Right now, Jason Kidd is tossing a TV off a hotel balcony. He’s setting fire to his room and driving his car into the pool.
The former Brooklyn Nets coach reportedly began his rampage by asking the Nets for a position in the front office above current general manager Billy King. Keep in mind this is a coach – regardless of his heralded playing career – with just a year of mixed success under his belt. Brooklyn struggled early before righting the ship and finishing 44-38, good for the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference and a competitive showing against the Miami Heat in the Conference Semifinals.
Not surprisingly, Kidd was rebuffed by Nets ownership. So he leveraged his unease with his current position into talks with the Milwaukee Bucks. Once an agreement was reached for Milwaukee to send two second-round draft picks to Brooklyn, Kidd was theirs at the expense of current head coach Larry Drew, who still had two years left on his contract.
If you feel like this is wanton and reckless, that it cuts deeply against the grain of convention and standard operating procedures for both front offices and coaches, you’re totally right – although it’s not unheard of either.
Pat Riley made a similar move with the Knicks in 1995, paving his way to Miami as coach, along with a 10 percent ownership stake and control over personnel. But the most immediate precedent for Kidd’s demands is the recent trend toward consolidating the power of the coach and the GM into one individual.
Gregg Popovich has (sort of informally) had this power in San Antonio for a while, but Doc Rivers was given a dual role with the Los Angeles Clippers last year and this offseason, similar deals were given to Stan Van Gundy in Detroit and Flip Saunders in Minnesota. But in all these cases, the individuals in question have years of coaching experience and proven – except Saunders, of course – track records of postseason success.
It’s hard to say for sure, but it’s possible this wave of coach/GM hires is a reaction to the rise of analytically minded GMs like Daryl Morey in Houston and Sam Hinkie in Philadelphia. There’s still resistance to analytics, of course, making these hybrid positions a throwback to the old-school kind of power wielded by Red Auerbach as coach and de facto GM of the Boston Celtics in the ’50s and ’60s.
But Kidd’s maneuverings are a throwback to a different kind of powermonger entirely: the rock manager of the 1960s.
Befitting the bands they worked with, managers like the Rolling Stones’ Andrew Loog Oldham and Led Zeppelin’s Peter Grant didn’t play nice with entrenched power structures. Oldham cultivated the Stones’ gritty, anti-authoritarian image and – despite having no actual experience with music production – produced all the Stones’ albums between 1963 and 1967 (“produced,” of course, being a relative term). He looked and dressed the part of the rocker as well, a far cry from the buttoned-down A&R men that shepherded pop bands through their careers in the ’50s.
The bullish Grant fought against the prevailing singles culture to foster Led Zeppelin’s – and an entire era’s – focus on albums, and eschewed TV appearances in favor of tours. He also won the band a reported 90 percent of gate revenue at concerts, and made it his personal mission to eliminate bootlegging of live shows. Protect the bottom line, by any means necessary.
Their approaches were decidedly different, but what Grant and Oldham shared was an unerring initiative and willingness to buck the system to achieve what they wanted, even if the difference between selfish gain and service to their clients was often hard to grasp.
On the other hand, the intentions of managers like Michael Jeffery were clear. Jeffery managed Jimi Hendrix in an often slipshod and shady manner, including allegations that he skimmed money off of Hendrix while he was alive and then cashed in on his legacy by cobbling together posthumous releases after his death. There are some who even believe he may contributed to that death in order to grab the guitarist’s life insurance.
Kidd has shown a maverick, rock manager’s distaste for tradition (like not actively pursuing another head coach’s gig while it’s still occupied) but is he more Grant or Jeffery? Kidd’s 2001 domestic abuse case and his arrest for driving while intoxicated in 2012, and the often-surreal bumpiness in his lone year with the Nets – pressing hard for Brooklyn to hire Lawrence Frank as an assistant and then demoting him to providing “reports” for the team, getting Tyshawn Taylor to hit him so he could spill a drink and get an extra timeout – don’t speak well to his moral fiber.
But the Nets did finish the season on a 34-17 run and upset the higher-seeded Toronto Raptors before falling to the Heat in the playoffs. And by most accounts Kidd earned the trust and respect of a team stacked with veterans not much younger than himself. In other words, he did his job, and did it reasonably well…and that’s what matters.
In their day, dealing with an upstart manager like Oldham or Grant could be a royal pain in the ass for executives or promoters used to doing things the old fashioned way, but history has vindicated many, if not all, of their unconventional approaches to the business. Time will have to tell if Kidd’s tempestuous path through his second career is worth more than the bad blood it’s already created.