Loyalty in professional sports is a fungible concept. It's more like a quaint buzzword, a marketing term, a cliche pandering to fans' belief in a bond that doesn't exist.
Players are not truly loyal to the teams and city names on their jerseys. Nor are those teams truly loyal to the players they employ. Either party will happily dump the other the moment the relationship goes sour, or a better opportunity comes along.
Thus, the well-worn mantra, invoked daily by players and team executives alike: "It's a business."
Relationships are forged. Relationships are broken. Everyone moves on, their fealty transferred as easily as their 401k's.
Yet if the bar for principled behavior is admittedly low, Jason Kidd just dropped it another 50 notches. And set it on fire.
Loyalty? Respect? Dignity? Compassion? Kidd just trampled every notion of professional decency with his brazen power play in Brooklyn and his clumsy escape to Milwaukee.
Kidd will soon be introduced as the Bucks' new head coach—a position that was still occupied by Larry Drew until Kidd lobbied his way into the job over the weekend. Kidd seized the job after being denied full control of the Nets' basketball operations —a demand he made last week, while working to undermine Brooklyn's front office.
So, a quick tally of everyone Kidd has either betrayed, alienated, usurped or attempted to overthrow in a matter of days:
- Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who entrusted Kidd with a $190 million roster, despite Kidd's lack of coaching experience.
- Nets general manager Billy King, who strenuously defended Kidd, publicly and privately, throughout the Nets' struggles early last season.
- Bucks general manager John Hammond, who would have lost his authority had Kidd been granted the dual president-coach role he initially sought from Milwaukee ownership, according to league sources.
- The Bucks' coaching staff.
- The Nets' coaching staff, which has been left in the lurch for days while Kidd, who hired them all, plotted his escape.
- Nets fans, who worshipped Kidd as a star point guard a decade ago, and warmly embraced his return as coach last summer, only to see him flee after one season.
Sources in Brooklyn remain convinced that Kidd will eventually be named team president in Milwaukee, endangering the security of Hammond and his top deputy, David Morway.
What's motivating Kidd? What made him feel entitled, after one season on the bench, to run a franchise? Why did he rush headlong down this path, without regard for anyone in either organization? And why in the world would he trade a star-laden playoff team in the nation's largest market for a rehabilitation project in the NBA's 24th-largest market?
Why do this at all?
"That's the million-dollar question," said one Nets source.
Answers will be hard to come by, even once Kidd is introduced in Milwaukee and starts talking again. Kidd has never been a particularly forthcoming or reflective soul. In interviews, he speaks with a strange, almost-pathological detachment and a thousand-yard stare that conveys neither empathy nor interest.
We do know this: emotional detachment and betrayal are as much a part of Kidd's career as his pinpoint passing.
Kidd has been torching relationships and torpedoing coaches from the moment he arrived in the NBA. He clashed with Jim Cleamons in Dallas. He cursed out Scott Skiles in Phoenix. He led the insurrection against Byron Scott in New Jersey. He ultimately quit on the Nets, then forced a trade back to Dallas, where he clashed with Avery Johnson.
A year after winning a title with the Mavericks, Kidd bolted for the Knicks, breaking his verbal agreement to re-sign in Dallas. For that betrayal, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban vowed he would never retire Kidd's jersey.
This is Kidd's legacy, as much as his 12,091 assists and his 10 All-Star selections.
The Nets should have seen this coming, and probably did. The relationship between Kidd and the front office began fraying last December, according to team sources, after the Nets slumped through the first six weeks of the season. King and Kidd had a "big blowout" following a 103-86 loss to Indiana on Dec. 23, according to one source, which "set the wheels in motion" on an eventual divorce.
Kidd began lobbying Nets ownership to make a change in the front office at that time, according to team sources, but was rebuffed. But King never advocated removing Kidd, preferring to let the season play out first.
King had no personal investment in Kidd's success. It was Prokhorov and his top deputy Dmitry Razumov, who chose Kidd over Brian Shaw (who would have been the front office's choice).
Still, King and other team officials supported Kidd to the hilt—giving his top assistant, Lawrence Frank, a record $1 million-a-year deal, then backing Kidd when he decided to remove Frank from the bench after the two clashed. King stuck with Kidd through "sodagate" and through a 10-21 start to the season.
This was not mere public relations. King was just as supportive of Kidd in private conversations. When I quoted an anonymous scout questioning Kidd's coaching acumen last December, King responded with a flurry of texts skewering the scout's observations. And when the Nets turned their season around, King took every opportunity to needle me over that column.
It's hard to say who looks worse in this sordid saga—Kidd, for his callousness and his blind ambition, or the Bucks' new owners, for foolishly tying their team's fate to a still-unproven coach known more for burning bridges than building foundations.
Milwaukee fans have responded with predictable distaste, with more than two-thirds of respondents disapproving of the Kidd hire in a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel poll. That's a bad sign for the Bucks owners, who already face an uphill battle selling seats and convincing voters to back a new arena.
Sources say Kidd will earn $4 million to $5 million in his new deal, which will cover at least three years (but will not, incidentally, grant him authority over personnel). The Bucks are also sending the Nets two second-round picks (in 2015 and '19) as compensation for letting Kidd leave.
Kidd will inherit a 15-win team, albeit one with a promising rookie in Jabari Parker and an intriguing prospect in Giannis Antetokounmpo. Expectations will be lower, but so too will the talent level and the resources. How capable a coach is Kidd, without the benefit of a star-studded lineup? We'll know soon.
The Nets emerge from this saga scarred, but arguably better off. They have zeroed in on Lionel Hollins as the top candidate to succeed Kidd, according to sources, so the roster will likely be in proven hands. The extra second-round picks could be helpful. The lineup is old in places, but still powerful enough to make some noise in the East.
The real loser in this transaction is Kidd, who exposed himself once more as a ruthless opportunist, squandering all of the good will he built up last season, and over his glorious run with the Nets a decade ago.
The Nets raised Kidd's No. 5 jersey to the rafters last October, and there it will stay, a testament to those two Finals runs and his playmaking brilliance. But Kidd himself will never hold that lofty status again.
Howard Beck covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @HowardBeck.
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