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(November 15, 2013)
PHOENIX—Back on September 24, long before anyone could imagine that the Brooklyn Nets would open the season 2-5, Jason Kidd was asked his definition of a player’s coach.
“Off days,” he replied with a smile.
Its official: Kidd is a player’s coach, which might or might not be the best thing for this team right now.
The day after the Nets got waxed 107-86 by a Sacramento Kings team that had lost its last five games, Kidd gave the Nets an off day/optional practice. It is a curious call for a team that has lost three straight.
The team didn’t land in Phoenix until about 2 a.m. Mountain Time. Two games remain on this trip – against the Suns Friday night and against the Matt Barnes-led L.A. Clippers on Saturday, followed by a redeye flight home.
So there is a case to made that putting the Nets through their full paces Thursday wasn’t in anyone’s best interests. But a case also can be made that maybe what these uninspired Nets need is a Nike in the rear end.
Maybe the Nets, at this early point in the season, don’t need a player’s coach. Maybe they need a Tom Coughlin.
Which puts Kidd in an awkward spot. When the Nets began training camp on September 30, Kidd told the players in a private meeting that he would always be real with them.
The real Jason Kidd is low-key and cerebral. He is not prone to the quick timeout at the first sight of trouble. He seems to do his best work in one-on-one conversations with players, when his 19 years as an NBA player give him credence.
One would think that a team whose core is comprised of veterans – Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Deron Williams – would respond to a coach that is treating them like men, not boys. The results say otherwise.
It’s not merely the losses, but how the Nets are losing that is disconcerting. It has not been a failure to execute as much as it has been a failure to leave it all on the court.
Teams that have inferior talent on paper, have beaten the Nets by giving superior effort.
What’s Kidd to do?
“You hold guys accountable,” he said after the Sacramento loss.
More than half the team showed up for Thursday’s optional practice, a sign of players willing to be accountable. But the next step has to come Friday night against the Suns. The Nets have to play like this is the most important game of the season, because it is.
“For us right now, this is desperation,” Terry said after the Kings’ loss. “Everyone that steps on the floor Friday should feel desperation and come out with a sense of urgency.”
This isn’t hyperbole. The season has just begun but the pressure already is mounting.
“We got to put a little more pride into this,” said Garnett.
Exactly. When KG, Pierce and Terry arrived in Brooklyn they said they were here to win a title. Each has made more money than they ever dreamed. Each has a championship ring.
They are playing for another ring, for pride.
“I’m going to challenge myself and my teammates to get after this next game and everybody play like this is it,” said Terry. “There is no tomorrow.”
“Talking is over with. We’ve done enough talking. It’s time for action.”
Which brings us back to Kidd.
He has done everything to ensure his star players a chance at success. He has limited the minutes played by KG. He and the medical staff were mother-hen cautious with Williams’ recovery from an off-season right ankle injury. He has talked up every player on the team.
If the Nets aren’t going to respond to love, Kidd will need to with tough love, something he’s prepared to do.
Before he made his regular-season coaching debut on Nov. 3rd, we asked Kidd how he would handle a player that was putting out maximum effort.
“I’m not a yeller or screamer by nature,” said Kidd. “I don’t think that accomplishes anything. I think you can accomplish more by being real and communicating.”
And if that doesn’t work?
“You have to ask guys, ‘Are you here?’” he said. “Whether it’s Deron or Brook or KG, if something’s missing I’ll just ask him, ‘Are you here?’”
Thus far the Nets haven’t been here. Thus far, they haven’t deserved a player’s coach.