A team overlooked in its own town finally had the spotlight. Multiple All-Stars had joined forces to bring a title to Brooklyn. A Hall of Fame point guard with no previous coaching experience had led the Nets into a highly anticipated Eastern Conference semifinal battle.
The scene was similar seven years ago.
But whatever unfolds in the upcoming playoff series between the Nets and Bucks, it will be difficult to match the drama between the franchises after Jason Kidd’s first — and only — season as Nets head coach. It was then that Kidd attempted to usurp the authority of general manager Billy King and become president of basketball operations, only to be rejected by then-owner Mikhail Prokhorov and traded to the Bucks for a pair of second-round picks.
“There is a nice proverb in English: Don’t let the door hit you where the Good Lord has split you,” Prokhorov said in the aftermath. “We did what we thought was best.”
The saga feels like a lifetime ago — Giannis Antetokounmpo was a rookie, averaging 6.8 points for Milwaukee. Kyrie Irving hadn’t been to the playoffs in four years with the lowly Cavaliers. Joe Harris was graduating from Virginia — but five NBA head coaches from June 2014 still remain with the same team.
The Nets expected their former superstar to be part of that group. Kidd, then 40, was hired less than two weeks after ending his 19-year playing career, with the Knicks.
“He has the fire in the belly we need and has achieved as a player everything the Brooklyn Nets are striving to achieve,” Prokhorov said after signing Kidd to a four-year, $10.5 million deal on June 12, 2013. “We believe he will lead us there.”
Kidd’s ties to the franchise grew deeper once he returned to the team he had led from 2001-08. He bought a minority stake in the Nets and Barclays Center from Jay-Z in September 2013, then had his jersey retired in October.
The Nets were coming off their first playoff berth in six years and opted to sacrifice the future for the potential to win immediately in their new home, acquiring the aging Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry (to join Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez) from the Celtics for five players, three first-round picks and the rights to swap another first-round pick.
The Nets opened the season at 10-21 and ultimately finished sixth (44-38) in a weak Eastern Conference — collecting fewer wins than Avery Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo had combined for the season prior — before losing to the Heat in the second round of the playoffs.
Kidd — now a Lakers assistant — endured other troubles, too. Early that season, he served a two-game suspension for pleading guilty to a drunken driving charge. After requesting that Lawrence Frank be hired as the league’s highest-paid assistant, Kidd quickly found friction with his former coach and had Frank demoted, months into a six-year deal, to file daily scouting reports. Kidd was also fined $50,000 for intentionally spilling soda on the court to delay the end of a close game in which the Nets had no timeouts left.
Yet the rookie coach still had the gall to try and leapfrog King, who’d helped make the unusual hiring the year prior.
“This is business, and things happen,” King said then. “I don’t look at it as any personal affront to me. Whatever he felt he needed to do, he did. And when ownership did, they did.”
The relationship between Kidd and King was reportedly strained, with King allegedly suggesting a coaching change to ownership after the Nets’ slow start.
“I think once [the Nets] OK’d the talk to Milwaukee, that just showed … rumors or no rumors that they wanted to fire me in December had to have some legs,” Kidd said. “I think it really helped me to see what I was dealing with, what type of people I was dealing with.”
Following the 2013-14 season, the Nets permitted Kidd to speak with the Bucks, whose new co-owner, Marc Lasry, was Kidd’s former financial adviser. Milwaukee fired coach Larry Drew on June 30, 2014 after one season (he had been left in the dark during negotiations with Kidd) and signed the Kidd to a three-year, $15 million deal after dealing those two draft picks to the Nets.
“Over the past couple days, I’ve been asked: ‘Why Milwaukee?’ ” Kidd wrote in a letter to Bucks fans. “My answer is simple: there is no place I’d rather be.”
Kidd led a Bucks team coming off a franchise-worst 15 wins to 41 wins in his first season, and Milwaukee reached the playoffs in two of his first three years, but he was fired midway through a disappointing fourth season and is now a Lakers assistant.
The Bucks have won three straight division titles. The Nets are now the favorites to win it all.
It has worked out for all but one.