Coach Jason Kidd Profile
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Credit: Photograph by Danielle Levitt - Illustration by ILoveDust

Over the course of his career, Kidd earned in the vicinity of $185 million – not counting what he made at cards. He's a shark at Texas Hold'em, fleecing people on the plane and in the clubhouse between games. "K-Mart and [Nets GM] Rod Thorn were his biggest whales; he's the reason Rod's still working in his 70s," says Kittles, laughing. Kidd has the best poker face in the league; you could never spot his tells.

It was much the same thing with his interest in coaching: No one had a clue till he retired. But he'd nursed the idea since his second stint in Dallas, when he began jotting notes in a journal after games, parsing play-calls that his coach Rick Carlisle made and what he'd do differently. When he signed with the Knicks, he thought he'd play three years, then mull it over. But his coach Mike Woodson badly overworked him, and 60 games into his first (and last) season in New York, Kidd's legs were gone for good. In the playoffs, he set a record that no one wants, shooting 0 for 17 the last 10 games. Two days after the season, he decided he was done.

The Nets were intrigued, having canned two coaches during their inaugural year in Brooklyn. They had a soft, slow team that got pushed around in the playoffs, a great but uneven point guard in Deron Williams, and an owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, with a willingness to spend like a Cossack. Kidd convinced Prokhorov and Billy King, the Nets GM, that he didn't need a couple of years of seasoning as an assistant coach. "I said, 'Look, I've been coaching as a player for years; I'm ready to take that next step.' " He expounded on what had worked at his previous stops, which was sharing and sacrifice. "Dirk wouldn't give up the ball when I went back to Dallas, but we won a championship because he learned to trust his teammates. Paul said it, first thing, when we talked after the trade: 'We have to sacrifice and not be selfish.'"

That's Paul Pierce, one of nine Nets who've averaged 10 points or better. That'll test Kidd's skill at managing egos but will also allow him to cut minutes for older stars like the warrior-king Garnett. "I won't do a Popovich and send him home to golf," Kidd says, "but we're planning to keep his games down."

In the end, though, Kidd's fortunes will rise or fall on the play of his temperamental point guard, Deron Williams. Williams has been brilliant and baleful in equal measure, an All-Star who has clashed with two coaches and underperformed at crunch time. Kidd will get him to play defense, which he's done indifferently; stop dribbling so much in half-court sets; and pass the ball sooner on the break. It should make for great theater, assuming the two see eye to eye. If they don't, though, it'll be Kidd who takes the fall this time. The star with the ball is always the last man standing.

Contributing editor Paul Solotaroff wrote about Hector Camacho in the April issue.