Depending on your age and level of fandom, perhaps you recall Jason Kidd’s first Mavericks arrival, in 1994 as an electric 21-year-old point guard.
No doubt more of you remember his 2008 return, in a trade from New Jersey. And every Mavs fan knows about Kidd’s savvy and relentless stewardship, at age 38, of Dallas’ 2011 NBA title team.
Kidd is more than Mavericks family. He is royalty. Forever immortalized. Yet as he nears his Thursday night debut as the 10th coach in the Mavericks’ 41-season history, anticipation among fans seems to be a blend of excitement and apprehension.
Exactly what is the franchise getting in Coach Kidd, now 48 and sporting Clark Kent glasses and a gray-splotched beard?
He has Hall of Fame, championship and Olympic-gold pedigree. He’s old school yet modern. He’s assembled an impressive and diverse staff. His roster boasts MVP favorite Luka Doncic and a finally healthy Kristaps Porzingis.
Does Kidd have the patience and temperament, traits he admits he too seldom demonstrated while coaching Brooklyn (2013-14) and Milwaukee (2014-2018) to a combined 183-190 record, for a long and prosperous run here?
“I’ve learned a lot,” said Kidd, comparing his coaching personas of then and now as that of “two different people.”
“He’s so calm and collected now,” Mavericks assistant coach Jared Dudley said.
Dudley has been uniquely positioned to witness Kidd’s evolution. Dudley’s only season as a Bucks forward (2014-15) coincided with Kidd’s start in Milwaukee — and Dudley was a Laker the past two seasons, during which Kidd was an assistant to Frank Vogel, winning the 2020 NBA title.
Kidd’s treatment of Bucks players in 2014-15 was briefly but infamously described in August’s release of Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an MVP, a biography of Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The most unflattering Kidd anecdote described a grueling three-hour practice on Christmas Eve of 2014 that he ordered after a Dec. 23 home loss to Charlotte.
Center Larry Sanders told author Mirin Fader that he was berated by Kidd as “pathetic” and that he suffered “a full-body convulsion,” necessitating a night in the hospital. Ex-Bucks and Mavericks center Zaza Pachulia told Fader that players were too exhausted to open Christmas gifts.
The season before Kidd’s arrival, the Bucks won 15 games. In 2014-15, despite losing No. 2 pick Jabari Parker to a December knee injury, they finished 41-41 behind 20-year-old Antetokounmpo and 23-year-old Khris Middleton.
Kidd finished third in that season’s NBA Coach of the Year voting.
“We were a young team,” Dudley said, “and [Kidd] was more getting on top of players, like ‘Giannis, you aren’t allowed to shoot a 3.’ He was trying to develop them for later. What you see now in those guys, Giannis and Middleton, is how much they improved in those years.
“Here,” Dudley said, “[Kidd] doesn’t have to do that. These guys already are good. The role players are vets.”
One facet of Kidd’s coaching, Dudley said, has remained consistent: His attention to detail, especially when it comes to teaching defensive schemes and tactics.
Though best known for his passing brilliance (12,091 assists, second-most in NBA history), Kidd’s 2,684 steals also rank second in NBA history and on nine occasions he made NBA All-Defensive first or second team.
Dudley said he believes that Kidd’s time with the Lakers also was a reminder of the importance of coaches and players remaining even-keeled through the long season, minimizing distractions and extreme highs and lows.
Then again it helped that the Lakers generally won. Won’t the true test of Kidd’s coaching patience come when the Mavericks inevitably suffer a losing streak?
“Yeah,” Dudley said with a smile. “That’s what I’m waiting for, to be honest with you. But Jason will succeed. He’s always had an open door, but you’re already seeing relationships with players, whereas I don’t think he was doing that early on.”
‘A different pop’
After a summer of unofficial workouts and three weeks of training camp, reviews from Mavericks players are positive.
The word they consistently use to describe the overall vibe is energy. “There’s a different pop in the facility,” veteran Tim Hardaway said. “It’s positive and it’s good.”
Porzingis, relegated to a diminished offensive role during last season’s first-round playoff loss to the Clippers, says players have a better sense of where they stand, compared to the atmosphere under Kidd’s predecessor, Rick Carlisle.
“A few things are, I’d say, clearer than last year,” Porzingis said.
Perhaps part of the difference is generational. Carlisle, now the coach at Indiana, is 61 and had been Dallas’ coach for a franchise-record 13 seasons.
Carlisle, like Kidd, won an NBA title as a player, with the 1986 Celtics. But whereas Carlisle was a reserve who played parts of six seasons, Kidd’s Naismith Hall of Fame brilliance spanned 19 seasons and was much more recent.
Hardaway noted that much of the NBA’s current generation remembers Kidd playing against Michael Jordan and later teaming with Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki to win the title, beating the more talented LeBron James-led Miami Heat.
“So I think it kind of gives guys a better understanding, I would say, moving forward and just hearing [Kidd] out and what he has to say,” Hardaway said.
“But you can’t take away what Carlisle did for the franchise. It was remarkable.”
By the time Carlisle arrived in 2008, he had coached Detroit and Indiana to the conference finals. He was a somewhat proven commodity.
Kidd by comparison is a wild card, a coach with a losing record and one playoff series victory — Brooklyn over Toronto in 2014 — taking over a franchise that hasn’t won a series since the 2011 NBA Finals.
