In their first conversations as player and coach, Kristaps Porzingis apologized to Jason Kidd.
About 15 times.
Kidd had traveled to Latvia to visit Porzingis this summer, and though Porzingis couldn’t control it, the weather in his Riga hometown was “terrible.”
As Porzingis recounted the trip Monday during the Mavericks’ annual media day, the anecdote provided insight into one of the biggest behind-the-scenes changes returning Mavericks say they’ve noticed -- and appreciated -- after a summer of tumult.
Kidd and his staff have been intent on establishing two-way, constructive, honest communication -- a notable change in the former Mavericks champion’s head-coaching philosophy -- about every aspect from on-court roles, areas for superstar improvement or, yes, even ill-timed fits from Mother Nature during a head coach’s special visit.
What’s come from the approach so far?
Porzingis smiled throughout his 20-minute session as he discussed his upcoming freedoms to expand his mid-range and post-up impact.
Luka Doncic looked forward to spending more time away from basketball with his Mavericks teammates after a summer of hotel living and building chemistry with the Slovenian national team.
Many of the Mavericks’ other core players, too, were receptive and hopeful for a new regime of openness.
“I will say there is a different type of energy, a different pop in the facility, and it’s positive, and it’s good,” Tim Hardaway Jr. said. “What my teammates are telling you is true: They are definitely open-minded. They all want to know our thoughts and what we’re thinking at any given day, any given time, and they’re open to whatever, so it’s great just to have a staff that’s all on board to do so.”
Ask Kidd what he learned in two years as a Lakers assistant that he thinks will make this head-coaching tenure different from stints in Brooklyn and Milwaukee, and he’ll first highlight communication.
Pre-Los Angeles, Kidd knew he was demanding. That he held rigid standards. That he tried to motivate with a tough front.
But after watching Frank Vogel navigate a Lakers locker room with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and veteran players with championship expectations, Kidd wanted to change.
“You can be hard and demand and demand and demand or you can go about it differently,” Kidd said. “Watching Frank and the way he communicated and talked to the players, it wasn’t hard. You can see the response that the greatest players in the world respected that.”
His conversations in Dallas have amplified as players have returned this month for pre-training camp workouts and pick-up games.
Kidd and his staff were regulars at them all.
Sometimes they’d ask Tim Hardaway Jr. what he liked to do in certain offensive situations.
Other times, Kidd would remind Porzingis to speak up about how and where he wants to play,
Kidd said he expects Porzingis to start the season at power forward — a shift from Porzingis’ preference to play center under coach Rick Carlisle — but he won’t limit the 26 year old to being a 3-point heavy big with little versatility in the post.
“His goal is to put me in situations where I can be the best player, make the most out of my skill set,” Porzingis said. “He tells me that if you want anything, communicate it. Whatever, how you want yourself to be used, let me know and we can talk about it and figure out ways.
“As a player, that’s huge.”
Though Doncic didn’t return to Dallas from Slovenia until last Thursday, he and Kidd have already established a rapport that allows for effusive praise -- and constructive coaching.
After leading Slovenia to the bronze-medal game in its first Olympic tournament, Doncic took about two weeks off to rest and “get my mind off basketball” after transitioning directly from the six-month NBA season to two months of Olympic qualification and games.
Once Doncic returned to working out, he started to heed Kidd’s advice.
“I look at Luka as a young Picasso,” Kidd said Monday. “As a coach, I don’t know if anybody told Picasso that he had to use all the paints, but I just want to remind Luka that he can rely on his teammates, that his teammates are going to be there to help him.”
“There’s a lot of things I can improve on -- off the court, on the court,” Doncic added after he confirmed he knew of Picasso and was offended that anyone would assume otherwise. “Obviously [involving teammates] is one of them, and I think he’s right.”
Doncic and Porzingis will practice together under Kidd for the first time Tuesday, the official start of NBA training camps.
But even after a summer of open dialogue, there’s still a bit left unsaid.
How will a Luka-KP-JKidd superstar-coaching trio look as the Mavericks try to play faster on offense and with more cohesion on defense?
“I guess we’ll see tomorrow,” Jalen Brunson said.