- Mike Mazzeo, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW YORK -- Let's play the "What if?" game.
Today's question: What if Jason Kidd had stayed in Brooklyn?
Kidd is thriving in his first season as head coach of the upstart Milwaukee Bucks. He's quickly instilled a winning culture in Milwaukee, and the young Bucks are poised to make the playoffs -- assuming they can hang on to one of the bottom three spots in the East -- after accumulating just 15 victories a year ago.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker (torn ACL), Khris Middleton and recent acquisition Michael Carter-Williams all possess All-Star potential. A boatload of cap space and plenty of first-round picks -- including two in 2017 -- only bolster the franchise's bright outlook going forward.
“I think it’s just being patient,” Kidd told reporters Friday night in Brooklyn before his team's triple-overtime loss 129-127. “Understanding that we’re in a process of building a team with a group of young men. I had a veteran ball club last year that understood what it took to win, and they showed that by getting to the second round.
“So this is a young group that hasn’t been there as a team, but we played the San Antonio Spurs the other night, and they’ve played over 500 games I think -- some of those guys. So it takes time, I think. It’s a process. And there’s no better time than right now for us learning as a group what it takes to be successful in this league.”
Kidd probably won’t win coach of the year. Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer and Golden State’s Steve Kerr appear the clear-cut favorites to battle for that honor. But given all the injuries his team has had to overcome, Kidd has certainly put himself in the conversation. The Bucks are 4-11 since trading for Carter-Williams, though they have been playing better of late.
All that being said: What would’ve happened if Kidd had never made his failed power play for control over player personnel and been traded to the Bucks in exchange for a pair of second-round picks?
And remember, there are only two ways that wouldn’t have happened: (1) If Milwaukee had never been in the picture in the first place, or (2) Kidd had received the dual general manager-coach role he coveted.
1. If Milwaukee was never in the picture, Kidd would’ve had to make peace with Nets GM Billy King. Kidd has said that King wanted him fired in December 2013, when the Nets got off to a slow start in Kidd’s first season as head coach. The Nets ultimately righted the ship, though, utilizing a small-ball lineup with great success after Brook Lopez got hurt.
“Did I want to be traded?” Kidd said prior to his first game back in Brooklyn in November 2014. “I think once [the Nets] OK’d the talk to Milwaukee, that just showed, whatever you want to call it, rumors or no rumors that they wanted to fire me in December had to have some legs.” King has vehemently denied this. Regardless, it’s very possible that if the Nets had gotten off to another slow start in 2014-15, King might have tried to replace Kidd.
If Kidd were in the GM role, as well, he could’ve decided to go in another direction in the offseason. Getting younger and more athletic was certainly a priority of his. Several personnel decisions might have been handled differently. Kidd also would’ve been the face of the franchise -- his reputation never tarnished -- though a lot of that was self-inflicted given the way he left.
2. Kidd would’ve had to figure out how to properly utilize Lopez. The Nets struggled with Lopez in the lineup under Kidd before he got hurt. He’s a dominant scorer in the half court but has a tendency to hold on to the ball. As a result, the offense can stagnate. Maybe the two could’ve made it work. Maybe Lopez would’ve come off the bench. After all, Kidd came to trust Mason Plumlee, and it stands to reason that Plumlee would’ve received a lot of minutes. Or maybe Kidd would’ve hoped to trade Lopez for a player who better fit his one-in, four-out system.
3. The Nets would’ve known Kidd’s system at the beginning of the season and probably wouldn’t have gotten off to another slow start as a result. Lionel Hollins is their fourth coach in three seasons. Obviously, it’s tough on players having to learn new system after new system. If Kidd were still in the fold, players would’ve known what to expect. Kidd was also a players’ coach, a direct contrast to the no-nonsense, old-school Hollins. Hollins had to deal with some early-season strife between himself and his players. The Nets still aren’t playing consistent basketball for 48 minutes either.
4. Kidd would’ve had to overcome the loss of Shaun Livingston, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, too -- assuming they all left. That would’ve been extremely difficult. All three players were integral in Brooklyn’s turnaround under Kidd. So much leadership and toughness would’ve been lost. But Thaddeus Young seems like the type of player who would’ve thrived under Kidd, who probably would’ve gotten the most out of the 26-year-old’s youth, athleticism and versatility.
Ultimately, it’s hard to say how things would’ve played out differently. But with Kidd enjoying so much success in Milwaukee, it’s easy to wonder.
“We haven’t done anything yet. ... We’re just at the starting line,” Kidd said of the Bucks. “And, hopefully, we can end this marathon with a trophy at the end.”