Jason Kidd did some work Thursday, a personal day for his Brooklyn Nets, when he assumed the role of Phil Jackson and Pat Riley and every other playoff coach who pounces on the fact that refs are human, too, and more willing to please after being rebuked before millions of onlookers.
Kidd was even naming names on his conference call with reporters, claiming that ref Tom Washington missed an obvious Toronto foul on Shaun Livingston in the wild and crazy climax to Game 5, and acting as if Washington impacted the result more than Joey Crawford did in Oklahoma City when he ripped the ball out of Kevin Durant's hands.
It was a smart move from a rookie head coach, smarter than his decision to leave Paul Pierce on his bench after the Nets staged their stunning rally Wednesday night to tie the Raptors. Kidd went on about Toronto's alleged flopping, and how his guys, especially Joe Johnson, wouldn't reduce themselves to such low-rent tactics unless, of course, the officials forced them to in Game 6.
Only here's the thing, no matter how the refs react Friday night in the Barclays Center: If the Nets lose this series, Jason Kidd will be the face of the biggest flop of all.
Deron Williams will be right there with him, since all he's done is help notarize the Knicks' breathless pursuit of Carmelo Anthony three years back. Williams was the Nets' consolation prize in the Melo chase, and one who hasn't provided much in the way of consolation.
But Kidd was the biggest gamble the Nets made, the one Hall of Fame-bound recruit meant to be in place long after the other two (Pierce and Kevin Garnett) are gone. He'd just come out of the Knicks' rotation. Mikhail Prokhorov wanted him, and Billy King eventually went along in large part because everyone believed Kidd would get the best out of Williams, his fellow point guard, and would make Brooklyn a desired destination for available stars around the league the likes of Pierce and Garnett, who combined to play as many minutes as Kidd did in the fourth quarter of Game 5.
Kidd hasn't coached Williams back to being a credible franchise player, and maybe nobody can. A max-out star who seems to run away from max-out responsibilities, Williams doesn't have the competitive soul Kidd had when he took a 26-win Nets team to back-to-back trips to the Finals, and that's a problem when matched against an opponent with Kyle Lowry's motor.
Pierce and Garnett? Though an argument can be made that Kidd did right by benching both in favor of the lesser lights responsible for the Nets' comeback in Toronto, they arrived in the Boston trade as veteran leaders and winners who would ease Kidd's transition to the bench and scare the daylights out of their old friends from Miami in the playoffs. They weren't meant to be endgame cheerleaders on a team threatening to lose to DeMar DeRozan before ever getting to Miami.
"This is about the Brooklyn Nets," Kidd said. "It's not about two guys."
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.