The Mavs Need More Than Jason Kidd

Jason Frederick Kidd played his last NBA game eight years ago. Since then, he has coached the Nets and the Bucks, mentored Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, coached LeBron James and Anthony Davis, was elected to the Hall of Fame and won an NBA title. It’s been the usual Kidd world of high expectation-high reward, privilege, and luck.

Kidd takes with him to Dallas a defensive playbook ala Frank Vogel which he will need to partner with offensive sets and unselfish play. The team he has inherited is a far cry from the team that beat LeBron James in the 2011 NBA Finals. That version of the Mavs was a team of veterans hungry for a title and not intimidated by the Miami Heat star power. The 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks were efficient scorers, ranked second in assists (thanks to Kidd), made threes, had a top-10 defense.

This year’s Mavericks team has a stud in Luka Doncic but their offense was less than inspiring as their give-it to Luka soliloquy was predictable and at times ineffective. The Mavs were average scorers, terrible rebounders, at the bottom of the league in assists, and their defense depended on what night it was. Up and down all year long.

Like all things, it is the roster stupid. A coach is only as successful as his star players. The Mavs hit it big with Doncic in 2018 but Kristaps Porzingis has been a huge disappointment. He lacks chemistry with Doncic, is frequently injured, and isn’t a number two in the offense, despite being a number two in the scoring column. Against the Clippers, Porzingis averaged 5 rebounds and 13 points and only made 29% of his threes. A year ago against the Clippers in the bubble Porzingis averaged 24 points and 9 rebounds.

Kristaps productivity issues are hampered by the contract the Mavs gave him. Porzingis is still owed $64 million before his player option in 2023. He’s the highest-paid player on the roster but the most inconsistent.

Josh Richardson has been a disappointment on both sides of the ball. His defense wasn’t what it was in Miami and his offense has made no one forget Seth Curry.  Richardson should be on his way out which will allow the Mavs to add a shooter. Luka needs someone he can depend on.

Luka needs to mature. His skill, talent, and shot-making are elite but he can go off the island emotionally, always nitpicking about fouls. Competitive intensity can punish the user if he can’t rein it in when he loses his poise.

All of these pieces are Jason Kidd’s number one challenge. The Mavericks have an identity that has failed. The what is Luka going to do has to evolve. How is Kidd’s version of the Mavericks going to play? Last season they ranked 24th in pace and at the same time they weren’t a particularly efficient half-court team. Will Kidd push the pace? These last two years with LeBron James and Anthony Davis the identity was run-outs and defense. That is a Jason Kidd challenge particularly since the Mavs defensive rating was ranked 20th.

A decade ago, Jason Kidd shocked the NBA world and won a title at LeBron James expense. 3,400 days later Kidd won a second NBA ring but his first as a coach while, for the most part, eschewing the limelight. The Lakers allowed Kidd to coach absent pressure and it surprised many that Kidd was never the story, he deferred to Frank Vogel. The way it was supposed to go Vogel was going to fall on his face and then Kidd would pick up the pieces and become the coach. But it worked out even better for Kidd because he returns to Dallas a champion, a Hall of Famer, and the Luka whisperer with a plethora of LeBron anecdotes, stories, and motivational wit.

Rick Carlisle endorsed Jason Kidd as his successor without being asked to do so. “I just think it would be a great situation for Luka, and I think it would be an amazing situation for Jason. I’m the only person on the planet that’s coached both of those guys and that knows about their special qualities as basketball players. To me, that just would be a great marriage, but that’s just an opinion.”

The bad news for Kidd is he’s coaching in a conference that’s stacked with top talent. Steph Curry. LeBron James. Anthony Davis. Damian Lillard. Donovan Mitchell. Kawhi Leonard. Nikola Jokic. Chris Paul. Devin Booker. Will Kidd have improved as a coach? In Milwaukee the style of play was an issue; Kidd was stubborn.

The Mavs as constituted aren’t close to contending even as they have a dynamic player. There are issues that have to be figured out, such as what to do with Porzingis- can they win with him? Priorities: upgrade the bench, get a dynamic shooter, increase defensive play.

But of comfort to the organization is that Mark Cuban doesn’t make coaching mistakes. The Jason Kidd era in Dallas has begun. He’ll last as long as Luka wants him to last.