Moke Hamilton, NBA AnalystStill without a necktie and refusing to crack a smile, Jason Kidd’s Brooklyn Nets have scratched and clawed their way back to a place they have not been since November: even in the win-loss column.
With those around the league openly wondering if Kidd was in over his head and if he simply lacked the coaching clout and prowess necessary to command the respect of his Hall-of-Fame duo — much less his former lead assistant Lawrence Frank — the Nets season appeared to be spiraling out of control.
With a $100 million roster, aging superstars and championship aspirations, doubts did abound…
Except in the mind of coach Kidd.
“Really, he’s been positive, even when we were at our lowest point,” rookie Mason Plumlee said after the Nets beat up on Tom Thibodeau’s Chicago Bulls on Monday night, improving their 2014 record to 19-8.
“I don’t think that he ever questioned that we would turn it around and I know that sounds crazy, but I think that was just his outlook. I think he knew bringing new guys in, it being his first year, I think he knew it would take a little while to figure it out but you got the sense and the confidence from him that we were gonna turn it around,” Plumlee told SNYNets on Monday night.
On December 31, after Tony Parker and Tim Duncan beat Kidd—just like they did back in the 2003 NBA Finals, the Nets traveled 500 miles to Oklahoma City.
They left 2013 behind. They shed the disappointing 31-game stretch of their 2013-14 season and got a miraculous last-second jumper from Joe Johnson that lifted them over Kevin Durant’s Thunder on January 2.
Somewhere during those 500 miles, the Nets—and Kidd—decided that being 11 games under the .500 mark would be enough.
Since then, everything has changed. Everything, that is, except Kidd’s demeanor and message. Despite the high-highs and low-lows, Kidd’s demeanor has been the same and he has been remarkably consistent.
Steadfast and determined, despite the accrual of inexplicable losses and unmotivated efforts, Kidd, at times, sounded like a broken record.
We just have to play harder…
Guys have to buy in…
We’ll stick with the game plan and we’ll get it…
He peered adversity directly in the eyes, but it is Kidd who refused to flinch.
Finding opportunities to rest his veterans, amending his game plan due to the injury of Brook Lopez, tinkering with his lineups and preparing zealously for opponents, Kidd has grown as and into a coach before our very eyes, and it is something that his players have all noticed.
That he is a first-time head coach with no prior coaching experience speaks all the more to the credit he deserves for navigating this topsy-turvy season in Brooklyn.
Out in Oakland, with the Warriors, Mark Jackson has proven that it can be done and in Phoenix, Jeff Hornacek has done a miraculous job, but neither coach began their respective careers with the immense expectations thrust upon Kidd, and neither has had to face such adversity.
And now, 63 days after the Nets found themselves in a deep, dark hole, Kidd has helped dig them out.
“His message has never wavered,” Joe Johnson told SNYNets. “I think he was tested, I think we were tested earlier in the season. I think there was a point when we were 10 games under .500 and those were probably the toughest times. We were kinda able to climb back into it in January, and now we’re right back in the thick of things at .500,” he said.
For that, Paul Pierce believes that Kidd deserves credit.
“He has done it with a lot of poise,” Pierce said of how Kidd has handled adversity this season.
“I think he has grown as the season has progressed and gone further. He’s learned from mistakes, just like all of us who have been put in first-time situations,” he said.
“We’re all not perfect, just like us as players, we make mistakes and we learn from it. Jason [Kidd] has learned from his experience being on the sideline, but I think he’s picked up things a lot faster than some coaches would expect, especially having no coaching experience.”
And as the Nets continue their ascent in the Eastern Conference and attempt to chase down the Toronto Raptors for the Atlantic Division lead, their collective sights are set much further than merely being a .500 team.
“We need to be hitting our stride once we get to the playoffs,” Plumlee said on Monday night.
Just 63 days ago, at 10-21, the playoffs seemed as far away from the Nets as Brooklyn is from the site where their season turned—Oklahoma City.
And back then, Kidd was thought to have been a beneficiary of organizational nepotism—a legendary former player who convinced management to take a chance on him by tugging on heartstrings.
But as it stands now, it appears that general manager Billy King, in hiring Kidd, was using his brain.
As Kidd addressed the media after he capably led his team’s long, long journey—after the Nets had defeated one of the toughest teams in the NBA to get back even—Kidd fielded a question about Jason Collins.
His answer was quite appropriate.
With the game firmly in hand, fans in attendance began chanting for Jason Collins to be inserted. With 2:41 remaining and the Nets ahead 92-75, Kidd seemingly obliged as he signaled for Collins to enter the game to replace Deron Williams.
When asked whether the appeal from those in attendance had anything to do with his decision, Kidd, stoic and without cracking a smile, simply said that it did not.
“Sorry, I don’t pay attention to what people say,” he said, matter-of-factly.
Amen to that, coach Kidd.
Moke Hamilton is the NBA Analyst for SNY.tv and contributes regularly to SNYNets.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MokeHamilton.