Short on experience, preparation, Jason Kidd weathering pressure of Nets' great expectations
Before Doc Rivers took his turn talking to a gathering of front-office executives and coaches at a clinic in the Los Angeles Clippers' practice facility in August, he walked past Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd and told him to listen carefully.
"Hey J-Kidd," the Clippers coach said. "This is going to be for you."
Nets assistant coach Lawrence Frank had suggested Kidd travel west with him for a two-day event that would include Pat Riley, Phil Jackson and Frank Vogel. With a notebook and pen, Kidd dutifully scribbled thoughts and concepts and ideas. Summer school has come and gone for Kidd, a session far too short for the burden awaiting him in one of the most pressurized coaching seasons in NBA history.
With the bright lights, big city of Brooklyn, with a $180 million payroll, there's no hiding in the back of the class.
"There's a lot to understand for a guy who goes right from playing to coaching," Kidd told me inside his office before the start of training camp. "Doc made the points: 'Always listen, put a staff around you and talk to the players. Tell them what you've gone through, what you see, and ask them what they feel and what they see.'
"Listen, I'm a sponge right now, trying to soak in all the information from Doc, Pat Riley, Phil, write it down, share it with my staff and flesh it out. Some of the stuff will stick, some will go away. Some of it might reappear later, because it doesn't fit the identify of this team right now."
Three months before Kidd would lose eight of 11 games to start his NBA coaching career, before the declarations that he's a joke on the job, the weekend in California left him partly inspired, partly unnerved. The flood of information has been relentless for months, and now it is November and is coming faster and faster, the games and the losses and the criticism. The theory classes are over, and Kidd is fighting to keep his calm, his credibility and his locker room.
"It can all be overwhelming," he told me in his office that day.
Jason Kidd is lost, but he isn't a lost cause.
From Riley to Jackson, Vogel to Rivers, the coaching fraternity made Kidd reflect on his new job as a craft, about the need to blend big picture leadership and tangible, tactical X's and O's demands. He felt like a freshman in a senior seminar, the way he's buried under the relentlessness of the daily decisions now, the speed of the game, the indecision over listening to staff and management and players against his own instincts.
Coaches aren't made in weekend jaunts to California, but in hours upon hours of preparation. Repetition matters for a coach the way it does for a player. In his first job, Kidd has a blessing and curse: great talent, greater expectations and perhaps the potential for the harshest judgment a rookie coach has ever endured.
The Nets understood there would be regular-season repercussions for limiting the minutes of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, but they've found it harder to win games without the team's two best players, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez.
Andrei Kirilenko is likely to return early next week, but he's still lost learning a new system, new teammates. Players have been coming and going so often, there's been little chance to develop cohesion and trust. People can kill Kidd for running so much isolation, so few plays, but that's been far more a product of the roster's void of cohesion than the coach's incompetence.
As much as anything, Kidd needs to forget the public critiques of his sideline disposition and lean harder than ever on his assistant coaches. No one cared that Larry Bird turned everything over to Dick Harter and Rick Carlisle as Indiana's coach, and no one will care how the responsibilities are divided with the Nets. The NBA is the ultimate results business, and people are wrong about the belief that assistants are doing everything with the Nets. Players will tell you: Kidd is doing things his way, and, so far, the losses keep coming.
In his foggy state, the most reassuring truth for Nets coach Jason Kidd delivers a great irony: He doesn't have Nets star Jason Kidd in his locker room.
Once Kidd turned on his old coach, Byron Scott, the rest of the players marched with him. After consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, Rod Thorn felt a measure of shame upon firing Scott midway through his third season. Nevertheless, the old Nets GM had no choice. In the end, the NBA is a players league and Kidd had control of the franchise.
These days, Kidd has control of nothing. From Bill Russell to Jerry West to Bird, the star player turned coach has long discovered that a clipboard in his hands is no substitute for the ball when it comes to impacting the game.
Rivers' loss in the locker room, Garnett, is still one of the reasons to believe Kidd can hold on through the turbulence and get his franchise pushing for the playoffs. Garnett is 37 years old, in the winter of his career, and there's uncertainty about how much he has left within him. What never leaves Garnett is the loyalty, the duty and a voice that'll hold that room together for Kidd.
"For Jason to have K.G., that's going to be so important to him," Rivers told Yahoo Sports.
As Kidd said, "I couldn't ask for a better guy on my side."
Kidd needs K.G.'s mind and soul, but needs his body, too. Kidd needs Williams' ankle, and Kirilenko's back and the rest of these gimpy Nets to turn the promise into production. There was too little time to prepare Kidd to coach here, too short of a summer school session for what promised to be one of the most judged seasons in the history of coaching. In the end, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov and general manager Billy King hired Jason Kidd to be a leader of men, because that's who he has forever been in basketball.
Only, this job calls for much more out of Kidd, calls for him to lean on his assistants, his players, his instincts – lean on everyone – until he can stand for himself on the sidelines. The clock's running on Jason Kidd, the world's watching and his instincts were right on that early autumn day inside his office before he had ever coached a training camp practice: This can all be so overwhelming.