“I’m not the savior here. I’m not playing. I’m watching, just like you guys.” That’s what Jason Kidd said after a late February loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. That’s not exactly what you want to hear from the head coach of your favorite NBA team.
Understandably, Dallas Mavericks fans were not happy. The rest of the NBA media ecosystem was delighted, as the quote provided quite a bit of content for everyone. Beyond all the emotions and aggregations, however, is one simple question for Kidd — what would you say you do here?
The Mavericks’ defense, the engine that drove their run to the Western Conference Finals last season, was one of the worst in the league this season. Their 116.1 defensive rating ranked 25th in the NBA. This happened despite the Mavericks only losing one key player, Jalen Brunson, from last season’s squad, which ranked fifth with a 109.1 defensive rating. So we know Kidd is not defensive mastermind, able to produce a stifling defense no matter the roster.
The Dallas offense was elite, better than last season even. Yet in clutch time, they were average at best, and often one of the worst. The Mavericks 106.2 offensive rating in clutch games was 22nd in the NBA, and their 8.8 points per clutch game was 16th. Kidd wasn’t drawing up genius after-timeout plays to put away games.
He’s just watching, same as us. But he’s there for practice, and team meetings. He’s on the bench during games, so maybe he’s there to curate the vibes and keep the energy flowing. “I think you can see it with me on the court,” Luka Doncic said after a loss to the Charlotte Hornets. “Sometimes I don’t feel it’s me. I’m just being out there. I used to have fun, smiling on the court, but it’s just been frustrating…” The franchise superstar isn’t having a good time, so no, Kidd isn’t lifting everyone’s spirits and creating wins with immaculate vibes.
And it’s not like Kidd comes to Dallas with a stellar coaching record. He only lasted one year with the Brooklyn Nets, going 44-38 and losing in the second round of the playoffs. His time with the Milwaukee Bucks looks like what’s happening in Dallas — consistently up and down. The Bucks made the playoffs two out of four years under Kidd, their record bouncing around, until he was finally let go. The stories that came out afterward were not encouraging.
Kidd did lead the Mavericks to their first conference finals since 2011 two seasons ago. That must mean something right? Teams don’t fire coaches who recently got them deep into the playoffs, do they? Well, they do. The Cleveland Cavaliers fired Ty Lue six games into the 2018-19 season, months after he led them to the Finals for the third straight season. And Lue took over for David Blatt, who was fired midway through the 2015-16 season after leading the Cavaliers to the Finals the previous season. The Los Angeles Lakers fired Paul Westhead the season after he led them to a championship. Even the Mavericks have history with this, firing Avery Johnson just two years after he led them to the Finals, and one year after he coached them to the best record in the NBA.
There’s plenty of reasons to move on from Kidd, there’s no history of him improving in his third season, and there’s precedent for firing coaches who made successful playoff runs. But not only that, there are a lot of quality coaches available right now.
Kenny Atkinson is from the San Antonio Spurs coaching tree and did an incredible job in Brooklyn before being being let go when Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving arrived. He’s been with the Golden State Warriors the last few years and is highly sought after every time a coaching job comes open. Adrian Griffin is another coach to consider, and a former Maverick, which always sells. He’s been an assistant coach under Nick Nurse in Toronto for a few years, which can’t hurt. There are even rumors Nurse might be available, which would be a huge upgrade. Former Mavericks assistant Igor Kokoskov might have taken all the good vibes with him when he left for the Nets last offseason. Maybe it’s time to bring him back.
There’s no reason to suffer through another underachieving season with Kidd. Especially when there are so many quality coaches available who will do more than watch games, just like us. With Quin Snyder taking over the bench in Atlanta, one good candidate is already off the board. The Mavericks can’t waste time hoping Kidd improves, because the clock is ticking with their superstar. Doncic hasn’t made even a whisper about wanting out, but the Mavericks front office knows he is frustrated with the lack of progress and worry he’ll ask out next summer. If they’re truly concerned, they need to give Doncic as many advantages as possible, and that includes who is calling the shots from the bench.