No Kidding: Scott out as Nets coach

Posted: Tuesday, January 27, 2004

In the gentlemanly parlance of the game, Jason Kidd and Byron Scott had philosophical differences that led to their rift and the canning of the coach.

It happens all the time in the NBA. One guy is an Aristotle man, the other pushes Plato. Or maybe Pluto.

They argue about Hegel, Kant and Sartre. Phil Jackson has been so successful because not only does he know his X's and O's, he keeps his players on their intellectual toes. Or at least he gives them something to read other than comic books.

Scott, fired Monday as the New Jersey Nets' coach, wasn't as deep as he was demanding. Kind of old-fashioned, really, for a young coach who had been a championship-caliber player. He had this quaint idea that the coach was in charge and the players followed his orders.

That worked for a while. He brought discipline to a team that lacked it, instilled toughness where it hadn't existed, and made a two-time NBA finalist out of a franchise that had never even won its division.

He gave them something else, too a sense of class. It wasn't just his stylish suits, it was his straightforward demeanor. When he made a mistake, he admitted it. Scott was too good a coach and too decent a man to think that he will be out of the NBA long.

He thought of himself as a players' coach, and maybe he was a little too much of that. He took heat for the Nets' meltdown in the fourth quarter of Game 6 in San Antonio in last year's finals, when he left Kerry Kittles and Richard Jefferson on the bench too long in the Spurs' 19-point run.

Scott said his mistake came earlier in the game when he should have realized that Lucious Harris' slump wasn't going to end and he should have pulled him.

Winning helps cover up mistakes and differences in philosophies and personalities. Losing exposes them. Those differences, particularly about how to run the offense and defense, became magnified amid this season's lazy start. Something had to give.

Scott said one thing, his players heard another. Kidd popped off in the locker room a month ago in Memphis after a 110-63 humiliation, challenging his coach, his teammates and himself, and everyone came away with a different thought about what went on rather loudly behind the closed doors.

Kidd and Scott got along well enough away from the court, dining and playing golf together at times. But tempers can run high when losses pile up. In Memphis, Kidd and Kenyon Martin vented their frustration at Scott in a way that marked the beginning of the end for him.

''There's such a pressure to win,'' Nets president Rod Thorn said after announcing Scott's firing. ''Messages aren't received the same way from year to year, from coaches to players. There are changes in personnel. There's a tremendous lot at stake in today's world. Last year there were, like, 11 coaching changes. Maybe there's not as much patience today as there was 10 years ago.''

As a franchise, the Nets are in transition, unsure whether they're bound for Brooklyn under new ownership, or stuck in New Jersey in a place that feels like purgatory.

As a team, they are on the edge of turmoil. Thorn rejects the term ''disarray,'' insisting, ''We don't have any internal problems on our team.''

Thorn is quick to point out the Nets still lead the Atlantic Division, two games ahead of Boston. As astute a basketball man as there is in the game, Thorn doesn't want to brag too much about that.

The division is the weakest in the league, and a 22-20 record is nothing to get heady about. Thorn's thoughts are on the playoffs, where stronger teams like Indiana and Detroit could crush the Nets.

Still, first-place coaches usually aren't fired in midseason. It takes a special sort of breakdown for that to happen. In the Nets' case it was a collapse in effort by the whole team, a loss of confidence in Scott, and the carping by Kidd that undercut the coach.

Thorn knew after last Friday's 85-64 drubbing in Miami, the Nets' fifth straight loss, that he had to make a move. They shot 29 percent, including Kidd's 4-for-19, and played with pathetic indifference.

''The Miami game was the nadir, so to speak, for us,'' Thorn said. ''So for the last two, three days I was just contemplating if maybe a different voice, a little different approach, might not help this particular group.''

That new voice will sound familiar to the Nets. It will come from Lawrence Frank, who moves over a seat from his spot as assistant coach. Thorn, speaking of Frank's ''work ethic,'' compared him with Jeff Van Gundy, another former no-name assistant who found success at the helm of the New York Knicks and is now with the Houston Rockets.

Frank, as least, has the advantage that he's the guy Kidd wanted running the team. Thorn gave the star what he wanted. It's not the first time that's happened in the NBA and it surely won't be the last.

Steve Wilstein is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at swilstein@ap.org.



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