Perhaps, though, Kidd the coach has improved with age and experience — much like Kidd the player who shot 38% from the field in his first three seasons as a Maverick, but finished his career with 1,988 3-pointers, 11th-most in history.
Kidd says his failings as a coach in Brooklyn and Milwaukee were humbling; his two seasons under Vogel in Los Angeles were constructive.
Part of Kidd’s greatness as a point guard was his ability to control games, enhance teammates’ strengths and minimize their weaknesses. Part of his downfall as Milwaukee’s coach was not realizing he no longer could control everything, and not always seeing the bigger picture.
“Frank opened my eyes to a lot of things,” he said. “Frank did a great job of communicating to the stars, to the role players and to the guys at the end of the bench. He treated everybody fairly and he trusted them.
“He showed me that it’s all right to fail. It’s all right for guys to get mad at you if they don’t like the truth. At the same time, everybody knew where they stood. That’s one of my biggest takeaways in spending the last two years with Frank.”
Barely a month into Kidd’s 1994-95 rookie season, Mavericks coach Dick Motta remarked that Kidd could be a great coach, if he someday chose that path.
Motta, now 90, says he noticed in Kidd many of the qualities he saw in another player while coaching Chicago in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Great practice habits. Attentiveness in huddles. Natural leadership. Ability to execute coaching instructions in games, but also anticipate opponents’ counter moves and improvise when necessary.
Kidd has a long, long way to go to approach the success and longevity of that Bull-turned-Hall of Fame coach, Jerry Sloan, but Motta long ago saw the potential. And he isn’t just saying that now because Kidd thanked him in his 2018 Naismith Hall of Fame induction speech.
“That’s the kind of leadership I saw in Jason Kidd,” Motta said. “I just felt that he had that ability. There’s a difference when you’ve been the quarterback who can see the floor.”
Hall of Fame players becoming NBA coaches probably is more common than fans realize. There have been 25, including current coaches Kidd and ex-Maverick Steve Nash of Brooklyn.
Of those 25, 16 coached franchises for which they also played, including some who simultaneously did both: Lenny Wilkens, Bill Russell, Dave Cowens, Dolph Schayes and Bob Pettit.
Kidd is the 14th Hall of Famer to coach the franchise that drafted him. Only seven have forged winning records and four coached teams to titles: Wilkens, Russell, K.C. Jones and Tom Heinsohn.
Meanwhile, Hall of Fame players such as Cowens, Schayes, Maurice Cheeks, Dick McGuire, Isiah Thomas, Bob Cousy, Elgin Baylor and, briefly, Magic Johnson (5-11) had losing records as coaches.
For better or worse, this isn’t the first time Kidd has coached a team for which he starred. As a player he led the New Jersey/Brooklyn franchise to its first 50-win season and to the NBA Finals his first two years (2002, 2003).
He was so revered there that after being named coach just 10 days after announcing his retirement as a player, the Nets retired his jersey before a preseason game, on Oct. 17, 2013.
It was widely regarded to be a positive that Kidd had a close relationship with then-Nets point guard Deron Williams. Kidd earned conference coach of the month honors in January and March. The Nets’ playoff win over Toronto was secured with a rare Game 7 road victory.
That seemingly blissful honeymoon, however, abruptly ended when Kidd and Nets general manager Billy King engaged in a power struggle, leading the Nets to trade Kidd to Milwaukee for two second-round draft picks.
The difference now? Kidd and Mavericks GM Nico Harrison have a two-decade relationship and their hiring essentially was a package deal. Kidd has made it clear that he’s deferring to Harrison and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban on player-acquisition decisions.
Kidd understands as well as anyone Cuban’s Jerry Jonesesque involvement.
“I really like this team,” Kidd said. “I think Nico and Cuban have given me the opportunity to have different combinations, be versatile.”
Now he’s about to debut as Dallas’ coach Thursday in Atlanta — 26 years, 11 months and 16 days after his first game as a rookie in old Reunion Arena.
The storyline is compelling. The Mavericks’ first NBA Rookie of the Year returning to coach 2019 rookie of the year Doncic, whom Kidd has described as a “young Picasso.”
Kidd jokes that some of the passes he tried as a rookie probably drove Motta crazy. Even much later, early in the Mavericks’ 2010-11 championship season, Carlisle and Kidd sometimes butted heads over play-calling.
It wasn’t until several Mavericks, though not Kidd, went to Carlisle and convinced him to fully hand the reins to Kidd, that Dallas’ drive to the title kicked in.
“We all understood that the ball was going to 41,” Kidd said of Nowitzki, adding with a smile, “and that I wasn’t going to shoot it. But we all understood that it was easier to play in a more random way, so [opponents] couldn’t load up on Dirk.”
Kidd also recalls privately going to Carlisle and making the case that DeShawn Stevenson should start. Carlisle relented on that, too.
It’s doubtful any Mavericks will need to ask Kidd to hand over reins to Doncic, thanks to lessons Kidd has learned en route to his third Mavericks era.
Young star. Champion and Hall of Famer. Coach.
“I’ve learned that you have to listen,” Kidd said. “As much as you communicate, you’ve got to listen to what players and people around you are saying.
“As a player making that transition to becoming a head coach, you tend to think you know everything. Well, that’s not true.”