Brad Stevens’s first crucial task in his new gig is to hire his successor as Celtics coach.
That’s a compelling enough challenge even before one realizes that if Stevens gets the hire right, his choice will make the new Celtics president of basketball operations look savvy as an executive but wholly unmissed on the bench.
I suspect Stevens, whose ego has never once been on prominent display during his eight seasons in Boston, could live with that — just as long as he makes the right choice for what the Celtics need right now.
Not much has trickled out so far about the potential candidates, but there seem to be multiple appealing options. Sam Cassell, a Doc Rivers assistant with the 76ers and a member of the Celtics’ 2008 champions, is worthy of serious consideration. So is Michigan’s Juwan Howard, an experienced NBA assistant whose high standing in the college game reminds me a little of Stevens’s time at Butler.
Former Celtics assistant Kara Lawson, now the Duke women’s coach, would be a spectacular candidate if interested. Longtime Spurs assistant Becky Hammon is due (if not overdue) for a head coaching job, though perhaps she is poised to be Gregg Popovich’s eventual successor in San Antonio.
Jay Larranaga and Jerome Allen, holdovers from Stevens’s staff, both are worth an interview. As frustrating as this past season was, continuity may not be as bad an option as it’s made out to be, though at least Cassell and Lawson should be a good distance ahead of them as preferred candidates.
There’s only one name floating around the fringes of the NBA rumor mill that makes no sense whatsoever, for basketball reasons, for culture reasons, and especially for image reasons.
Let’s put it this way: If Stevens hires Jason Kidd, my esteem for him would plunge like Kemba Walker’s trade value.
In the hours after the stunning news broke a week ago that Danny Ainge was retiring after 18 seasons in the Celtics front office and that Stevens would assume his duties, Chris Haynes, a Yahoo! Sports NBA reporter, tweeted that Kidd and former Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce “are expected” to be candidates to fill the Celtics vacancy.
Haynes is a plugged-in reporter who sometimes offers up morsels of breaking news, no easy job when Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania are out there dueling for scoops. But I have to admit — and perhaps it’s not fair — that I immediately dismissed the Kidd aspect as a whisper from a source with an agenda rather than a real possibility.
There’s no way the Celtics would hire him, right? Kidd was a truly brilliant player, a 10-time All-Star and Hall of Famer who, even at age 48, probably would have been the best playmaker on the Celtics this season.
But his on-court genius does not translate to the sideline. He was 44-38 in one season with the Brooklyn Nets — the 2013-14 team that featured Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Joe Johnson after the blockbuster trade with the Celtics. That group started that season 9-19.
After losing a power struggle with general manager Billy King, he began talking to the Milwaukee Bucks about their coaching job and was sent there before the 2014-15 season for a pair of second-round picks. Kidd had his moments with the Bucks — Giannis Antentokounmpo developed on his watch — but he was fired midway through his fourth season.
His record in Milwaukee was 139-152, with two first-round playoff losses. He has spent the past two seasons as an assistant to Frank Vogel and LeBron James with the Lakers.
There’s evidence that he’s not a good head coach. There’s much more evidence that he’s not a good guy. Some of the anecdotes are minor when they stand alone: A feud with teammate Jimmy Jackson that broke up a promising Dallas Mavericks team in the early ’90s. Berating coach Byron Scott in front of the team while he was a player for the Nets in 2004. Going “on strike” with a migraine headache in 2007 to force a trade from the Nets to the Mavs. Reneging on a verbal agreement with the Mavericks to join the Knicks in 2012. Negotiating for the Bucks coaching job while he was still with the Nets and the Bucks had a coach under contract.
(I’m leaving out the infamous “Sodagate” incident, when in 2013 he told one of his Nets players to run into him deliberately to spill a beverage. The soda spilled, and a break in the action was necessary to clean it up, allowing Kidd and the Nets a de facto timeout even though he didn’t have any left. Credit where credit is due: If Red Auerbach had done that, it would be called gamesmanship.)
Add up those incidents, and there should be at least some pause as to whether that’s someone an organization should want influencing Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and the Celtics’ other young players. It’s worth remembering that Kidd’s coaching debut with the Nets in 2013 was delayed by two games because he was suspended after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor drunk-driving charge that summer.
And that’s not the worst of it. Not even close. While playing for the Nets in January 2001, Kidd was arrested for punching his then-wife Joumana in the mouth. He pleaded guilty to spousal abuse, was fined $200, and had to take anger management classes.
Kidd filed for divorce in 2007, accusing his wife of domestic violence. She countered by claiming he began abusing her before they were married, assaulted her while she was pregnant, kicked her in the stomach causing blood in her urine, and had hit her with multiple objects through the years, including a rock and a cookie.
None of these horrible details should come as revelations to Celtics fans, who serenaded Kidd with chants about his arrest during the 2002 Eastern Conference finals. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to Celtics management, either, even though the organization was under different ownership then.
Brutal details on his history are not hard to find. And even if he’s a better man now, 20 years after that arrest, why would Stevens, who has championed female coaches and recognizes that a bright coach is a bright coach regardless of gender or identity, even consider being involved with Kidd?
I’m still skeptical that they actually are interested. But it does seem more possible now than it did a week ago. Blazers superstar Damian Lillard recently said he hopes either Kidd or Chauncey Billups (who has significant baggage of his own after settling a lawsuit accusing him, teammate Ron Mercer, and another man of rape while Billups was a rookie with the Celtics in 1997) will be the replacement for Terry Stotts, who parted ways with the organization after the first-round loss to the Nuggets.
Kidd almost immediately withdrew his name from consideration in Portland, which seemed odd. Does that mean he has another job in mind? Presuming the Bucks don’t fire Mike Budenholzer before their series with the Nets is over, the only other vacancies are in Orlando, which just opened up Monday … and Boston.
I’ll reiterate: I can’t imagine the Celtics would hire Kidd, even if they think it might help facilitate a trade for Lillard or something wild like that. But I’ll exhale about it when the Celtics get around to bringing in outside candidates for interviews and he’s not among them. There are better candidates than Kidd, and many more better people.