Life is always relative. A good job for someone might be a failure to another. Gourmet food in one kitchen is another’s table scraps. But nowhere is that more true than when you talk about salary. One man’s fortune is another man’s welfare. That seems to be the current case of NBA basketball coach Jason Kidd. After one year of his first ever coaching job as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets, the former all-star point guard has left New York for the same job in Milwaukee. Milwaukee. A city Brooklyn could swallow whole for breakfast. Who’s most famous resident was likely William Rehnquist. But it falls off quickly from there. Where they can’t get an arena built, a place NBA free agents see as some sort of purgatory between Boston and LA. That’s where Jason Kidd will spend his second year coaching in the NBA, just named head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks.
What’s more surprising is that Kidd left on his own volition, not by force. After what most would estimate a respectable, although not remarkable first season, Kidd asked for more authority from his bosses, including control over personnel decisions, something increasingly offered veteran coaches with executive resumes. The team refused, and seemingly before Kidd opened the email, he was signing with the Bucks, who for the record already had a head coach, Larry Drew, who’s now their ex-coach. Kidd will work for friend and new Milwaukee team owner Mark Lasry. One can imagine Lasry will be more generous in handing over creative control of the franchise than Brooklyn was.
Even so, how many people leave New York for Milwaukee? For the same job, no less. That’s like trading your Mercedes for a Honda. They might both be four door sedans, but no one confuses them in a parking garage. Oddly enough, the answer might have nothing to do with Brooklyn or Wisconsin, but rather two guys named Steve Kerr and Derek Fisher. Like Kidd a year ago, these two former players just signed their very own first coaching contracts, Kerr with Golden State and Fisher with the Knicks. Neither of them have coached more than a high school JV team, and Fisher is so newly retired from being a player he probably still wears headphones to work. But the difference is that when Kerr and Fisher signed their deals, they each got around $25 million over five years. That made Kidd’s four year, $10.5 million deal signed just a year earlier feel, perhaps a bit insignificant. Even if when they signed it, everyone wondered what Jason Kidd had done to earn ten million bucks to be a head coach, when most everyone before him spent years as an assistant before grabbing the brass ring. So what once felt like a king’s ransom now felt oddly inconsequential.
That, more than anything, is why Jason Kidd left the big city for dairy farms, even if he’d hardly earned a raise. It’s hard to blame Kidd, wanting what other people around him have. But it also suggests coaching salaries, unlike their salary capped players, follow an odd, market based economy. Where teams can spend as much as they’d like, when they’d like, without penalty. That’s a far cry from what’s happening on some NBA teams right now, where players are taking pay cuts to accommodate all-star rosters. If nothing else, it should give sports fans pause from always referring to players as selfish and coaches otherwise. In this case, at least, it’s a different narrative.
It also presents an interesting dynamic, where NBA coaches might someday become as valuable as the players they hope to teach. The NBA has always been deemed a players league, where coaches simply try to hold on to their jobs and serve as glorified towel boys for elite talent. No one would question who runs the Miami Heat right now, and it’s not Erik Spoelstra. But perhaps given the success of certain NBA teams, like the San Antonio Spurs, where coach Greg Popovich clearly outmaneuvered his opposition with an ironically unconventional style of team basketball, perhaps coaches might just be the next NBA superstars. Perhaps teams might recognize every boat needs a captain, and one that’s not always at risk of mutiny, which too many NBA coaches historically have been.
Then again, this may be way overthinking this particular situation, which really comes down to Jason Kidd wanting more money after one okay season, and Brooklyn just not wanting to give it. Maybe in this case, it’s just a reminder that in life, everything is relative.
Keith Strudler is the director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and an associate professor of communication. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler
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