Something remarkable happened at training camp recently. I’d like to say that I noticed it from the get go, but the truth is that I didn’t see it until the clip was shared on Twitter.
It shows the beginning of a drill, where Jason Kidd calls out: “Here we go!”
The remarkable thing is that Dorian Finney-Smith replies: “Hey coach, don’t say nothing - let us talk.”
Jason Kidd responds: ”I’m not saying… oh ok.. I won’t say nothing. You’re right. Doe, you’re right.”
Love Dorian telling J Kidd to stop talking for them on defense, and wanting himself to be one who is the defensive leader on the court communicating with the rest of the guys…— Coopz (@LukaDaGoat) October 8, 2022
Just another reason why I love Dorian so much pic.twitter.com/uzM6XuH4zv
This short clip is extraordinary for multiple reasons. It’s a coach and a player having a dialogue, something that happens every day, right? Wrong.
As a start, many coaches won’t even allow a culture where this situation is possible. Players are supposed to do what the coach says, not question him - especially not in front of the whole team and staff. If you do, you might be punished one way or another. Ultimately, the ego that it takes to become a head coach in the NBA usually doesn’t allow this kind of humility.
But that’s not how Jason Kidd operates in Dallas. The culture that Kidd has developed with the help of his staff here has a much more human approach. It focuses on the players buying into the culture with a key word being accountability. In this culture, everyone knows the roles they play, everyone understands exactly what they bring to the table and each player will do everything to avoid letting the team down. In this culture, players do their utmost for the team - not in fear of the coach and of punishment.
It’s all about the talking
Coach Kidd has developed a culture in Dallas, where the players feel comfortable speaking up and speaking their mind, and we see the results of that in this clip, where Finney-Smith asks Kidd to change his behavior out in the open.
The clip also shows that the culture from last year, when it was all about chemistry and accountability, has carried over to this year. And it shows that Finney-Smith is a culture bearer for Jason Kidd and a leader - the second most important player on this team in my opinion.
Even more amazingly, it shows that Finney-Smith has bought into Jason Kidd’s coaching style to an extent that he’s correcting the coach himself. And the coach is allowing it. Kidd plainly says: You’re right and I was wrong. Finney-Smith is reminding Kidd of his own philosophy.
Jason Kidd himself has emphasized that his vision is all about communicating.
“It’s being able to make mistakes and being able to move forward,” he said in January.
“The last month or two, guys are being able to talk to each other. We are not going to play a perfect game. It’s about mistakes and how you correct mistakes on the go. Those guys on the floor are doing a great job of talking about it, solving the problem, and not letting it happen twice or three times in a row. That’s how it looks.”
No tough love in Dallas
I have no doubt that Jason Kidd has been a difference-maker to this team. His impact on Luka and the way he has been able to relate to him, using his own Hall-of-Fame career, is something that Luka has pointed out many times. I am also certain that much of that culture comes from the core of the coaching staff.
The Athletic’s Tim Cato put it like this: “I think there’s real value in a culture that’s built more from the bottom up rather than being dictated from the top.” He calls Kidd’s cultural impact the “most impressive thing witnessed last season, more than any deep playoff run or on-court performance.”
This is exactly my point. Kidd arrived to a mediocre team with a generational talent and superstar at its center. This specific star also happens to be a high-culture chemistry guy, who cares about people around him. Kidd and Luka Dončić had an instant connection.
Previously, however, Jason Kidd was known for more of a ‘tough love’ coaching style, which has even been described as “psychological warfare”, when he was with the Bucks.
According to reports, Kidd asked players in front of each other if they deserved to be off on Christmas Eve after a loss. The players voiced their opinions on the matter, but Kidd scheduled a 9 a.m. practice anyway, and at some point even called former Bucks player Larry Sanders a “piece of s—t” and a “terrible player.”
But since then, Kidd’s approach has changed, and he came to Dallas with a different vision, somewhat of a changed person from his previous stops. His approach seems gentler, more inclusive and based on the players taking ownership. And if you suspect that he is putting up a front, I can tell you plainly: You can’t fool a team as a head coach. Every single player has bought into this culture, and that would not have happened if they didn’t trust him.
A good culture is that last unquantifiable aspect that most teams aspire to have and only few do. It’s something that can take them just a little bit further than what their talent would allow on paper. We saw that against the Suns last year in the playoffs. But can the Mavericks repeat that success this season or even improve on last season’s? If they do, they have Jason Kidd and his culture to thank for much of that.
The Mavericks are more than the sum of their parts right now and that’s what makes them exciting to watch.