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The Dallas Mavericks won’t move on from Jason Kidd... but they probably should

We have crossed the Rubicon of dysfunction

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Before a national television audience, the Dallas Mavericks coughed up of 20-plus point lead in an embarrassing loss that had media and fans questioning just how far they could go. The coach of the Mavericks took to the microphone and when asked how this meltdown was possible he answered first with talk of scores and stops, gave credit to his opposition, and then dropped this precious gem of honesty.

“It’s a game you shouldn’t lose. But sometimes these things happen, and when they do we’ve got to stay the course and keep playing and move on to the next game. That’s all we can do at this point.”

The coach was Rick Carlisle and the date was April 23, 2011. The Mavericks had just fallen to the Portland Trailblazers in gut-wrenching fashion in Game 4 of the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Up 67-44 with just over a minute to go in the third quarter, the Mavs found a way to lose that 23-point lead despite being in an era of lower scoring relative to the bucket frenzy we are witnessing in today’s game. Pundits and fans around the country were picking Portland over Dallas as a trendy upset pick. Dropping Game 4 in such a horrendous fashion was rocket fuel to those prognostications. The Mavericks responded by bouncing back in games five and six, the first bounce back of many as they quested towards their eventual championship.

As fans and media, we don’t get to go behind closed doors for team-only interactions. Yet, it is fair to view postgame pressers after tough losses as a window into the mindset of a coach, and that night Rick owned it. No excuses. It was a game they should not have lost. Acknowledging that in blunt terms was cathartic, not just for fans but also for the players. It is safe to assume players hear and read the quotes, especially in moments of vulnerability and honesty after a brutal loss. Rick Carlisle did not wallow in it but instead answered it head-on which helped the team move to game five and beyond with resolve.

Fast forward 12 years and another head coach of the Dallas Mavericks took a very different approach after one of the worst regular season losses in recent memory. The Mavs pilfered away the 27-point lead they had built and were systematically dismantled by the Los Angeles Lakers. In response to being asked why he did not call a timeout, Jason Kidd justified his choice by telling reporters, “I’m not the savior here. I’m watching. I’m not playing, I’m watching just like you guys. Us as a team we have to mature. We have to grow up if we want to win a championship.”

Kidd’s theory of the case is not surprising. He wants his team to figure it out on the fly. He treats the regular season as if it is an extended preseason and the playoffs are all that matters. But while championships cannot be won in the regular season, they can be lost.

The arc of this Dallas Mavericks season feels like history is repeating. During his first season in Milwaukee and last season with the Mavericks, Kidd had an immediately positive effect followed by a season of regression. His passive-aggressive communication style, lack of adaptation in game management, and now public statement analogizing his role to that of a spectator means that we have crossed the Rubicon. The Dallas Mavericks should fire Jason Kidd.

Spoiler Alert. Kidd is not going anywhere - not this season and probably not anytime soon. The Western Conference Finals run bought him this year and at least one more before any talk of the hot seat would gain traction. Yet as with all relationships, the psychological expiration date and the day it actually ends are rarely one and the same. There’s the day your marriage dies and the day the movers show up. One is a gut feeling, the other is paperwork. Kidd may have lost this team and needs to go yet Maverick faithful will have to endure at least another year - and perhaps more - of his tenure.

When Kidd publicly equivocates his role to that of a glorified spectator, he abdicates his functionality as head coach. His assertion that because he is not playing on the floor he thereby cannot impact the outcome of the game or share in the success or failure is beyond ludicrous. This sort of deflective statement is intended to insulate Kidd from the team’s struggles rather than allow room for an answer that includes his measure of responsibility. Yes, he will say “we have to be better” on repeat, but he rarely, if ever, answers a question from the press in a way that directly addresses his decision-making. This is by design and it is counterproductive.

Kidd’s reluctance to call timeouts to curb an opposing team’s momentum is well-established at this point. Watching huge leads evaporate as if calling a timeout is tantamount to keeping the training wheels on a child’s bicycle too long is a maddeningly obtuse premise. There is a balance between an overly timeout-happy, panicked coach and what we are seeing from Kidd. Championship coaches call timeouts to stop runs in the regular season. They make substitutions and give their team a moment to reestablish their composure. Why bother throwing the life preserver when you are teaching someone how to swim? Because when that lifeline is regularly held back during dire moments, it feels punitive, not instructive.

