured fifth metatarsal of his right foot on Saturday morning, and Nets general manager Billy King expects Lopez back for offseason workouts this summer, fully recovered. A second procedure — a first metatarsal osteotomy — was also completed on Saturday to “unload and protect the injured area” and to reposition the bone to lessen the strain and reduce the chance for another injury, according to a press release put out by the Nets. Lopez, who was injured on Dec. 20 at Philly, is out for the remainder of the season.

“With this procedure, we both fixed the broken bone (fifth metatarsal) in Brook’s right foot and repositioned another bone, so that his sole of his foot will bear weight more evenly than before,” said team medical director Dr. Riley Williams, one of three doctors who were involved in the procedure.

Still, despite the positive tone of the statement by Williams, King admitted before Saturday’s game to the uncertainty involved with a surgery such as this.

“They said it was going to be a successful recovery, so I mean, we can’t sit here today on Jan. 4 and say what’s going to be when he starts playing (again),” King said. “We can’t speculate and that’s what I’m not going to do.”

“Right now, he had(the surgery), and I expect him to have a full recovery and be playing next year,” King said.


VIDEO: Take a look at Sunday’s Top 10 plays

***

No. 2: Cavaliers running out of time with Bynum? — The countdown clock is ticking on the Cleveland Cavaliers and their attempts to make something of the mess that is the Andrew Bynum affair. They’ve engaged several teams (most notably the Los Angeles Lakers, for Pau Gasol) in trade talks about their disgruntled center in advance of Tuesday’s deadline, but still have nothing concrete to choose from in terms of options. They’ll obviously push it to the deadline, but there is nothing imminent, writes Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal:

Any team that acquires Bynum must waive him by Tuesday in order for him to clear waivers in time to have his salary removed from their cap, but any players the Cavs acquire will have to first pass a physical unless the team agrees to waive it.

ESPN.com reported the Cavs and Lakers were hopeful of completing a deal Sunday for Pau Gasol, but that didn’t happen. Gasol played for the Lakers on Sunday night while the two sides continue negotiating. The Lakers are insisting on assets beyond luxury tax relief, but thus far Cavs General Manager Chris Grant hasn’t budged. The Cavs are offering tax relief and little else.

One source described the talks as stalled late Sunday night, but another source said talks have been off and on throughout the negotiations. No deal is considered dead until 5 p.m. Tuesday, when the deadline is reached for Bynum to be waived for cap relief.

Bynum’s agent, David Lee, said Sunday he has been told nothing by the Cavs. Wherever Bynum is traded, his stay will be brief. He is expected to be released, since only about half of his $12 million contract is guaranteed. Any team that acquires Bynum can waive him without paying him a dollar and shed $12 million off their cap. He will then be free to sign with any team in the NBA, likely for the league minimum.

Cavs coach Mike Brown didn’t want to discuss the trade talks prior to Sunday’s game against the Pacers.

“Those are great questions for Chris,” Brown said. “I’m coaching the guys in the locker room.”

Yahoo! Sports reported Sunday the Lakers were seeking Dion Waiters as part of the trade, but a league source said Sunday the Cavs weren’t interested in parting with Waiters for what will likely be a brief rental of Gasol.

***

No. 3: Report: Nuggets actively looking to deal Miller  — In a loss to the Sixers last week, Nuggets point guard Andre Miller blew up at coach Brian Shaw during the game in a vocal outburst that was witnessed by practically everyone in attendance. As a result of that outburst, Miller was suspended by the team for detrimental conduct, but the team rescinded that move on Friday. Miller was not with the team as he was granted leave to deal with a personal issue, but it seems more and more unlikely that Miller will ever suit up for the Nuggets once he returns, writes Christopher Dempsy of The Denver Post:

Andre Miller, who was excused from all team activities for four days, won’t be part of the Nuggets for long after he returns.

The Nuggets are actively trying to trade Miller, according to a league source. If accomplished, it would be the second time Denver traded him. He was traded in 2006 in a package that brought Allen Iverson to the Nuggets.

It has been a dicey few days for Miller, who had harsh words for Nuggets coach Brian Shaw during Wednesday’s game against Philadelphia. Miller was initially suspended, but then the suspension was rescinded, in part so Miller would be able to continue getting paid during his time off.

