Updated: June 22, 10:34 PM ET
Two heads aren't always better than one
By Adrian Wojnarowski
Special to ESPN.com
On Eddie Jordan's way to the Washington Wizards, his old boss, Byron Scott, delivered an observation that blurred the line between a blessing and a back-handed compliment.
"I think he's ready now," Scott said. "I think the second time around, he'll be more prepared than he was when he first took over as a head coach…
Around the New Jersey Nets, eyes were sure to roll. This time around? More ready? Yes, it was time for Jordan to get out on his own. It was time for Scott to win without his top assistant. This had turned into a strange, uneasy dynamic: Scott, the self-proclaimed CEO coach, delegating to Jordan so much day-to-day responsibilities of the two-time defending Eastern Conference champions that the line had blurred in many minds on just who exactly coached and controlled the Nets.
How much was Byron? How much was Eddie? All around the Nets, loyalties were strained. If they needed each other these past three years, they needed to split now. Each needed the other out of his shadow, out of his way, just to let everyone see Byron Scott for Byron Scott, and Eddie Jordan for Eddie Jordan. It is late June and it's time to graduate. For Jordan, for Scott, for the Nets.
Coaches always get showered with incredible praise when they win, and incredible blame when they lose. With Scott, the strangest thing had happened: When the Nets won, Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin and Jordan were responsible. When they lost, it was on Scott. This wasn't just the line outside the Nets, but inside of them, too. When Larry Bird ran the Pacers this way, everyone made him coach of the year and called him ego-less. When Scott did it, they called an empty suit.
When asked if he craved the chance to win without Jordan, Scott said, "Yes, I think the competitive part of me is like that."
"But I think the competitive part of me knows behind the scenes what is going on. Eddie (was) an important part of this team, but every decision that is made is made by me. Period. What we do on the offensive end, what we do on the defensive end, it's made by me. Eddie Jordan can't say, 'Let's do this,' without Byron Scott saying it's OK. Everything is going to come through me."
"…It bothers me when we win 10 (playoff games) in a row and (perception is) that I had nothing to do with it. But we lose one and I had everything to do with it. That's the only thing that sometimes bothers me.
"I don't mind getting the blame, as long as I'm getting the credit when the credit's due also."
After his first season, Scott confessed that he had leaned too little on his coaching staff. He listened to no one. The Nets won 26 games in 2001-2002. Over the summer, Rod Thorn traded for Jason Kidd, Scott let Jordan implement the Princeton offense and the winning didn't stop until the Nets lost to the Lakers and Spurs in back-to-back NBA Finals. Today, Scott has the best playoff road winning percentage in league history. This summer, he's on the brink of a multi-million-dollar contract extension. With his top assistant gone, he'll be judged in a completely different way.
Get Kerry Kittles back into the game?
Stop calling plays for Kenyon Martin?
Save some timeouts to stop that 19-0 run?
Now, everyone finds out for themselves. Now, Jordan takes over his second bad team in the NBA. This time, he has a fighting chance. The Wizards have some talent. Jordan has a four-year contract to get it going. After going 33-64 with the Sacramento Kings from the back end of the 1996-97 season until the end of 1997-98, Jordan deserved a second chance to coach in the NBA. His one full season wasn't much of a chance at all.
Who would have won with that cast of misfits, no-talents and kids? He had a rookie, the Nets' current backup, Anthony Johnson, playing the point. When injuries decimated the pedestrian likes of Olden Polynice and Billy Owens, Jordan had starting lineups with Michael Stewart, Tariq Abdul-Wahad and Lawrence Funderburke.
The Kings' best talent, Mitch Richmond, had reached wit's end with the Kings and Jordan was given credit for holding up the fading star's sanity, enabling GM Geoff Petrie to make one of the most one-sided trades in NBA history that next summer: Richmond to Washington for Chris Webber.
"He got the most out of the situation he was in that season," an ex-King, Corliss Williamson, said recently. "I really feel like if he had been given the chance to stay that following season, he would've had much more success."
With the Nets, far too much has been made of Kidd's devotion to Jordan. This isn't to dismiss Jordan's wise way with players, the way they respect his work ethic and knowledge, but assistants are always beloved on the bench. The Nets must wait out Kidd's free agency choice, with some fearing the departure of Jordan could have catastrophic consequences to the Nets' candidacy.
"I was in Sacramento as an assistant and I was very tight with Chris Webber," Scott said. "Chris used to say, 'Byron, we have to do this, we have to do that,' and I used to say, 'Chris, tell (head coach) Rick (Adelman).' That is what assistant coaches are: They're the liaison between the players and the head coach. They are more on friendly terms with the players.
"….As head coach, you can't be buddy-buddy."
Still, Kidd has always understood that Jordan wasn't long for the job in Jersey. Jordan was going to get a head coaching job -- it was just a matter of when and where. Scott plans to spend time with Kidd before he makes up his mind, probably on the golf course, and it seems the Nets coach and his franchise player have some issues to talk over.
Eddie Jordan is gone, the dynamic changes on these Nets and Kidd will want answers to questions about the way the Nets will be run now. Still, Kidd wouldn't have stayed just for Jordan. And he won't leave because of Scott. These two coaches had a wonderful run together, but it was time for it to end. Eventually, the saga of Scott and Jordan generated far too much friction, a tug-of-war that ultimately transformed itself into real discord for the franchise.
How Scott will do without Jordan promises to hang over his team next year, but inside and outside the locker room, finally the coach of the Nets has to be the coach of the Nets. As much as Eddie Jordan deserves a chance to coach his own team, Byron Scott does, too.
Two coaches, two graduations. Winning and losing, it's all on Scott in Jersey, all on Jordan in Washington now. Only right for everyone else, it's only right for them, too.
Adrian Wojnarowski is a columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPNWoj@aol.com.