Jason Kidd has the biggest challenge of his coaching career ahead of him. Luka Dončić is an MVP caliber player, and every year the Mavs aren’t in Finals contention is a failure. Kidd’s ability to coach Luka will be crucial here – that’s why he flew all the way to Ljubljana. Every opportunity to build trust with Dončić is precious for Kidd. Particularly as reminders of his coaching principles keep coming out.
Mirin Fader’s book about Giannis Antetokounmpo covered the Jason Kidd era and painted a picture that explains his chequered coaching reputation. For instance, the Bucks lost the last game before Christmas, and Kidd asked team veterans Zaza Pachulia, and Jared Dudley do they think the team deserves a two-day break. The veterans tried to be diplomatic about it and pointed out everyone already purchased plane tickets to be with their families. Kidd was not impressed and just told the players he expects them in the gym at 9 am sharp.
“I don’t care. You guys get paid to do a job, so you’re doing your job tomorrow. Things change.” Practice the next morning was ugly. Kidd went at Sanders. Called him a “piece of sh*t,” a “terrible player.” The team ran and ran and ran and ran, like a college team would. “I don’t think I’ve done that since I left J-Kidd,” Knight says. “It was not normal.”Mirin Fader, Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP
When they finished in the gym, Kidd sent everyone to the weight room and the pool despite the fact half the team couldn’t swim. That day, Sanders was his target. At a certain point, Sanders felt so ill he asked to go to the bathroom. Kidd allowed it, reminding him the team will wait and then “run some more.” It never happened because Sanders went straight to the hospital, where they kept him overnight. When asked about that era, Sanders said he doesn’t think Kidd’s a bad person but explained the issue he had with him.
“But mentally, he kind, like, brain fu**ed me a little. It was a lot of, I love you, kiss you on the cheek, now it’s all about money, who cares about your mental health, your body breaking down.”Mirin Fader, Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP
His time with the Nets and the Bucks was described by multiple players as “psychological warfare.” In addition, Kidd wasn’t prepared to own up to his mistakes. In a game against Philly, Kidd accused Giannis of missing a defensive rotation in the first half. Giannis stood his ground, insisting it wasn’t him. Kidd pulled up the tape at halftime and challenged Antetokounmpo to prove his case – and Giannis did; the tape showed it wasn’t his fault. Still, Kidd benched him for the entire second half.
Will it be like that with the Mavs? Probably not. Kidd realized he left Brooklyn and Milwaukee in similar circumstances, and he needed to change. That’s why Kidd accepted the assistant coach gig with the Lakers. Everyone saw it as a political move to jump at the moment Frank Vogel stumbles (power-grabbing is also in his CV), but Kidd was a great team member of the coaching staff, open to evolving as a coach. His answer on how he plans to work on Luka’s shooting may indicate Kidd has changed.
“When you talk about Luka’s gift, he’s a special player. For me, as a coach, is just to guide him – to be an extra set of eyes and ears to make the game as easy and simple on the court. To give him the answers to the test so he can do what he does at a very high level. He doesn’t have to take shooting lessons from me, I think we have someone on staff who can shoot – Dirk Nowitzki and teach him how to shoot.”Jason Kidd, Luka Doncic contract extension press conference
I’m sure Kidd has a useful tip or two for Luka. He’s one of the NBA’s greatest shooting stories. Kidd came into the league as a tremendous playmaker, but a lack of range was his biggest flaw. As a 15 year veteran, Kidd became a prolific shooter and drained over 40% of his three-point shots. But according to Kidd, Dirk‘s advice was a bit too advanced for him.
“Dirk tried to teach me how to show, and I got lost.”Jason Kidd, Luka Doncic contract extension press conference
We’ll see if a humble answer that even jokes about his ability to keep up with Dirk is a sign of a new Jason Kidd. He’s going to be under the spotlight, particularly after such damming details came out. The most important thing will be his ability to develop a relationship with Luka and gain the team’s trust. People rarely fundamentally change, and Kidd is obviously a tough love kind of a guy. But in the player empowerment era, that approach requires a lot more trust and respect.
Canceling Christmas and throwing non-swimmers in the deep end of the pool won’t fly.