Miller has spent all or parts of seven seasons in Denver, in two stints, this latest one starting in 2011, when Portland traded him back to the Nuggets.

***

No. 4: Report: Barbosa set for a (10-day) return to Suns  — Eric Bledsoe‘s knee sprain could be the New Year’s blessing Leandro Barbosa was hoping for as he readies to sign a 10-day contract with the Phoenix Suns, according to a report from Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic. The Suns, who remain one of the surprise teams in the league this season, need the added depth in the backcourt and are turning to a familiar face in Barbosa:

Barbosa has not played in the NBA since Feb.11, 2013, when he suffered a season-ending knee injury while playing for Boston when Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough was the assistant GM there. Barbosa was part of a later trade to Washington but the torn ACL made him just a salary-slotting part of the Jordan Crawford deal while he was at home rehabilitating in Brazil.

After going unsigned this season, Barbosa began playing for Pinheiros in Brazil to try to get his body ready for a NBA opportunity. Barbosa averaged 20.8 points, 3.1 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals in eight games while making half of his 3-pointers.

Barbosa is expected to join the Suns in Chicago, where they begin a five-game road trip Tuesday and where Barbosa made a game-winning shot for the Suns in 2007. The 10-day contract is pending a physical. Barbosa was recently considered by the Lakers, who later signed ex-Suns point guard Kendall Marshall.

Barbosa played the first seven of his 10 NBA seasons with Phoenix, playing a key bench role for the winningest era in franchise history. Barbosa was the 2006-07 Sixth Man Award winner, when he averaged a career-high 18.1 points per game. He averaged at least 13 points for four consecutive Suns seasons and is a 39.1 percent career 3-point shooter.

Barbosa last played with the Suns in 2009-10, when he was bench teammates with current Suns starters Goran Dragic and Channing Frye.

NBA teams can begin signing free agents to 10-day contracts Monday. Signing Barbosa will put the Suns roster at the 15-man maximum.

***

No. 5:  Wade goes back-to-back, ready for the grind? — Dwyane Wade chose the first weekend of the New Year to test himself and his knees to see if he was ready for the grind of the remainder of this NBA regular season. Wade played on back-to-back nights for the first time this season, gauging his own progress from July shock-wave knee therapy, a process that Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel points out, is believed to take six months to recover from. The two-time defending champs can afford him all the time he needs (it’s easier to do with LeBron James and Chris Bosh healthy and rolling) but Wade is ready to push it now. The Heat, by the way, are 4-4 in games Wade has missed this season:

“I just want to be able to go,” he said of Sunday’s start. “I got a good workout in. It felt OK. There’s no guarantees. But there’s got to come a point where I feel comfortable with trying it. So I thought this would be a good time.” …

“It’s getting better,” he said. “I feel like it’s less sore now in the beginning of January than it was in the beginning of December.

“So, it’s all about continuing to progress. So hopefully it’s better as the months go on.”

He wound up playing 35 minutes in Sunday’s 102-97 victory, after playing 36 in Saturday’s victory over the Magic. He closed with 14 points, nine assists and four rebounds, making a pair of critical late free throws.

“He was competitive, particularly in that fourth quarter,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “His legs were live and he had to make some defensive plays at the end.”

Wade has missed eight games this season, seven as part of his knee maintenance program.

The last time Wade played both games of a back-to-back set was Nov. 15-16 against the visiting Dallas Mavericks and at the Charlotte Bobcats. He said he felt compelled to play in Charlotte because of the suspension of starting point guard Mario Chalmers due to a flagrant foul the night before. He scored just four points in that game in Charlotte.

Wade later said he regretted playing on those consecutive nights, sitting out the next two games, inactive for six days.


VIDEO: A career night for Reggie Jackson worked wonders for the Thunder

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kobe Bryant doesn’t want your All-Star votes, and get off his lawn while you’re at it … The Warriors did their best to break the scoreboard Sunday night … Russell Westbrook speaks about his three surgeries since last spring and where he goes from here … The Colts are following the Pacers’ postseason lead in Indianapolis … The Nuggets care, they really do!

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: J.R. Smith continues his weird ways with the New York Knicks, this time checking into the game and promptly going to work on Shawn Marion‘s shoelaces. At least the Knicks won this game without Smith’s antics interrupting their flow …


VIDEO: JR Smith unties Shawn Marion’s shoes at the free throw line