WASHINGTON, D.C. -- On the eve of the first day of training camp, Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd wanted to know exactly where his players' heads were at.
So, during a team dinner, Kidd asked each of his players to talk about their goals entering the season. “I want to hear what you guys are thinking,” Kidd recalled. “Because if you are not thinking championship, then I need to know that.”
“Everybody said the right things,” Kidd added. “So now I can hold them accountable because I recorded it. We videotaped it.”
On Tuesday night in Washington, Kidd’s every move will be recorded as the rookie coach begins the process of proving to his team and the NBA that he can do the job.
The Nets’ preseason opener against the Washington Wizards is Kidd’s next step toward coaching in a real game. His only game experience thus far has been in summer-league play, during which he got a technical foul for walking across half court to argue a no-call. He also garnered attention when he left another summer-league game to take a cell-phone call from free agent Andrei Kirilenko. Kidd, though, was watching that game and not coaching or sitting on the bench.
Kidd will have seven preseason games before making his regular-season debut on Nov. 3 in Orlando, after serving a two-game suspension for pleading guilty in July to driving while ability impaired.
Kidd, 40, won’t have the luxury normally afforded rookie head coaches. He is directing a franchise with immediate championship aspirations. General manager Billy King said last week that the team’s window to win is “now.”
Can Kidd adjust on the fly and be as sharp with a Sharpie and clipboard as he was with the ball in his hands? Can he draw up a winning play in the final seconds of a tie game? Will he make the right substitutions?
Kidd admits he is a big unknown and will make mistakes.
“I think his instincts will take over,” King said. “In a game, he’ll see things, he’ll make the sub, just like he did as a player. He knew when to get the ball to vets. He’ll understand when to get a guy out and when to go big, when to go small.”
“Because for 19 years, that’s what he was doing,” King added. “That’s one thing Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] mentioned to me before I hired him: If you do hire him, then you got to let his instincts take over. Don’t put him in a box and say he’s got to be this type of coach.”
In the first week of camp, Kidd allowed his assistant coaches to do a lot of the instruction. Lead assistant Lawrence Frank spent much of the first practice installing the team’s defense, while Kidd watched and talked to players on the side.
Kidd said the thing he has had a difficult time grasping is thinking more like a coach when a player or the team makes a mistake. As a player, Kidd always wanted to see how a teammate reacted following a mistake.
"I’ve always been a big believer in, 'Let’s see what happens when someone makes a mistake, how they respond to it,'" Kidd said. "As a coach, you are supposed to stop and correct a mistake. That is something I am learning how to get better at."
He also is getting an early lesson in how to deal with star players. The ultra-competitive Kevin Garnett has not been receptive to Kidd's idea of resting on the tail end of back-to-backs, in an effort to keep him healthy and fresh for the postseason. Garnett doesn’t want to miss any playing time or even practice reps while the Nets build team chemistry.
Kidd has tried to work with Garnett on the issue, which might remain fluid throughout the season. Kidd and Garnett have known each other for years. But Kidd is learning how to deal with the strong-willed Garnett as a coach for the first time.
When Kidd tried convincing Paul Pierce and Garnett to sign off on a trade to the Nets, he made a pitch to both former Celtics. It didn’t take long to convince Pierce. Garnett, on the other hand, needed more coaxing from Kidd that the Nets could be true title contenders before he finally agreed to the deal.
“The beauty is I have known Kevin for a long time,” Kidd said. “He is going to make me better and my job is to make sure he crosses that finish line with that trophy.”
At his first team dinner with the New Jersey Nets in 2001, Kidd set the tone by telling his new teammates that they were going to make the playoffs. In his second go-round with the Nets, the standards have risen to the point that not reaching the Eastern Conference finals could be considered a failure.
“I don’t look at it as pressure,” Kidd said. “I look at it as a great challenge.”