It’s Been A Strange Offseason for the Nets

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Since moving to Brooklyn from New Jersey, the Nets have been an on-court success: they won 49 games in their first season at the Barclays Center, and 44 the next, making the playoffs both years. A cavalcade of high-profile trades and free agent signings, while ludicrously expensive, have by-and-large worked out. (For now–the team is going to be an expensive, bloated mess in about two years). After a slow start to the 2013-14 season, the Nets finished the year strong, and advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in seven years. They even made a little history, signing the first openly gay player in the NBA. They’ve been a model of growth and consistency, on the court. Off it, though, it’s a different story.

The trouble began before the Modell’s on Flatbush was stocked with black and grey Nets merchandise. The location and development of the Barclays Center/Atlantic Yards project has been rife with controversy for years, as journalist Norman Oder has chronicled, in painstaking detail, on his watchdog blog, the Atlantic Yards Report.

Despite the fact that the value of the Nets doubled from 2012 to 2014, the franchise still lost a projected $144 million last season alone, per a confidential memo Grantland got its hands on this week.  The memo accounts for basketball activities only; so, for example, any Barclays-related revenue or payouts from the local TV deal are not tallied. But still: that’s almost three times as much money as the other twenty-nine teams lost combined.

The Nets have also ridden the coaching carousel since moving to Brooklyn. The first coach of the Brooklyn Nets, Avery Johnson, was fired less than two months into the team’s inaugural season in the borough. His replacement, P.J. Carlesimo, never shed his interim title. He was replaced last offseason by future hall-of-fame player Jason Kidd, freshly-retired from bricking three-pointers for the crosstown Knicks.

Kidd was a genius basketball player and a substandard human being. Throughout the course of his career, he famously clashed behind-the-scenes with teammates and coaches, backroom intrigues that left Kidd with blood on his hands, and his opponents in career ambition with knives in their backs. He also pleaded guilty to a domestic abuse charge for assaulting his wife in 2001, and was arrested in 2012 for driving while intoxicated.

So it wasn’t the century’s biggest shocker when Kidd, sensing a better opportunity elsewhere, Machiavelli’ed his way out of Brooklyn this week. It started with a classic power-move: after last season ended, Kidd reportedly went to upper management and asked to control all player personnel decisions, a job normally the province of a team’s general manager, and a laughably transparent power grab for an unproven coach who’d just come off a rocky rookie season.

The Nets said no, and Kidd’s agent asked for permission to speak with the Milwaukee Bucks about Kidd moving there. In retrospect, it seems clear that discussion between Kidd and the Bucks were already well underway–Kidd had a prior relationship with front-office management in Milwaukee, and in short order, he became the coach of the Bucks. Milwaukee sent two draft picks to Brooklyn to compensate for Kidd’s about-face. The (now-former) Bucks coach, Larry Drew, was bodied out the door after only one season on the job.

Kidd actually won’t have control of all basketball operations in Milwaukee–the team’s general manager, John Hammond, is still employed (for now)–so the move seems like a lateral one, albeit with a pay raise. Don’t be surprised, though, if in the next year or two, Kidd is running the show in Milwaukee.

As for our woebegone hometown team: they didn’t dally in hiring Kidd’s replacement, bringing in former Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins on a four-year, $20 million deal. Nets G.M. Billy King–the man Kidd had tried to usurp–told ESPN that the front office was “looking for experience, someone we’ll build with for a long time.” In other words, everything Jason Kidd was not.

Follow Phillip Pantuso on Twitter @phillippantuso.

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