Praise From Peers

The 2015 NBA Conference Finals are set.

Steve Kerr, Kevin McHale, Mike Budenholzer and David Blatt are making the trip for the first time as head coaches, so they and their teams have demonstrated that they know the way.

Jason Kidd does, too.

Kidd won a championship ring as a member of the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 and reached the NBA Finals with the New Jersey Nets in 2002 and 2003.

During Kidd’s first season as an NBA head coach, he piloted Brooklyn into the 2014 NBA Playoffs, where the sixth-seeded Nets knocked off the third-seeded Toronto Raptors.

Kidd left Brooklyn after one season to become the 14th head coach in Milwaukee Bucks franchise history and proceeded to engineer one of the most dramatic turnarounds in NBA annals.

Coming off a 2013-14 season in which they finished with a 15-67 record – their worst ever – the Bucks went 41-41 and earned the 28th playoff appearance in team history.

The Chicago Bulls ended Milwaukee’s season by winning the teams’ Eastern Conference opening-round series in six games.

Each of the four coaches whose teams are still in the running for the title, though, expressed their respect for what Kidd accomplished in his first season as the Bucks’ head coach.

“I think he has gone a great job,” said Budenholzer, who was named the 2014-15 NBA Coach of the Year after leading Atlanta to a 60-22 record and the top seed in the East. “I think they have done a great job of maximizing their roster to their talent and they are one of the best defensive teams in the league. They make it hard for you to score and do different things.

“I think it is a real credit to him and his players of how well they have done and they are looking forward to growing and improving together.”

Blatt, whose Cavaliers have made the Eastern Conference Finals in his first season as an NBA head coach, voiced similar respect for what Kidd and the Bucks have accomplished during Cleveland’s last visit of the season to Milwaukee.

“I think Milwaukee has had a great season, so I give credit to Jason (Kidd) and the players on Milwaukee,” Blatt said. “That’s a great team with quick return. They push the ball well. They’re a great stealing team, too, which really holds us accountable for taking care of the basketball. They’ve defended teams well all year with their length and athleticism.”

McHale is in the conference finals for the first time as a head coach, but he won three NBA championships and reached the finals two other times during his Hall-of-Fame playing career with the Boston Celtics.

McHale also admired the way Kidd’s Bucks performed during their two meetings with his Houston Rockets this season.

“Jason Kidd has done a great job, and he has a good, young team,” McHale said. “They play very hard. They are long and they get their hands on the ball. They will run out for deflections and steals. You have to take care of the ball and move it.”

Kerr, in his first season as a coach at any level, led the Golden State Warriors to the best record in the NBA (67-15) plus playoff series conquests of the New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies.

The runner-up to Budenholzer in the Coach-of-the-Year voting, Kerr, like McHale, has extensive championship experience, having won three rings with the Chicago Bulls and two with the San Antonio Spurs.

Kerr, too, recognized what Kidd achieved in his first season with the Bucks when the Warriors visited Milwaukee on March 28.

“Jason has done a great job with them,” Kerr said. “They’re excellent defensively and a good, young team on the rise. The biggest thing that stands out is how good they are defensively.”

Budenholzer, Blatt, McHale and Kerr are not the only NBA coaches upon whom Kidd made impressions during the Bucks’ quantum leap this season.

Gregg Popovich, who has coached the San Antonio Spurs to five NBA titles, recognized what a difference-maker Kidd has been in Milwaukee.

“He is not somebody that thinks about losing,” Popovich said. “He is a competitor at the highest (level). He is knowledgeable and knows what it takes, and is comfortable in his own skin. He is going to be fair, but he is going to demand any kind of battle as far as doing it the right way, and will win the battle.

“I think that a young team is probably a great situation in that regard, because they are in need of knowledge and learning and how it all comes together. He is a guy that knows how that works. I think it is a good marriage, when you start that young group out to be aggressive and really make defense a priority the way they have.”

Rick Carlisle, who coached the 2011 Dallas championship team on which Kidd played, expressed some his observations during the Mavericks’ Dec. 3 stop in Milwaukee.

“He is doing a great job, both years coaching,” Carlisle said of Kidd. “They (the Bucks) are making a lot of progress with a young team. They play with a lot of energy and are in the top-10 in defense. Offensively, they are tough to deal with because they can all dribble, pass, shoot and drive it at you.

“He (Kidd) is a great competitor. When you talk about guys that were the most competitive guys in the history of the game, he is, in my opinion, in a small handful of guys like (Michael) Jordan and (Larry) Bird. He is one of those guys that had an internal fire to win, and he had an uncanny resourcefulness as a player.

“He is very smart. Let’s face it – he was always coaching anyway when he was out there. I felt like he had a very good idea, coming off his playing career as to how he felt the game should be played, and he’s coaching it the way he feels it should be played. You have to give him a lot of credit for that.”