It's really about one guy now, Kidd, who came out of nowhere to win this job. Brooklyn had wanted to make a strong bid for Doc Rivers, who reminded everyone why this week by showing more leadership in the Donald Sterling case than all NBA elders combined. The Boston Celtics blocked that bid, and soon enough Kidd was the beneficiary of a staggering Prokhorov investment, the $200 million gamble on a roster the owner thought gave him a shot to meet his stated goal (in 2010) of winning a championship within five years.
Kidd didn't exactly roar out of the gate. He immediately fired his friend and former coach, Lawrence Frank, and it didn't much matter if Frank was an out-of-control control freak who had it coming to him. Fifteen minutes into his new career, rather than work the problem, Kidd failed at managing a critical relationship and quit on it.
It looked like his team was ready to quit on him, too, after Kidd finished 2013 with a 10-21 record stained by his D-League soda-spilling stunt. Yet he grew some on the job, yes he did. Kidd survived the loss of Brook Lopez, developed Mason Plumlee, and made a better player out of Shaun Livingston. He went from bum of the month to two-time Coach of the Month in the Eastern Conference, becoming the first Nets coach to win that award twice in the same year.
But his predecessor, P.J. Carlesimo, pushed the Nets to 49 victories and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs without the know-how of Pierce and Garnett and, following a Game 7 loss to Chicago, management didn't blink before firing him. Kidd finished with only 44 victories, failed to secure the home court as a 6-seed, and now faces the prospect of losing to a franchise that has won one playoff series in its 18-year history. That's not what the boss had in mind.
"I wish we had this group last year," one member of the Nets family said Thursday, "because I think this group would've beaten the Bulls. Last year was about us not having enough heart, and it's different this year. Toronto is a really good team, a better team than Chicago. People think we tanked at the end of the regular season to get this matchup, and it's a lame argument. We knew the Raptors were this good."
The Nets were still supposed to be better, tougher, smarter down the stretch, and it hasn't worked out that way. As much as Toronto tried to hand over Game 5 and a 3-2 series lead, Andray Blatche made the silliest play of all while those playoff-hardened wise men, Pierce and Garnett, weren't deemed worthy by their coach of being on the floor.
Kidd has no choice but to make this right in Game 6, and again in Game 7, because his old Brooklyn Nets aren't the Brooklyn Dodgers of old. They won't be saying, "Wait 'til next year," in the borough of churches, because there is no next year for this group.
The coach understands these terms of engagement, too. No matter how the refs call fouls Friday night, a loss to the Raptors would leave Jason Kidd as the biggest flopper of all.