If his entire professional career is anything to go by, Jason Kidd won’t be an assistant coach with the Lakers for long. He will seize the top job away from Frank Vogel, get fired in a failed coup, or walk out of the Staples Center screaming. There’s also a slim chance he’ll get confused and try to usurp Doc Rivers. This past May, Ty Lue turned down a three-year head coaching offer from the Lakers for a bunch of reasons—the deal was too short, the franchise hasn't been the most stable employers—but the funniest one reported was that L.A. demanded Lue hire Kidd as a lieutenant and Lue was like absolutely not. The man’s hair is already three-quarters of the way to Ray Wise in Twin Peaks and he’s made multiple hospital visits for stress headaches. He doesn’t need Jason Kidd in his life.
The list of Kidd’s deceptions is startlingly extensive. It includes him leading a mutiny against his college coach during his freshman year at Cal, faking a migraine to force his way out of New Jersey, and trying to get Billy King fired while he was coaching the Nets. We could easily fill up an entry of this series recounting all the times Kidd has (successfully and otherwise) undermined the people around him. Instead, let’s focus on an incident that helps explain his behavior.
In January of 2001, Kidd was arrested on suspicion of domestic assault. His then-wife, Joumana, claimed that, in the middle of an argument, Kidd spit a half-eaten french fry at her and then punched her in the face. (Harrowingly, Joumana told a 911 operator “don’t worry about me; this is minor compared to what I usually go through.”) Kidd copped a plea, paid a $200 fine, and underwent anger management therapy. He also held a press conference with his wife and Suns president Jerry Colangelo, at which he announced he would be stepping away from basketball for a spell. “The last 24 hours have been a little hectic, “Kidd said, “but I think as a family we would like to ask that we could work on this issue privately. The big thing is, I love my wife and we're going to be closer and stronger after this is all over with.” (Their reconciliation didn’t take. Kidd and Joumana divorced in 2007. She’s since accused him of being a serial domestic abuser and womanizer.)
Kidd lasted another six months in Phoenix before Colangelo sent him to New Jersey for Stephon Marbury. On paper and at the time, the swap made sense. Kidd was a floor general entering his prime and Marbury was a dazzling volume scorer with room to grow. Each franchise was betting a different style of point guard would improve their team. (Of course, only the Nets ended up being right.) The Suns were also simply trying to get Kidd out of town. Their season had been marred, not only by Kidd’s transgression, but by Penny Hardaway threatening his girlfriend with a handgun. They were developing a reputation. In a move more cynical than conscientious, Colangelo flipped the guy for whom he could get decent value.
The reasons for the trade were straightforward enough, but Kidd apparently thought something else. Before a December 2004 game against the Bulls, in which Scott Skiles was coaching Chicago, Kidd called his former Suns boss a “backstabber” in the Daily News and further explained that “he’s the reason I’m in New Jersey… He always wanted to beat me. He always thought he was better than me.” For his part, Skiles seemed perplexed, characterizing the Kidd-for-Marbury deal as “an organizational thing,” which it sure seems like it was. “I thought [our relationship] was great when I was [in Phoenix],” Skiles said. “I’m a big fan of his.”
While it wouldn’t be surprising if a notorious hardass like Skiles and a control freak like Kidd didn’t get along, it speaks to Kidd’s persecution complex that he doesn’t believe he was to blame for the end of his Suns tenure. It had to be product of a conspiracy, some ornery coach pissing in upper management’s ear, and not, you know, the fact that Kidd struck his wife and transformed himself into public relations poison.
It’s telling that after getting shipped to New Jersey, Kidd never again switched teams without signing off on the move first. He spent five-and-half mostly fruitful seasons in New Jersey before forcing a trade to the Mavericks in 2008. During the 2012 offseason, he backed out of a verbal agreement with the Mavs to sign a longer deal with the Knicks. The extra years didn’t end up mattering; he retired the following summer. You might have thought this took him off the trade market, but he managed to get himself involved in a rare coach transaction—two second-rounders for the rights to Clipboard Kidd—after his front office insurrection in Brooklyn failed and he asked to leave for the more promising Bucks job.
Jason Kidd is one of the most beautifully intelligent basketball players who has ever lived. I watched him as a boy and then into my adolescence and college years, and his game made me ache to learn something—ornithology, car repair, anything—and then be able to apply that knowledge with the smooth assuredness with which jumped a passing lane or drove to the basket. His understanding of the game was so expansive, and so elegantly demonstrated.
Unfortunately, Kidd’s understanding of power—how it should be wielded and why—is hopelessly perverse. His gloss on his Phoenix exit is a clear illustration of that. He got sent away, not due to his own vile actions, but because Scott Skiles hated him. This made sense to Kidd, if not to anybody else, because he has always believed that this is how things work: other people, especially the ones you work with, are constantly trying to get one over on you. And so what you do, in response to the invisible aggression being carried out behind your back, is draft up a counter-scheme of your own. It’s not sabotage; it’s self-preservation. Jason Kidd isn’t a jerk. It’s everyone else: Skiles, Jerry Colangelo, Byron Scott, Rod Thorn, Billy King, Lawrence Frank, et al.
Who knows how Kidd will make Frank Vogel out to be the bad guy in Los Angeles, but there’s a strong chance he’ll find a way. When you’re as righteously suspicious of everyone as he is, and you’re never wrong, inventing evil isn’t difficult.