Jason Kidd failed as an immature coach. Then he found Luka Doncic.

Jason Kidd failed as an immature coach. Then he found Luka Doncic.

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For Jason Kidd, Luka Doncic isn’t just the superstar every NBA coach needs to chase glory. Doncic is an equal, a modern basketball prodigy to match the spirit of a former Hall of Famer, the kind of talent legends rarely manage to manage after transitioning from the pitch to the bench.

Great players often make ineffective coaches because of what boosted their fame. They are gifted. They see a game that hardly anyone else can see, let alone replicate. It is difficult to translate the extraordinary into the ordinary. The teams are therefore aimed at franchise players. Coaches are more like the caterer.

The Dallas Mavericks have a rare dynamic, however, and it becomes more distinct as they rise to credible contenders in these playoffs. Kidd and Doncic have complementary basketball minds, and in the first season of their coach-player relationship, they bridge multiple generations of point guard styles. Considering how much Doncic has accomplished at 23, Kidd knows that he coaches more than a nice player who would be lucky enough to match his success.

Doncic has the potential to be so much more than Kidd – a top 75 player of all time – and the Slovenian star has already taken four seasons of elite productivity to accomplish it. Doncic is both like Kidd – a big cerebral general in total control of the flow of the game – and his own incomparable thing. It gives new meaning to the fact that a player is an extension of the coach.

Look at the couple as a double muse. Doncic is inspired by a coach who did what he hoped to do. Kidd is delighted to work with a player who can do even more.

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Last summer, Kidd returned to Dallas, where the Mavericks drafted him in 1994 and where he returned to win a championship in 2011, grateful for a great opportunity after two tough stops to start his coaching career. He took the craziest route to Doncic. It was a journey lined with privileges: nine years ago he retired and the following week he took a job coaching Brooklyn. Then shame: He rebounded from the Nets to Milwaukee after one season, after losing an attempt to seize power on General Manager Billy King. Later, the Bucks fired him 3 and a half seasons after his tenurein part because his harsh leadership act had grumbled on most of the team.

When Kidd left Milwaukee in 2018, he was 44 with an uncertain future in a profession he had entered too soon. Although he had a winning record and three playoff appearances on his coaching resume, he had short stints with two organizations. After the power struggle in Brooklyn, former Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov offered a reprimand that still stings.

“There is a lovely proverb in English: Don’t let the door knock on you where the Good Lord has divided you.” the russian billionaire said.

Rivalries, controversies and utter nonsense defined the start of Kidd’s coaching career. Talk of his antics eclipsed ratings of his ability to teach the game. Once, with Brooklyn, he was fined $50,000 for intentionally spilling soda on the fieldwhich was a ruse to stop the game as his team was out of time out.

Kidd took a year off after the Bucks fired him, then got a job with the Los Angeles Lakers as Frank Vogel’s assistant and won a championship in 2020. In two seasons with the Lakers, he reset his coaching reputation. Many assumed Kidd was in Los Angeles to take over if Vogel failed, but Kidd seized the opportunity to learn and grow.

Kidd may have made his way into an immediate coaching gig, but that didn’t make him a coach. He needed time to turn all the wisdom in his hoops into fully formed philosophies that could create a culture. He had bursts of genius, notably his role in lighting up Giannis Antetokounmpo. His own development required much more patience.

And now he’s on his third leg, back with Mark Cuban and Dallas, and in the Western Conference Finals. To get here, the Mavericks beat perennial Utah in the playoffs, despite Doncic starting the series injured. But it was their comeback against Phoenix, the defending Western Conference champions who had the league’s best regular season record, that validated this new direction with Kidd and Nico Harrison, the rookie president and general manager of the league. ‘team. It’s not just Luka’s team. They are a budding defensive marvel with Luka as the centerpiece of the game.

In the Suns’ amazing Game 7 at Dallas, the Mavericks were so locked in defensively that they felt like five Kidds were on the floor at all times. Doncic was spectacular and obnoxious, chuckling as he orchestrated a masterpiece. Doncic plays at such a methodical pace – never rushed, always in control, affected only by his annoyance at the referees – that you can almost see his mind spinning. In Kidd’s heyday, speed was essential to his game, but when teams could slow him down, you recognized the same ability to process play and anticipate whatever came next.

Kidd arrived in Dallas saying of Doncic, “My job is to give him some test answers. His imagination is at the highest level, which is a good thing to be a part of. I tried a lot of things and I know I drove a lot of my coaches crazy. I won’t get mad because I’ve been in those shoes.

His shoes probably couldn’t match Doncic’s advanced footwork and shooting. Kidd was the classic pass-first point guard. Doncic is a goalscorer with exceptional vision and feel on the pitch, and Kidd is slowly teaching him to play with the ball sometimes. But defensive awareness is the biggest impact Kidd will have on the superstar, and after the coach challenged Doncic to ‘participate’ defensively when the Mavericks fell 2-0 to the Suns, Doncic responded like a player. who is burning to win. He’ll probably never be considered a good defender, but at 6-foot-7 and 245 pounds, he can make different contributions in positionless lineups with better effort and focus.

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Before Kidd, Indiana coach Rick Carlisle led the Mavericks and honed Doncic as an offensive force. But he couldn’t get the Mavericks to play the other end like Kidd did. Dallas finished Kidd’s first season ranked seventh in defensive efficiency. Prior to his arrival, he had finished in the bottom third for most of Doncic’s time. The Mavs aren’t as explosive offensively under Kidd, but the improved balance meant everything in the playoffs.

“Jason was able to bring an attitude that was much needed,” Carlisle said in an interview with Dallas radio station 105.3 the Fan.

Years from now, when we look back on this era of multipositional, multicultural basketball, we’ll have to recognize Kidd as an unlikely whisperer. It was the spirit of basketball that unlocked Antetokounmpo’s atypical greatness. Now he’s helping the already polished Doncic translate his individual talent into playoff success.

Kidd no longer needs soda shenanigans. He has a player who can vibrate with him. In fact, he has someone completing his transformation from legend to coach: a young superstar destined to surpass him, then go back and take him higher.

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