For better or worse, sans Reggie Bullock and a couple of additions on the margins, this is the same team from the past couple seasons. Sure, many of us have roster fatigue and wish the front office would have done a better job of switching things up, but there is something else. Is it apathy? Well, no. Many us of still watch every game and live and die with every possession. So what is it? It’s almost as though there is a dark cloud hanging over the team. Wins elicit a sigh of relief vs the typical joy we’ve felt in years prior. Losses can be easily explained and rarely leave us scratching our heads in confusion. That black cloud, it turns out, is Jason Kidd, for me at least.
Even for those of us that talked ourselves into this team before the season, Jason Kidd was always going to be the glass ceiling. We convinced ourselves the team could win despite Kidd, as opposed to because of him. We assumed Luka, and Luka alone, would dictate the style of play more so than Kidd. The blueprint was right there for him. Run high screen pick and rolls with Luka, a rim runner, and 3 shooters. Our defense would always be a question mark but we had an efficient half-court offense to fall back on most nights. The reliance on jump shots caused a high night-to-night variance but in games where shots were falling, we could compete with just about anyone.
Fast forward to 2021 and this offense is unrecognizable on some possessions. MMB writers smarter than myself have broken down the offense in great detail and I won’t try to outdo them here. Instead, I’ll focus on the feeling I get watching this team play offense. Some games I’m apoplectic. Others, I’m filled with angst and disappointment.
In fairness to Kidd, he isn’t the sole reason for the team’s uninspiring play. Luka once again showed up out of shape and appears to be going through the motions on some plays. Reggie Bullock and Sterling Brown were billed as 40% shooters from deep but have yet to showcase the ability to be knock-down shooters. That being said, it’s hard to look at the team and believe they are being put in the best position to succeed. Touches in the post may be what Kristaps Porzingis wants, but they aren’t the type of looks that he and the team need from him. On defense, the strategy has yielded mixed results. On some nights Dallas can contain opposing guards and rotate on the perimeter. On others, the Mavericks opt to run a 2-3 zone and get picked apart in crunch time by one of the greatest point guards of our generation.
Ultimately, the season is young and it’s possible, and even likely, that the team’s play will improve. The question is whether or not Kidd has the ability to manufacture wins in scenarios where the team is outmanned and outgunned. Thus far, the answer is clearly no. The team will be fine during the regular season. If things break right they’ll finish as the 5th or 6th seed and avoid the play-in tournament. If not, they’ll finish somewhere between 7th and 10th and hope Luka’s brilliance wins them the requisite number of games to move on. It’s an existential feeling where we know how the season will end and are simply running out the ground ball in the meantime. It’s amazing how quickly my feelings have changed after just 16 games. It wasn’t always this way.
With Kawhi Leonard likely out for the season, there was plenty of reason for optimism. We all know the logic. It took a heroic performance from Kawhi for the Clippers to beat us in the first round. With our kryptonite out of the picture, we would gladly take our chances against the other Western Conference contenders. That optimism and belief have since dissipated. We enter each game with a clear coaching disadvantage and a roster that might be as sick of playing with each other as we are watching them.