Jason Kidd takes over an experienced, talented roster in Brooklyn. (AP)
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd flashed his phone into assistant Lawrence Frank's line of vision and let him see the name blinking into the caller ID.
"Should I take this?" Kidd asked, knowing the answer anyway.
They were standing behind the team's bench, involved spectators to a Nets summer-league game, and still Kidd understood the consequences of the TV cameras and eyes in the gymnasium. Here was the "gotcha" moment for the freshly retired superstar who was seemingly so uninvested in his first NBA coaching assignment that he had left the bench for a telephone call.
"I knew everyone was watching," Kidd said recently inside his office in the franchise's practice facility.
Frank told Kidd he had to take the call.
"Just walk out," Frank said.
Kidd's walking out of the gym to take the call would ultimately go viral on the web, but nothing happening in that Orlando gym could've approximated the importance of the coach's need to recruit the best free agent left on the market.The call had come from Russia, free agent Andrei Kirilenko wanting to be convinced of his chances to chase a championship on a discount.
Kidd understands appearances now, the suggestions that he'll be an ex-player trading high-tops for wingtips who won't take seriously the craft of coaching, the hours and purpose needed to make the transition.
He has lived a professional life of scrutiny, but the ball's no longer in his hands. Control is gone, passed onto his players now. He's learning that affecting winning and losing no longer comes in dramatic moments with the world watching, but in the long, lonely hours of preparation and solitude.
The criticism "had already started with me not holding the clipboard during a [summer-league] game," Kidd told Yahoo Sports. "Maybe it's fair. Maybe it isn't. But it comes with the territory."
His eyes fluctuate between a visitor across his desk, and a wide-screen television high on the wall where Kidd can watch his Nets playing pickup ball and working out.
The screen, the prism, changes for him now. After Brooklyn general manager Billy King made the bold hiring in June, Kidd was soon on the practice floor with Frank and his assistants preparing the franchise's young players for summer league. For all the extraordinary floor vision that elevated his greatness as a player, an innate ability to see the game develop at different angles, different speeds, Kidd made a startling revelation coaching his first practices: In this job, that gift had an inconsequential, if any, benefit to him.
This became clear once Frank had blown the whistle, stopped play and started to remind a player far off the ball, about the proper defensive assignment. And then it happened again and again, and soon Kidd found himself squatting down, wondering if maybe Frank, a 5-foot-5 assistant with no playing pedigree, had a low-level avenue of vision that wasn't available to the Hall of Fame point guard at 6-foot-4.
Only, it had everything to do with the trained eye of a coach. Standing, sitting, squatting – it didn't matter – Kidd still couldn't see everything Frank could see on the floor.
As much as the moment humbled Kidd, it was another in a series of windows into his own self-evaluation that encouraged everyone else in the organization. Kidd hadn't come to coaching with a desire to do the minimal and fake his way through it, but a resolve to immerse himself in the craft and make the painstaking progression that he'll need to become a good coach.
"As a player, you could see the floor, but what happened in summer league was the perfect example of how that isn't enough anymore," Kidd said. "Here is a pick-and-roll right in front of me, and I think I'm doing the right thing but Lawrence has the vision of seeing everything else – all the things happening on the weak side of the ball.
"That told me right there: You have to widen your screen. Your screen has to see everything that's developing, because your tendency is to just focus on the players that are involved with the ball.
"You need to be watching all 10, and going through a checklist answering if they're doing what you're teaching offensively and defensively."
Before Kidd ever walked onto the practice court for the first time with Deron Williams and Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson on Tuesday at Duke University, he spent hours upon hours reconditioning himself to watch the game in a way that had never occurred to him.
When Kidd pushed his old Nets coach, Frank, to join him as his top assistant, Frank's loyalty and affection for Kidd made it hard to turn the job down. Nevertheless, Frank made it clear to Kidd: He wouldn't take the job unless Kidd planned to be serious in this undertaking, unless he had no intention of becoming simply a celebrity coach.
[Related video: Kevin Garnett glad to be in Brooklyn]
Frank has a peerless inventory of information – on styles and philosophies and X's-and-O's options – but also a tremendous command of the seasonal, daily and hourly duties of an NBA coach. From interviewing assistant coaches, to running meetings, to making sure the players never, ever walk onto the charter flight and find you sleeping, Frank has delivered Kidd a crash course on the regimens and responsibilities of an NBA coach.
Together, Kidd and Frank traveled to Los Angeles to listen to Pat Riley and Phil Jackson and Doc Rivers as part of an annual coaching seminar. With a spiral notebook, Kidd scribbled pages and pages of notes. He felt like a young player in the Bay Area, trying to keep up with Gary Payton and Brian Shaw. He felt like he was starting over, because he is.
" 'The staff and me have to feed you every day,' Lawrence tells me," Kidd said. " 'And then you have to digest it. You have to pick what I want to share with the guys.'
"It's a great partnership."
Most of all, King hired Kidd for Kidd. His sensibilities, his leadership. In the end, coaching is a job of leading men, and Kidd has already once transformed this franchise. When Kidd's been in the gym with Pierce in the preseason, he's listened to the playful jabs and the challenges to step onto the floor. It won't happen.
"I won't play with the guys," Kidd said. "I've seen that with other coaches. Players just want to embarrass their coach – set up a pick-and-roll so one of the bigs can hit the coach. I'm going to stay away from that.
"Listen, they're going to still see me as a player. In some respects, that's a good thing. They know I've been there. When I tell them something, they know I'm not trying to fool them – or lie to them. I want the best for them – all 15 guys. I'm all about winning and whatever it takes to win."
Which is why Kidd sat in his office, engaged in conversation, yes, but eyes still watching his players in the practice gym on the wide-screen mounted across from his desk. He's a little edgy, but full of belief. His staff will help him with the details, but Kidd has always been able to sell a vision to basketball team. It was 11:30 a.m, near the start of the Nets preseason and it wouldn't be long until his coaches were marching into a meeting room to discuss training camp, a season of chasing contention.
Finally, Kidd said, "I'm a sponge right now, trying to soak in all the information from Doc, Pat Riley, Phil – from everyone – write it down, share it with your staff and flesh it out. Some of the stuff will stick, some will go away. Some of it might reappear, because it doesn't fit the identify of this team right now.
"But in the end, I'll have to make my own decisions, and find my own way."
Jason Kidd goes to work now, a leap of faith for a franchise and a superstar made easier with his understanding that this will be the hardest thing he's ever done in the game. Everyone's watching now. Everyone's judging him. That part, anyway, has never changed. Now, the education of a coach never ends.
- Sports & Recreation
- Jason Kidd
- Lawrence Frank
- Brooklyn Nets