Tuesday, January 27, 2004
Don't buy Nets' selling job
By David Aldridge
Special to ESPN.com
Byron Scott deserved better than this.
I'm not saying he shouldn't have been fired. That's what happens to coaches. Fifty-one weeks ago, Bill Callahan was getting ready to coach the Raiders in Super XXXVII; now, he's studying three-deep charts in Lincoln. Grady Little was four outs away from delivering the Red Sox to the World Series. He got shown the door. Rick Carlisle; well, do we really need to go into Rick Carlisle?
But if it had to happen to Scott, it should have been last summer.
There has been a delicate dance around Exit 16W for the last few months, and that is to deny what was obvious to anyone with an ear and a brain: Jason Kidd and Scott did not see eye-to-eye about some things. And that meant, ultimately, that Scott would go. Whether it was last July, or August, or yesterday.
And to that, I say, fine.
See, I don't think it's this heinous crime if Kidd made his feelings about Scott known to management. Given what Kidd has done to save the Nets from oblivion, he's earned the right to speak his mind. And when you agree to give a guy $103 million, you more or less give him the run of the joint. Kidd isn't the first, second, or 583rd superstar to give the thumbs up or down to his boss. You think Tom Cruise signs a movie deal before signing off on who the director will be? You think Beyonce signs a record deal and doesn't have veto power on the producer? If Rod Thorn didn't solicit Kidd's opinion on the coach, he'd be derelict in his duties.
I am reminded of the scene from one of my favorite movies, "Quiz Show," which detailed the scandal involving the game show "Twenty One" in the late '50s. The show was rigged; the contestants were given the answers to the questions in advance by the show's producers. One contestant, Charles Van Doren, won tens of thousands of dollars. But the Feds got wind of it, leading to the confrontation between the young government lawyer, Richard Goodwin, and the head of the pharmaceutical company that was the show's biggest sponsor.
GOODWIN: The ratings went up if the same contestant came back week after week. There was only one way for that to happen. You had to know that.
That's how the real world works. But Thorn and the Nets' owners have spent the last few months doing as much as possible to distance Kidd from Scott's inevitable cashiering. According to them, they didn't discuss the coach with Kidd when negotiating Kidd's contract, they didn't discuss the coach with Kidd during the Olympic qualifying tournament, they didn't discuss the coach with Kidd during training camp and they didn't discuss the coach with Kidd during the team's rocky start. Even on Monday, Thorn said he hadn't spoken to Kidd in weeks.
Don't buy it.
Again, I think asking Kidd's opinion was the right thing to do. He wasn't some unproven teenager who hadn't accomplished anything, or an overpaid veteran living off long-ago performance. And it was obvious that Kidd wasn't the only one who found Scott wanting as a coach; no one with juice stepped up to offer him a contract extension after two straight Finals appearances. He was a Dead Man Walking the second he stepped out of Thorn's office last spring without a new deal. (This season, eyes rolled in the Nets' locker room when Scott stuck with Jason Collins time after time instead of going to Aaron Williams or Brian Scalabrine.) But no matter what, people were going to perceive that Kidd had something to do with it; even Kidd knows that, no matter the fact that he has been effusive in his praise of Scott's increased pregame work this season. (With two new assistants this season, Scott thought it logical that he handle more of the workload.) So why not take care of business when you had real alternatives?
SPONSOR: Young man. I sell over $14 million a year worth of Geritol. Geritol. That's the kind of businessman I am. That show "Twenty One?" Cost me three and a half million dollars, year in, year out. Sales went up 50 percent when Van Doren was on. Fifty percent. So the very idea that I was unaware of every detail or aspect of that show's operation -- well, frankly, it's very insulting.
GOODWIN: So, you knew.
SPONSOR: That's even more insulting.
GOODWIN: You had to know. That's what you just said.
SPONSOR: It's not about what I know. It's about what you know.
GOODWIN: You don't know what I know.
SPONSOR: You know that (producer) Dan Enright ran a crooked quiz show.
GOODWIN: But he never informed you?
SPONSOR: (smiles) Did he?
Nothing against Lawrence Frank, a bright young coach in the Jeff Van Gundy mode, but if the Nets had fired Scott right after the Finals, they would have had a shot at the actual Van Gundy! Not to mention Larry Brown, or Carlisle, or Paul Silas, or Mike Dunleavy. And, yes, for Eddie Jordan -- though I'm not as convinced as others that Jordan would have taken the gig. (How soon do you think the Gotham Media would have accused Jordan of knifing his boy Byron between the ribs?)
Thorn says the team just wasn't playing up to par this season, and that's certainly true. In the god-awful Atlantic, the Nets should be a zillion games ahead by now, not barely above .500. But isn't it possible that part of the reason was the players, not being stupid, knew that Scott was on his way out? At any rate, New Jersey had the same M.O. last season -- up and down through the regular season, then lights out in the postseason. They smoked Milwaukee, Boston and Detroit, and were minutes from a 3-2 lead against the Spurs in the Finals. Why not give this same group the same chance to catch fire this season?
(By the by, I don't think the sale of the team to Bruce Ratner's crew had much to do with this. I'm sure the new owners weren't looking to have an extra $20 mil or so on their price tag, but I'm equally sure that Scott wouldn't have asked for or been given the kind of coaching loot that the Browns and Van Gundys could demand. What are we talking about -- $6 million or so for two years? If Thorn thought Scott was worth it, he would have made that argument to the old Katz-Chambers ownership group, and that would have been that.)
Scott knew what was coming.
"I understand that this is a business," he told me earlier in the season, "and I understand that it's all about what have you done for me lately? My job this year is to go out and continue to win ballgames. ... I always leave decisions (about his future) up to my heavenly father. I don't really worry about it. It's all in God's hands if I'm here or not. I do know that Byron Scott will be coaching. I know that. I don't know if it's New Jersey or where else, but I do know that I'll be coaching."
I concur. Scott did too good a job under tough circumstances the last two years. He'll land softly somewhere -- in Miami, in L.A., in Portland, somewhere. And Kidd will be fine as soon as he posts another triple-double. No one will care if he had a central role or no role in Scott's ouster if the Nets get back to the Finals. But what if they don't? Who will get blamed then?
Just ask the Geritol guy.
|Jason Kidd, right, can't escape the belief that he got Byron Scott fired.|
David Aldridge, who covers the NBA for ESPN, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.