Jason Kidd embraces new direction
ORLANDO, Fla. -- It didn't take long for Jason Kidd to discover the boundaries along his transition from recently retired, legendary point guard to rookie NBA head coach.
One game into his new gig, Kidd had already crossed the line. The first lesson he learned in his Brooklyn Nets' coaching debut Sunday at the Orlando Pro Summer League was to remain in the designated area near his team's bench.
When Kidd ventured too far past midcourt to gripe with game officials about a missed call, he was hit with a technical foul -- one he earned just like a coaching veteran.
"I tried to express to the referee that they missed what we were trying to do," Kidd later said through a bit of a proud smirk. "It happens. They're not perfect. We're not perfect. So it's a lesson learned, and I know I can't go past half court. I've seen some of these coaches [go] all the way down on the other end. I can't follow their lead in that respect. I learn really quickly. I deserved a T because I was trying to protect my guys as they were trying to do the right thing."
The Nets' team of young roster players and aspiring free-agent prospects lost 76-67 to a similarly constituted Detroit Pistons squad in the final game on opening day of the weeklong summer league tournament. But Kidd seemed far from a defeated coach after his first game on the job.
He won't be a polished product overnight. Kidd knows enough about the profession already to understand that finding his comfort zone will be a methodical process.
The 40-year-old Kidd is as much a work in progress this week in Orlando as the collection of players who are taking instructions from him before, during and after these games. And he didn't hesitate to admit as much after Sunday's loss.
"This is summer school for me and, hopefully, I'm going in the right direction," Kidd said. "It's everybody's training ground. This is where we all get better. I wasn't nervous. When you're in this arena -- I've been in a lot of them. So it's old hat in that sense. I'm just not playing. I'm trying to put guys in position to be successful."
That also includes putting himself in the best position to be a success. The Magic's training facility was filled with plenty of former point guards and great players who had varying levels of success in their transition from running the show on the court to managing the game from the bench.
One of the first people to stop Kidd on his way into the gym Sunday was Indiana Pacers president and former Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird, who wished him luck. Kidd embraced Bird for several moments as the two spoke privately. After his stellar playing career, Bird coached Indiana for three successful seasons but later said it was extremely difficult to channel his competitive fire as a player into effective leadership on the bench.
Kidd also spent time in the hours leading to the Nets' game chatting with current NBA coaches Mo Cheeks, Scott Brooks, Erik Spoelstra and Nate McMillan among others. Each approached Kidd to welcome him to the fraternity.
Once the game started, Kidd leaned heavily on assistant coach Lawrence Frank to help guide the team through several timeout situations and adjustments. Frank coached the Nets during Kidd's playing days in New Jersey before the franchise moved to Brooklyn. He also recently had a coaching stint in Detroit that ended last season.
"I'm going to lean on my staff, not just L-Frank," Kidd said. "A lot of guys bring a lot to the table. But this is for me to learn. Didn't [I] look normal? Well, we're working on it. I felt great. I thought our staff and our guys, we tried to execute the game plan. I got excited but I've got to stay even-keeled. You get a little upset when something doesn't go right. It's all, again, a learning experience."
Clock management, communication methods and game preparation are all things Kidd will try to school himself on this week. But beyond those mundane matters, there's very little else he'll be able to apply when training camp opens.
It's one thing to coach rookies or young prospects such as Mason Plumlee, Tornike Shengelia and Tyshawn Taylor through tense moments of a late-afternoon, glorified scrimmage in early July. But it's a completely different challenge when the calendar shifts to November and those players are maximum-salary veterans or perennial All-Stars such as Deron Williams, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
It's fair to question whether Kidd is capable of handling a roster of players he spent the bulk of his career playing against. You wonder if he can command the necessary respect -- let alone inspire -- a roster of his contemporaries with essentially only a summer internship on his coaching résumé. Kidd may share many of those concerns. For now, his plan is to pair an open mind with an open door that allows his assistants and veterans to share in the process.
Kidd has proved he's smart enough to figure this out.
"As a coach, you're going to learn every day from the good and bad," Kidd said. "My job, come training camp, is to get settled with the guys we have on that team, and again, I will be learning as much. Every coach in this league learns every day from this game. Once you learn everything as a coach, then you tend to retire and do something else."
Players on the Nets summer league roster already see the makings of an excellent communicator in Kidd. Taylor, who played in 38 games for Brooklyn last season, said Kidd handled the defensive instructions during Sunday's game while Frank drew up many of the offensive plays.
"He's the same way he was just talking to y'all: soft spoken, cool," Taylor said Sunday of Kidd. "He was positive the whole game. I think that helps us. We stay positive and keep a positive attitude."
Plumlee, the Nets' first-round pick in June's draft, has gone from playing four years at Duke for NCAA Division I career wins leader Mike Krzyzewski to learning under Kidd as he aims for his first NBA coaching win of any sort.
"Honestly, there are more similarities than differences," Plumlee said. "Both guys are confident. When they say something, you don't have to question it. You know they know what they're talking about. Tons of experiences, all that. I loved playing for Coach K. I'm sure I'll love playing for coach Kidd. It's weird saying that, 'Coach Kidd.'"
But get used to it.
Kidd doesn't know if his coaching career will last as long or become as successful as his decorated playing career that spanned 19 NBA seasons. But he's in it to last.
"I just enjoy teaching and just enjoy that aspect of the game, being able to put guys in that situation and seeing how things work out," Kidd said. "Good or bad."