It was clear this season that x’s and o’s were not the driving force behind Dallas’ success (or lack thereof). As seen through the last-second plays that always ended in a Luka Doncic stepback, the Mavericks severely needed a basketball mastermind on the sideline. To be fair, the coaching staff did not have much of a roster to experiment with. There were wrinkles that they could have thrown out, but sooner or later the roster holes were going to get exposed. Either way, the coaching staff did not implement everything that they could have (give us more Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving pick-and-rolls).
What the coaching staff did have control over was what they said and more specifically what head coach Jason Kidd relayed to the media. From “I’m watching, just like you”, to “nobody died”, there was a bewildering shortage of accountability. It was almost as if Kidd had the mindset that things were going to be just fine on the Titanic and made jokes about the criticism while the water rose all around him. He spoke about Twitter coaches as if “Mavericks’ Twitter” was a real place. He consistently referred to some “hope” to find players more minutes when he was the one determining who plays. Possibly most egregious of all was the passive aggressiveness he exerted when the time came to call out his star player for his effort.
With all of Kidd’s pitfalls and poorly thought-out comments, there was still a deeper issue on the Mavericks’ bench this year: they lacked real coaching experience. Darrell Armstrong, Sean Sweeney, and Greg St. Jean are all fine assistants in their own right, but this team desperately needed a tenured head coach at some position. Almost the entire front of the coaching staff has under a decade of experience at the assistant or head coaching level. The team had no consistency throughout the entire year and a lot of that can be attributed to the fact that the coaching staff, quite literally, was learning as they went. Dallas had no strong arm and no one to steady the ship. The loss of Igor Kokoskov might have been a bigger plot point than we realized at the time because he at least was a very experienced coach, not to mention a basketball savant. The absence of leadership played out in many ways, but perhaps most clearly through the way Luka Doncic regressed in his attitude on the court. The Mavericks are led by a 24-year-old star; they need a guy on the bench who won’t give in to Doncic’s star power and knows how to win. This is what Rick Carlisle brought to the table, and while Carlisle himself isn’t the answer, Dallas needs pieces of him to return in some form.
Straight A’s: the development of the young guys
Kidd’s biggest selling point is being a great player development coach. The results are hard to deny, and this year gave him a strong case to be considered one of the best in that regard. Josh Green, although inconsistent towards the end of the year, took a huge leap in productiveness this season. He became a good shooter, showcased the energy he can bring to a meaningful game, and was an impactful defender at times. Kidd empowers his players and Green is a guy who is driven by confidence. He can be an important piece going forward if he continues to make these leaps over the next few years.
Jaden Hardy was a complete wild card going into the season. Although Kidd probably should have given him more minutes earlier in the season, what Hardy became by the end was more than we could have hoped for his rookie season. The coaching staff gave him the keys when Doncic was out and he played well. His talent is undeniable and the time and confidence he was given by the coaches after the turn of the calendar helped his development a lot.
Failing miserably: calling a timeout
Too often Jason Kidd would wait until the damage was done before calling a timeout. Most famously was the loss to the Lakers in which Dallas blew a 27-point lead. Timeouts were withheld during the Lakers’ run, leading to Kidd’s comments about not being a “savior” and his noting that he was “just watching”. Rick Carlisle is a great coach and one thing that made him great was calling quick timeouts, almost to a fault. Kidd is the polar opposite and has expressed that he wants his players to play through adversity but too often Dallas found themselves succumbing to the pressure that was put on them during a run that was not stopped by calling a timeout. Multiple games were lost this way and will be lost next year as well if Kidd doesn’t put his child-like naivety to the side.
Extra credit: Jason Kidd’s stubbornness
Even though Kidd makes a lot of bad decisions, one thing that he deserves credit for is staying even-keel through the good and the bad. He seems to be removed from outcomes and entrenched in his processes. With the grueling ups and downs of an NBA season and the increase in narrative pushing from the media, having this strong base is quite admirable. It is entirely another question whether or not his processes work (they don’t), but the fact that he sticks to them is credit-worthy. If the Mavericks’ roster improves and Kidd changes the way he views a successful basketball team, this lack of influence from the day-to-day could prove to be an asset for a winning team.