We all were more or less gobsmacked.
June 28 was supposed to be the calm before the free agent storm, pitched just days after the tumultuous 2013-14 NBA season and the draft that youth-rocked the NBA’s world on June 26. Free agents were still days away from being legally pursued, the coaching carousal was in a slow churn, and nobody expected much of any NBA news to hit as the league’s media and followers settled in to what felt like its first Saturday night off since the 2013 offseason.
Then Tim Bontemps of the New York Post, out of nowhere, dropped news that Jason Kidd was attempting to become coach and de facto general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks after a failed front office coup in Brooklyn. Days later, the Bucks would send second-round picks to the Nets for the right to hire Kidd away from the final two years of his coaching contract with the Nets, which would then send Bucks head man Larry Drew off to the curb after just one year on the job in Milwaukee.
It was swift, and shocking, and nobody felt the blow harder than Drew. He said as much in a recent interview with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
Larry Drew said he was "blindsided" by the way he lost his job as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks.
"From their (the owners') standpoint, there's no set time for these type of things," Drew said in an interview with the Journal Sentinel.
"It caught me in a position when I least expected it. But I know how these things work. I don't have any hard feelings, any grudges against anybody.
"Marc (Lasry) called me and I just wished him luck. I've got to keep moving forward."
Maybe the most embarrassing snub Drew suffered was having to sit at the introductory news conference with No. 2 overall pick Jabari Parker at the Milwaukee Public Market on the day after the draft, even though the owners already had talked to Kidd by that time.
"The whole Jabari thing, putting me in that position, I don't think it was very professional," Drew said. "I wish it wouldn't have happened that way, but it did.”
Drew went on to note that he eventually became “OK” with the move because he understands the nature of this beastly industry, which I suppose is best for all sides.
Still, nearly two months later, the entire affair seems incredibly strange even by NBA standards.
The Bucks, a team that would appear to typically toil in small market anonymity, became a go-to shot in the NBA media’s crosshairs last summer when it engaged in yet another season-long round of shooting for .500 at best. The team’s ownership and front office defended its years-long refusal to rebuild as both a financial concern and dignity-bred sense of competitive pride, which must have been a lot to talk oneself into as it hired, um, veterans like Drew, Carlos Delfino, and O.J. Mayo over last offseason.
Delfino was injured, Larry Sanders was out of control, Mayo was terribly out of shape, and Drew was in over his head. The fans understandably rebelled, and in an incredible stroke of (bad?) luck, the team actually ended up inadvertently backing its way into the biggest tank job of the season. Ahead of squads like Philadelphia and Utah that were designed to lose, the Bucks ended the season with the league’s worst record and were rewarded with the draft’s No. 2 pick.
By the time former owner Herb Kohl sold the team to new owners Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens, the writing would have been appeared to be on the wall for Drew following a 15-win season – but sometimes it takes owners years to clean house in both the front office and on the sideline. Topping that, Drew still had two years left on his contract.
So did Jason Kidd, following an Eastern conference semifinals appearance in Brooklyn. That didn’t stop the two sides from reaching out to each other, even as Drew was helping introduce Jabari Parker to the excited Milwaukee faithful, in front of the cameras and on record.
Larry Drew was never long for this team, because even with a raw and rebuilding roster, new ownership usually means itchy trigger fingers and a thirst for the big headline. Edens and Lasry certainly doled out enough cash to earn that particular headline with Kidd, following in the footsteps of Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov as Mikhail leapt after big name after big name in his first few years with Brooklyn. Prokhorov’s Billy King-led work created a money-hemorrhaging monster that the Nets will be trying to recover from for years, which makes it all the more understandable that Jason Kidd would want to jump ship to a younger, more pliable team.
Even if he, y’know, kinda cost another man and his staff their jobs. Without any apparent remorse. We know Jason Kidd pretty well right now.
We also know Larry Drew: solid guy, solid basketball guy. The Bucks will be paying him for the next two years the difference between his current assistant coaching contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the deal he signed with Milwaukee last summer, and it’s a fair enough tradeoff.
Larry Drew doesn’t get to run a team as the head coach any more, but he will be paid head coaching money to work with LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving. Jason Kidd has to wrangle with Larry Sanders, and he still has to figure out a way to eventually depose John Hammond in order to employ a GM that will cede to his ever-changing whims. Considering just how many bridges Kidd has burned through the years, it remains to be seen just who that guy is going to be.
Don’t weep for Larry Drew. By his own admission, even after the blindside hit, he’s doing just fine.
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