Analysis: Kidd one less question for Nets

Jason Kidd impressed his superiors, players and colleagues in his rookie season as head coach. Anthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY Sports

Not long after Miami eliminated Brooklyn in a grinding Game 5, Erik Spoelstra chuckled when asked about successfully defending one of the Nets’ late key possessions.

Spoelstra admitted Jason Kidd kept him guessing during the series in late-game situations.

“No idea. Really,” Spoelstra said when asked who he thought Kidd would go to on a possession that saw Shaun Livingston get the ball with 32 seconds left with the Nets down two in Game 5. “That is the one thing you can definitely say about Jason Kidd -- he was very unpredictable.”

Unpredictable might be the perfect way to describe Kidd’s roller-coaster first season as head coach. It was a little like his career as a player.

The season started off rocky with a highly-publicized split (remember the Three J’s in Dallas?) but included Kidd's trademark turnaround, with the Nets rebounding from a dreadful 10-21 start by going 33-13 at one point after Jan. 1.

His first year on the bench included a little of everything, from the Lawrence Frank divorce, to the spilled soda ploy, to a tidal wave of injuries, to two Eastern Conference coach of the month honors and a franchise-record 15-straight home wins at Barclays.

He needed seven games to get past Toronto but was able to help the Nets overcome a 3-2 deficit and win a Game 7 on the road to get out of the first round. The Nets’ season ended in five games to the two-time defending champs after Brooklyn had a handful of chances but couldn’t execute on key late possessions against LeBron James.

Handed the keys to a roster built to win it all, Kidd got Brooklyn off to a shaky start before hitting his stride and getting the Nets to the second round. In the end, the Nets failed to accomplish what they were assembled to do --- and that was get past the Heat.

But the Nets feel perhaps their biggest question mark entering the season has been answered.

“I think he grew a lot,” general manager Billy King said last Friday. “And a lot of it was understanding the nuances of the coaching ... I saw it in the last home game, he called Deron [Williams] and Paul [Pierce] over late and whispered something and next thing Paul goes backdoor and gets a layup.

"So he sees things still from a point guard [view] ... He grew tremendously and he’ll continue to grow.”

Kidd may have never coached before this season, but he certainly made up for it by packing seasons worth of drama into eight months.

In the beginning, Kidd opened training camp at Duke in October with Frank leading much of the instruction, while he oversaw everything. He soon learned he had to become more hands-on.

The Nets opened a dreadful 10-21 and appeared to be sinking amid crippling injuries, drama and ugly losses. Kidd took more control after the Frank demotion, altering the team’s system. He started figuring things out. From sensing small things like when his team needed him to stand up and walk the sideline, to constant tinkering with his rotation, Kidd started doing things his way.

The Nets eventually got healthier, and he never lost the locker room despite some disturbing blowouts, maintaining support from Kevin Garnett and Pierce.

“I thought he did a phenomenal job,” said Williams. “He kept his composure when things weren’t going well to start the season. He never panicked, never showed it to us, because I think he knew, with the injuries we were dealing with and the lineups we had out there, it was tough.

“Once we weathered the storm and got some consistent time together, things changed and you saw him do a great job.”

Much like how he played, Kidd coached a lot based on his feel and vision. The Nets were at their best when they moved the ball and spaced shooters across the floor. Kidd liked to go to mismatches and his strength was being able to relate to his players.

“Just his leadership,” Pierce explained. “I think at the beginning there was a respect level and I respected J-Kidd to the utmost for what he has done on, off the court. I think he has transitioned greatly. He understands the players.”

Perhaps his biggest move was starting Pierce at power forward after Brook Lopez went down for the season in December. Shortly after, the Nets took off in 2014.

Players like Livingston and Mirza Teletovic had breakout seasons under Kidd. Rookie Mason Plumlee also showed some flashes. And Kidd wasn’t afraid to play his role players over his high-priced contract players in the fourth quarter.

Kidd, though, planned on lifting Williams back to elite point guard status again, but Williams struggled with his health and confidence, and it showed during the postseason. The rookie coach had to deal with a minutes restriction on some of his players like Garnett and stuck to it for better or worse. The Nets also often had trouble holding onto leads or sometimes got off to slow starts.

Kidd pushed some buttons successfully in his first postseason. He drew a $25,000 fine for criticizing officials and lobbying for more calls before Game 6 against Toronto and starting Alan Anderson for Livingston before that game.

Now Kidd enters his first full offseason as a coach with a chance to go through the draft and plan for free agency with King. Kidd, his coaching staff and returning players will enter camp more comfortable with a full year under their belt.

Kidd will try to unlock Williams' All-Star game and incorporate Lopez in with his offense if both return. The Nets will explore all options to improve this offseason, which includes seeing what market there is for Williams and Lopez -- both of whom will be difficult to trade due to contract and health.

Kidd also may not have Pierce, Garnett, Livingston, Andrei Kirilenko and Andray Blatche, among others next season.

The Nets have a lot of questions entering the offseason. But at least one has been answered: the Nets saw Kidd grow into a coach.

“I’m still 6-[foot]-3 and a half,” deadpanned Kidd, who cites patience as the biggest lesson he learned about coaching. “I still weigh 225. Did I grow? No. But maybe understanding basketball a little bit better -- not as a player -- but as a coach? Yes.”