Jason Kidd and Mikhail Prokhorov talk literature (Getty Images)
We gave Jason Kidd a rightful bit of stick in the beginning of the 2013-14 NBA season. His Brooklyn Nets were an unholy amalgamation of uninspired players, unsure contributors, and downright ineffective performers. The team barked a lot defensively and said all the right things after the game, but when it came time to collaborate and actually execute, the Nets were left wanting.
Things are improving, improving at a rate that will leave the Nets in a position to overcome what was seen by most as an unworkable 10-21 start to the season. Those people weren’t as cynical about the woeful Eastern Conference as others were in their expectations, because the Nets always had a punter’s chance in a bracket that will reward you with a playoff berth even if you manage just 35 wins. That’s exactly the pace the Nets are on after winning six of seven games, as their 16-22 record has the squad stuck with the eighth and final spot in the East’s postseason lineup.
The team’s most recent win came in London, where the team had three full days “off” to prepare for the Atlanta Hawks, a team they downed by a 127-111 score in a contest that wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate. Jason Kidd continued his no tie superstition, the Nets have lost just once when he goes without neckwear, and his squad has shown improved spacing and screening and shooting – sound hallmarks for a solid offense. The defense? Not so much. But the team is scoring, especially behind the white hot Joe Johnson – who managed 26 first half points in the blowout win in London.
This little run hasn’t completely taken the pressure off of Kidd, he’s still the lead man for a team that features a player and coaching payroll that nears $200 million once luxury taxes are factored in, but it has helped call off the dogs for those that thought his job was in danger earlier in the year. That seemed a bit of a stretch even after the poor start, and Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov confirmed as much in a rare chat session with reporters on Thursday.
“What is more important is that Jason Kidd is becoming more and more comfortable. And what is important is he has the support of the players,” Prokhorov said when asked about the difference between Kidd and [former Nets coach Avery] Johnson. “And that’s the only way how we can conduct together. So everything is OK because, of course, we can’t make any excuse with injuries. And what I’m glad to see is the players stepping up in the situation. Now everything is more or less OK.”
Avery Johnson, you’ll recall, was fired after a 14-14 start in 2012-13 with a roster that was far less talented and far cheaper than the current Nets setup. It’s true that Kidd has had to work without Brook Lopez for the last six weeks, but the team actually has a winning record (11-10) with Lopez out of the lineup.
Prokhorov really had no other choice, because once the Nets reassigned former assistant coach Lawrence Frank, the team was really out of options in terms of replacements for the rookie coach. The front office doubled down with that move in a hope that it would both give the team’s players something (or “someone,” in Kidd) to rally around, but probably also so it would force Kidd to take a more active approach with his courtside and practice manner.
Both the team’s owner and general manager Billy King have long liked to make the big, splashy move – dating back to Prokhorov’s run as a billionaire business man and playboy, and King’s tenure dealing for (hoped-for) star after star while running the Philadelphia 76ers. And with big names like Phil Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy (who refuses to interview for jobs midseason for teams that are currently working with coaches, in an admirable stand) wanting nothing to do with the Nets, the team didn’t really have a star-in-waiting to take over. Because you can’t really fire Kidd and start putting (assistant coach) Roy Rogers on billboards.
This is part of the reason why Prokhorov held serve with his rookie coach, and it’s also why he decided to call Kidd earlier in the season to offer some inimitable advice that actually wasn’t lost in translation.
"I [told him about a] Russian writer—it's Mikhail Bulgakov—who said, 'Don't read Soviet papers before breakfast,'" Prokhorov said, quoting Bulgakov's "Heart of a Dog." "In other words, I said don't pay any attention [to] what [the media is] writing about you."
"I didn't know I had any critics," Kidd joked after the win. "Mikhail is the best. He has a great sense of humor, but he wants to win."
(Of all the New York metro dailies, which do you think is the most “Soviet?” List your answers below.)
The Nets aren’t out of the woods, yet. Lopez will be out for the year, and you get the feeling that Deron Williams’ ankles just won’t be right for the whole of 2013-14. Williams is scheduled to return to the Nets lineup on Monday against the Knicks, the team’s next game because of the London-inspired layoff, but we’ve all watched his grimacing returns before.
Even with their two cornerstones out, though, you get the feeling that the worst is behind Brooklyn. Because of the London trip and the one-game-in-nine-days schedule, the league packed plenty of Nets games into the season’s first 10 weeks, a killer schedule for a veteran team. The rest of the league has just about caught up to Brooklyn in terms of games played, and somehow Kevin Garnett (whose personal defensive stats have shot up considerably over the last month) and Paul Pierce (who has looked much better over the last three weeks) are still standing.
The best this gets them, of course, is possibly a .500 record, which would alleviate the embarrassment of missing the playoffs. This would give the team all the excuses it needs to rest Garnett, rest Andrei Kirilenko, rest Lopez and rest Williams over the 2014 offseason, while pointing to an improving Jason Kidd as the team tries to start it up one more time in 2014-15. For real this time. They swear.
It’s not much, but it’s better than where the Brooklyn Nets were a few weeks ago. No longer do they have the heart of a dog, it seems.
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