Before we begin, a big, fat, juicy disclaimer: all public comments made by NBA coaches (or any professional sports coach, for that matter), should be taken with a grain of salt. What a coach says in a public interview isn’t set in stone and even at times counter to what is going on behind the scenes. Having said that, what Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said during a recent radio interview was fairly encouraging.
The Dallas coach spoke with Marc Stein on local radio station 97.1 The Freak for Stein’s weekly Saturday program this weekend. During the discussion, Kidd made some pretty interesting comments about the Mavericks two first round rookies: center Dereck Lively and forward Olivier-Maxence Prosper. Namely, Kidd indicated that both could be major players in the Mavericks rotation when the season starts in late October.
“They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do,” Kidd said. “Each week they get better. So we’re excited. I look for those rookies to play a lot this season. They’re going to be a part of our fabric. There could be a chance of one of them starting. So, we’ll see.”
When asked about the starting center spot, Kidd said “it’s up for grabs” and that Lively has a chance to win the job. In fact Kidd said that Lively and Prosper will likely start training camp as the final two starters around Kyrie Irving, Luka Doncic, and newly acquired Grant Williams. To be clear, this means starting in training camp and perhaps the first preseason game, not the regular season. But Kidd hinted that those two could earn those spots if they perform well, and Kidd told Stein he wants to see how the rookies react playing with the locked in starters.
“I’ve talked to the coaching staff and (Mavericks general manager) Nico (Harrison) about starting Lively with Luka and Kai (Kyrie Irving) and Grant (Williams),” Kidd said. “We’ll see how that goes.”
It brings up a fascinating conundrum for this upcoming Mavericks season — how does Dallas balance the win-now expectations that come with Luka Doncic and re-signing Kyrie Irving versus the development of Lively, Prosper, and even to an extent Jaden Hardy and Josh Green. The Mavericks are in a place few teams are, both carrying the weight of expectations of winning with a roster that has finally been re-tooled and rebuilt with youth, talent, and athleticism in mind. The Mavericks have to walk a fine-line between competing for a playoff spot after last season’s disastorious 11th place finish and also giving the young players time to grow, since presumably those young players will be part of the core going forward.
As D Magazine’s (and former Mavs Moneyball staffer) Iztok Franko noted, rookie starting centers for playoff teams are a rare breed. You can even broaden that thought to just rookies in general — first year players do not contribute right away to winning basketball, outside of the few exceptions. Look at just last season, for example, with Kings rookie forward Keegan Murray. He started 78 games after being picked fourth overall in the 2022 draft, putting together a splendid All-Rookie season. Even with all that success, Murray struggled mightily to start the playoffs, scoring a combined 10 points in the Kings first three games against the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs. Murray adjusted and did better after, but it does go to show that even high-profile rookies can struggle to affect winning in high-leverage situations.
While history says neither Lively or Prosper will be big-time playoff starters, they do both play positions (center and wing) the Mavericks desperately need a talent boost compared to a season ago. Expecting Lively and Prosper to be day one starters is too much, but the fact that Kidd, as of now, is publicly backing them as a part of the team’s plan is perhaps a great sign that the Mavericks will balance the desire to win now while keeping an eye toward the future.