SAN FRANCISCO – The hometown Kidd is no longer a, well, kid. Jason is 49. He left the Bay Area at age 21, as a matter of fact to play for the Mavericks.
As the Mavericks’ plane landed touched down Monday, and again when he walked into the Chase Center on Tuesday as coach of the Western Conference finalist Mavericks, there was a peace about Kidd.
“It’s always good to come home. A lot of great things happened here as a kid growing up in the Bay, so it’s always good . . . Excitement of seeing the Bay and especially seeing San Francisco without the fog.”
The air remained crisp and the sky cloudless Tuesday, and a Mavericks season that began seven months ago shrouded in question marks is in clear focus.
Dallas opens the Western Conference finals on Wednesday night in the Chase Center, led by its first-year coach who was the focal point of much of the early season mystery.
He had a 183-190 career record and short volatile tenures in Brooklyn and Milwaukee, but in Dallas he’s been even-keeled in temperament while accelerating the franchise’s climb back to elite status.
Barely 36 hours after their blowout Game 7 in Phoenix, the Mavericks got a preview of the bigger stage before Tuesday’s practice in the Chase Center, with forward Dorian Finney-Smith blurting: “Man, I ain’t never seen these many cameras.”
Fortunately Coach Kidd knows the stage well, having played in the 2002, 2003 and 2011 NBA Finals, winning championships in 2011 as well as 2020 as a Lakers assistant coach.
“Coach did a good job of getting everybody to buy in,” Finney-Smith said. “He’s the only person in the locker room who’s been in this situation, been to the second round.
“So we kind of just follow his lead. He’s always got a cool, calm collected attitude and I think we take that from him.”
Three days after ousting 64-win Phoenix and NBA Coach of the Year Monty Williams, Kidd and Dallas face the 2015, 2017 and 2018 NBA champion Warriors of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
And coach Steve Kerr, named one of the top 15 coaches of all-time in conjunction with the league’s 75th anniversary.
And the coach of the Utah team that Dallas beat in the first round, Quin Snyder, is rumored to be a candidate for the Lakers job that surely would be Kidd’s had he not left Frank Vogel’s staff to become Mavericks coach.
Throughout the playoffs Kidd has cast Dallas as an underdog. Asked Tuesday whether the Mavericks’ bandwagon has gotten heavier since the upset of Phoenix, Kidd smiled.
“No, it’s still light. And it should be light. The Warriors are a really good team. We look at what they’ve done this season. And then with Steph and Klay and Draymond, they’ve seen it all. And they’re on a mission to try to win a championship.”
After watching Dallas suffocate the NBA’s top offense, Phoenix, to 39.7% shooting in Game 6 and 37.9% shooting in Game 7 and win those games by a combined 60 points, Kerr said Tuesday that Kidd and staff have turned the Mavericks into one of the league’s best defensive teams.
Not that Kerr is surprised.
“Jason’s always been a defensive-minded coach,” Kerr said. “He’s been a very creative coach going back to Brooklyn and Milwaukee. He’s not afraid to attack and blitz. That’s part of kind of the way he sees the game.”
Kerr said one crucial aspect to the Mavericks’ sudden ascent under Kidd is that Dallas has considerable continuity with core players like Doncic, Jalen Brunson, Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber.
“It’s such an underrated dynamic in today’s league,” Kerr said. “There’s so much movement, so many teams are just adding new guys, subtracting other guys.”
Kerr compared to Kidd’s situation to when Kerr took the Warriors’ job in 2014.
“I inherited a team that had great continuity — much easier to implement changes because the group already knows each other.”
Kerr sees one significant difference between himself and Kidd, though. Though Kerr was a five-time NBA champion as a guard for Chicago and San Antonio, he was a role player, primarily a perimeter shooter, while Kidd was a nine-time All-Defensive team member and Hall of Famer who ranks second in career assists and steals
Which differentiates Kidd as a coach, Kerr said.
“Jason’s really unique because he’s one of the one of the few superstar Hall of Famers who has really gone on to become great coach,” he said. “I just feel like most of the former players are sort of guys like me who are role players and grinders.
“Not a lot of superstar top 25 all-time players like Jason have gone on and done this for a long time.”
Actually, 25 Hall of Fame players have become NBA head coaches. Kidd is the 14th Hall of Famer to coach the team that drafted him, but only eight have winning records.
So why does Kidd coach, after a 19-year playing career that also included Olympic team Gold Medal runs in 2000 and 2008? Asked that question on Tuesday, Kidd paused and thought.
“I love the chess aspect of the game,” he said. “I love the mental aspect of the game. I love helping the players achieve their goals — financially, or winning. And that’s what makes the game fun for me. Being a coach, that’s how I see it.
“As a player, I play to win. And as a coach we play to win. Your impact is a little bit less. But you’re here to help guide the guys to achieve their goal.”
Now he’s back home, where he led Alameda’s St. Joseph Notre Dame High School to consecutive state championships and starred at Cal for two seasons.
He’s back wiser as a coach, and triumphantly.