Kidd’s placidity extends to his assessment of the Mavericks’ late-game bubbles and stumbles this season. When asked about the trend of miscues he responded, “I’m glad it's happening during the season and not during the playoffs." He went on to characterize this most recent folly as a factor of unfamiliarity between Luka Doncic and new addition Kyrie Irving. The concern here is that all season long the Mavericks have had one option for last-possession scenarios. Before the trade, it was a Doncic step-back off a high screen, and after the trade, it is a two-man game between Doncic and Irving which relies on improvisational chemistry the duo clearly has not established yet. Why not employ some misdirection to what the entire arena is expecting? Why not have a half dozen set plays to call on so that the scouting process is a bit more complicated? Why not involve the other three players as more than department store mannequins spacing the floor? Instead, Kidd relies on his All-Star backcourt to figure it out on the fly and sidesteps the notion that a head coach can leverage their experience and creativity to guide the team through coinflip moments.

Perhaps most damaging is Kidd’s assertion that the team lacks maturity and needs to grow up. In totality, this is not a young team. The only two Maverick players with a significant role under the age of 30 are superstar Luka Doncic and the emerging Josh Green. The choice to focus on youth and immaturity in a press conference is clearly directed at Doncic, yet it is done without naming him. This is textbook passive aggression. The far wiser move is to address Doncic’s loss of focus privately. If a coach decides to take the bold step of calling out their superstar, they should do it with conviction and make it count. The half-measure approach of strongly hinting at his displeasure only serves to fill the locker room air with tension. To be fair, there is a possibility that Kidd is doing this behind the scenes and Doncic is simply not responding. And well, if a player isn’t responding to his coach...

This notion of being just a spectator is nothing new for Kidd. See if you can spot the pattern in this clip from five years ago.

Kidd has veered far from his predecessor’s blunt and surly answers into a realm of passive aggression. He has outsourced responsibility for what transpires on the court to his players instead of maintaining the theory of a shared enterprise. He either does not construct out-of-bounds and last-possession plays or is incompetent to the point of parody-inducing predictability. While the roster is in need of more improvements that will not come this season, Kidd relies on players who are struggling.

Dwight Powell’s performance against Los Angeles is just the latest example. Rather than pivoting to a break-glass maneuver when things are not working, such as using Christian Wood in an attempt to simply outscore the Lakers, Kidd stuck with what is familiar and unsuccessful. (It is doubtful Kidd would have started JJ Barea in Game 4 of the 2011 Finals or Boban in the playoffs against the Clippers). Kidd then caps off the day by pronouncing that he is not the timeout-wielding savior for a team that needs him to be an advocate and leader, not a docile observer.

By contrast, Brooklyn Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn tackled the dicey topic of the Ben Simmons conundrum in a recent post-game presser. When asked about Simmons's fit on their post-deadline roster, Vaughn could have obfuscated but hit the topic straight on. While these comments may not fix Simmons, you can be sure the rest of the players in the locker room admired his honesty.

By way of an out-of-left-field television reference, there is a moment in the episode of Doctor Who entitled Amy’s Choice where the Doctor and his two companions - young couple Amy and Rory - are shifting back and forth through two competing realities. The protagonists are unsure which reality is the dream and which is authentic. In the world where Amy and Rory are five years older, married, and expecting a child, Rory dies at the hands of the aliens of the week. Amy is distraught and turns to her friend, the Time Lord, and asks The Doctor to fix the situation. She has watched him use his knowledge of time travel and the universe to save whole planets and now when it really matters to her she asks him to rescue her husband who has disintegrated into ash before her eyes. When he tells her that he simply cannot help change what has happened, she asks a question with rage-filled eyes, “Then what is the point of you?”

The next time Jason Kidd exhibits passive aggression in a media interview rather than criticize a player directly, the next time he absolves himself of responsibility for calling final plays as nothing more than a chemistry issue, and the next time he tells the world is he just watching the game like the rest of us, perhaps someone in the room could ask what value he is bringing to the team. What is the point of Jason Kidd?