Remember Jason Kidd as the slick-passing franchise icon who took your team to two consecutive Finals, Nets fans, and cheer him. Or, remember him as the rotten scoundrel who tried to pull off a power play five months ago and instead got himself exiled to Milwaukee, and boo him.
Either way, Jason Kidd might have the last laugh.
Kidd returns to Brooklyn Wednesday to send his 6-5 Bucks into battle against his old team, which is enduring an ugly 4-6 start during Lionel Hollins’ first season as head coach.
Kidd gets no medals here for his attempt in June to seize Nets’ GM Billy King’s powers. He overstepped his bounds and got what he asked for -- a one-way ticket to the NBA’s Palookaville, when the Nets did the right thing and rebuffed his demand for more power.
So off he went to Milwaukee, where close friend Marc Lasry is a co-owner, for a couple of second-round draft picks to coach a rebuilding team. No stranger to bad endings during his Hall of Fame playing career, Kidd has his team in a better place now than the Nets, albeit in a job where the expectations are far lower than they are in Barclays Center.
So this isn’t to say that the Bucks are going to parlay their surprisingly strong start -- they’re the only team so far to defeat West-leading, 10-1 Memphis -- into a playoff berth this spring. Besides having three players players who are only 19 years old, Kidd’s got a few gaping holes in his roster. It’s early, but at this stage, fresh off a win over the Knicks on Tuesday, the Bucks’ arrow is pointing up, while the Nets’ arrow is pointed down.
Kidd has every right to be optimistic that he’s got a team with a bright future, with two potential building blocks in Giannis Antetokounmpo and 2014 top pick Jabari Parker, two of the three players under 20.
Meanwhile, the Nets are built to win now. Only they’re sputtering badly and don’t look like they’ll be able to compete against the East’s elite, starting with Chicago and Cleveland, and even Toronto, leaders of the Atlantic Division.
Kidd says he’s not “losing sleep’’ over his critics and what happened with the Nets and isn’t keeping up with their latest drama, which, typically, is lost in New York, with the Knicks’ own struggles adapting to Derek Fisher’s version of the triangle offense dominating the basketball talk.
But make no mistake, when the Nets take their four-game losing streak into their first game against Kidd, they’ll be facing major issues. The Cliff’s Notes version:
• Joe Johnson, who hasn’t said a disparaging word about anyone during his 14-year NBA career, called out his teammates for being selfish -- as they were winning four of their first six games. Since going public with his comments, which appeared to be directed at Deron Williams, the Nets have lost to the Suns, Warriors, Trail Blazers and Heat, often looking as selfish as Johnson observed.
• Finally healthy and lighter, Williams has been trying to salvage what was once an All-Star caliber career. But as well as he has played, at times, it hasn’t been easy. He pointed to the Nets’ revolving door of coaches, with Hollins following Kidd, P.J. Carlesimo and Avery Johnson since 2011. There is something to be said for having stability in the front office and on the sidelines. The best teams, starting with the defending champion Spurs, always have a plan, stick with it and stay with their top people.
Kidd, of course, is partly responsible for the recent upheaval on the bench. After helping the Nets get to the second round of the playoffs last season, he forced ownership’s hand by trying to get rid of King, who wanted Kidd fired last season when it looked like the Hall of Fame playmaker was in over his head.
“It is frustrating, but we’re on our fourth coach in three years,” Williams said at his locker after the Miami loss. “There hasn’t been any consistency. We’re learning again as a team. There’s going to be ups and downs, rough patches. Hopefully in January or February we’re hitting our stride and onto the playoffs.”
• Brook Lopez has been a disaster to the point where it’s amazing to think that the Nets almost were able to use him to make a trade for Dwight Howard in 2011-12. Hollins has been working over his starting center at almost every turn, trying to get to the team’s best low-post scorer to become a factor, anywhere on the floor. The tough love approach hasn’t helped. Whether he’s just slowly working his way back from foot surgery that KO’d him for most of last season, or just a victim of his own regression, Lopez seems like a lost cause.
It’s reached the point where Hollins threw his hands up in the air after Lopez had another ineffective outing in the loss to the Heat. The coach said a lot by not saying much at all.
“I don’t want to talk about Brook right now,” he said during his post-game media session. “I don’t want to talk about any individuals. I want to talk about the game and our effort. I know what you’re asking. I just don’t want to go there right now. It’s not a good time for me.”
But it’s a great time for Jason Kidd, even if he hears boos tonight in Brooklyn.
Longtime New York columnist Mitch Lawrence continues to write about pro basketball, as he’s done for the last 21 years. His columns for NBCNewYork.com on the Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and the NBA, along with other major sports, will appear twice weekly. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch _ Lawrence.