When Damian Lillard publicly endorsed Jason Kidd for the open Portland Trail Blazers head coaching job, it may have seemed to some like a foregone conclusion that the Lakers assistant would be hired for the gig. After all, NBA stars get what they want, right?
In #thisleague, though, things are never quite that simple. Instead, Kidd has withdrawn his name from consideration, and went on the record to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN about why he was doing so:
“Portland’s a first-class organization and will have great candidates for its head coaching job, but I’ve decided not to be one of them,” Kidd told ESPN. “Whoever they choose will have big shoes to fill from Terry (Stotts).”
Kidd was ultimately uncomfortable with the idea of pursuing the opening after Blazers star Damian Lillard publicly called for his hiring within hours of Stotts’ departure on Friday night. The public nature of Lillard’s endorsement — telling Yahoo Sports that “Jason Kidd is the guy I want” — left Kidd feeling he would put both Lillard and Portland’s process in an awkward circumstance should he pursue the opening.
Now, maybe that is the actual reason for the public withdrawal of a man who was so thirsty for a head coaching job that he was getting linked to the opening at UNLV in addition to basically every open NBA gig. But that doesn’t seem entirely likely. So let’s theorize a bit, and to be absolutely clear, this is not reporting. I’m just trying to read between the lines.
There are a multitude of other reasons Kidd could have decided to take his name out of the hat for the Blazers. For one, maybe he heard the Blazers weren’t interested, and did the old “you can’t fire me, I quit” maneuver. After all, he wasn’t on their initial list of candidates the team leaked to Woj in the aftermath of Terry Stotts’ firing, and subsequent reports made it seem like the team wanted Chauncey Billups, while Lillard was clearly pushing for Kidd.
Alternately, it’s possible that Kidd and the Blazers just wanted to avoid the predictable public backlash to his hiring in Portland. Kidd’s past includes pleading guilty to spousal abuse in 2001 and a DUI charge in 2012, charges the Lakers were criticized for ignoring in this space prior to hiring him as an assistant, and issues that reportedly played a role in him only being named an assistant coach. That anonymous moralizing from the team rings somewhat hollow when the Lakers made Kidd the highest-paid assistant in the league and one they valued highly enough to essentially force onto prospective head coaching candidates’ staffs, but I digress.
Kidd’s past is something our sister site, Blazers Edge — the biggest Blazers fansite — had already went all out in scrutinizing and judging the team for overlooking when hiring for such a public-facing leadership position. Maybe the team and Kidd just knew there was no way to sell him to Portland, and decided to save themselves from having their past and present decision-making so heavily spotlighted.
There is also the possibility that Lillard — who it’s pretty clear at this point has a strong relationship with his fellow point guard from Oakland — told Kidd that he’s out on the Blazers, or that Kidd heard some other way that Portland is headed for a rebuild. If his third head coaching job went as poorly as his coup and dysfunction-filled first two during which he went below .500 overall, it’s unlikely he’d ever get another shot, so signing up for a team about to enter a full teardown may have been unpalatable, if that’s what Kidd thinks is on the table.
There is also at least one more option: Kidd has a history of power grabs, from his failed coup attempt with the Nets that led to his exit in Brooklyn, to his taking the Milwaukee Bucks job out from under then-head coach Larry Drew. This history was something that current Lakers head coach Frank Vogel says he and Kidd have joked about in the past, but could be coming into play now.
Because isn’t the best reason for Kidd to turn down a head coaching job — something he’s been openly pining for in interviews — that he thinks he has a better option on the horizon? And what job would allow him to clear the previous bar better than taking over a Lakers team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis that just lost an injury-riddled first-round series and seems clearly positioned to have serious upside?
Again, there is no noise or serious reporting about this yet. There was a report a few weeks ago that the Lakers planned to extend Vogel this summer as he enters the final year of his original three-year deal, and general manager Rob Pelinka called Vogel “a strong part” of the team’s future at exit interviews as Vogel said he wanted to be “a Laker for life” while saying Kidd had been “wonderful” to work with.
“Jason has become one of my closest friends, really a trusted advisor on my coaching staff and someone that has just been integral to our success over the last two years. He should be at the top of everybody’s list that has an opening in the NBA,” Vogel said on Friday.
And maybe everyone is telling the truth. We have to give all parties the benefit of the doubt here. Maybe Kidd really just didn’t want to put Lillard in an awkward position, and maybe Pelinka and Vogel really have grown close and want to continue to work together. Sometimes, rarely, occasionally, NBA people are just honest in interviews with no other motivations.
But reading between the lines while watching all of this play out, it was hard not to think back to something Stephen A. Smith of ESPN said the day Vogel was hired:
“If there is even a modicum of success that he (Vogel) does not have, Jason Kidd is in line to be the next head coach. He’s already on your bench, obviously he can maturate himself to the situation, and that’s the coach they wanted all along. Kurt Rambis wanted him as coach. Jeanie Buss and the rest of the staff, they wanted him as coach. They knew they couldn’t sell him to the public, but for right now, Frank Vogel is the safe pick, with Jason Kidd on his bench. And you can expect Jason Kidd to be the next head coach for the Los Angeles Lakers within two years.”
It’s now been two years, and it’s fair to say there was a modicum of success that the Lakers did not have this season. Now, there were other factors in that failure that go far beyond Vogel, but even if one did want to replace him a year after winning the title, with both of Kidd’s previous teams competing in an Eastern Conference semifinals series that could double as the true NBA Finals, it’s fair to wonder if Kidd would be anywhere close to the right person to replace Vogel.
Over the weeks and months to come, we’ll see how the Lakers and Kidd really feel, one way or the other.