When the Dallas Mavericks open training camp on Tuesday, new coach Jason Kidd will come out of the gate explaining to his players what he fully expects to see from them this season.
“It’s going to be like the first day of school,” Kidd told Mavs.com. “You lay out your outfit and be ready to go to school, and you can’t wait to see the students and participate.
“We’re all excited – the players and the coaching staff. I’m super excited about this opportunity to be able to coach the Mavs.”
While Kidd plans to peel back another layer of the onion and teach his players some of the finer things about basketball, he also plans to educate them on four criteria that he believes will lead to a winning product.
“I think we’re going to be a team that’s going to play hard, that’s going to be unselfish, and I think everyone will be accountable and I think it’ll be fun,” Kidd said. “That’s a Jason Kidd-coached team is a team that’s going to be accountable, will have fun out there and will play hard and be unselfish.
“At the end of the day we would like to win all 82 (games). We know that’s not possible, but we’re going to compete to win each night.”
Kidd replaces Rick Carlisle, who coached the Mavs for 13 seasons before leaving this summer and ultimately accepting a job to coach the Indiana Pacers. With Kidd as their star point guard and Carlisle as their coach, the Mavs captured the 2011 NBA.
However, 2011 is also the last time the Mavs got out of the first round of the playoffs.
The Mavs missed the playoffs in 2013, ’17, ’18 and ’19, and were knocked out in the first round in ’12, ’14, ’15, ’16, 20 and last season.
“When you say that, I’m surprised because you look at the teams, but also Rick’s a great coach,” Kidd said. “That just shows you how hard it is to win in this league. But I think that’s a great challenge.
“I think this team is up for that challenge to be able to get out of that first round. But first things first is that we have to play the 82 games to see what position we can get into if we’re lucky enough to make the playoffs.”
Last year the Mavs finished fifth in the Western Conference with a 42-30 record, and then dropped a drama-filled first-round playoff series to the Los Angeles Clippers in seven scintillating games. The Mavs won the first two games of that epic series in Los Angeles, dropped Games 3 and 4 at American Airlines Center, captured Game 5 in Los Angeles, lost Game 6 at home, and then succumbed to the Clippers in a Game 7 that served as the only time the home team won a game in that very emotional series.
Along the way, point guard Luka Doncic continued to show why he’s one of the Top 5 players on the planet. Doncic averaged 27.7 points, eight rebounds and 8.6 assists last season while proving to be virtually unstoppable en route to being named first-team, all-NBA for the second straight year.
But Doncic’s 35 percent usage rate in the regular season was the second-highest in the NBA, and in the playoffs was the highest of all players at 39.9 percent. Thus, finding ways to get the ball out of Doncic’s hands so he’ll be fresher in the fourth quarter is of utmost important to the Mavs.
“Looking at it last year, the numbers are staggering how much he did have the ball and how much work he had to do to put his team in a position to score,” Kidd said. “We’re not going to take the ball all the way out of his hands because he’s just so good when he has the ball.
“But we do want to do different things – put him on the floor in different positions so as to minimize some of that stress.”
One of the other challenges for Kidd is to help forward/center Kristaps Porzingis play to the optimum level he played when he named to the 2018 All-Star team while he was a member of the New York Knicks. Since then, Porzingis has been marred by a litany of injuries and surgeries/procedures that have prevented him from reaching his full potential.
But this will be the first time since the 2017-18 season that Porzingis will enter training camp while not having to rehab any type of injury. Just the thought of that has Kidd’s mind going into overdrive.
“I think he’s going to have a big year for us,” Kidd said of Porzingis. “That’s not putting any pressure on him. I just think he’s going to play at a very high level for us.
“I think he’s already started that journey in a sense of being healthy this summer, being able to work on his game and not having to rehab an injury. I think that will give him peace of mind.
Porzingis averaged 20.1 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks last season. But rehab/injuries limited him to just 43 games.
“I think being able to play his game this year is going to be big for him,” Kidd said. “As a coach and as his teammates, we want to put him in a position to be successful.”
Does that mean Porzingis will play less at the 3-point stripe and more down in the trenches where he can use his 7-3 frame as an advantage? Not necessary, according to Kidd.
“I want him to be a basketball player,” Kidd said. “When he’s able to mix up rolling and popping, I think he becomes very hard for the opponent to guard, and I think that puts him in a really positive situation of being able to roll to score or to pop to score.
“I think that’s going to be something that we haven’t seen here the last couple of years. He’s going to be able to play the post or play the mid-range game.”
Moses Brown, a 7-1 center who the Mavs acquired for guard Josh Richardson in a trade with the Boston Celtics this offseason, also is expected to pay dividends around the rim this season. Especially since he’s currently being tutored by Tyson Chandler, the linchpin to the Mavs’ defensive success during their 2011 championship.
“Tyson has been great,” Kidd said. “He’s been working with a lot of the bigs this summer. Just this last four or five weeks he’s been working with Moses and I think he’s helped Moses in that time span.
“I’m looking forward to Tyson helping us throughout the year. He will be part of the Mavs’ family, so he will be someone that will be around us a lot this season to help these young guys on the floor and off the floor.”
The Mavs also signed free agent guard Sterling Brown and free agent guard/forward Reggie Bullock this past summer. Along with Moses Brown, Kidd believes that gives the Mavs some additional “toughness” they’ll need to navigate their way through the shark-infested waters of the Western Conference.
“I think when you look at the physicality from the defensive side of the ball, Reggie, Sterling and Moses brings that toughness,” Kidd said. “Also, being able to shoot the ball, I think when you look at Reggie and Sterling, they’re able to shoot from behind the arc.”
And for additional support, the Mavs signed free agent point guard Frank Ntilikina on Sept. 16. The No. 8 overall pick of the 2017 draft, Ntilikina played the last four seasons for the Knicks.
“I think you look at a young basketball player who we’re going to help develop that has some tools that can help us on both sides of the ball,” Kidd said. “You’re talking about a young man who’s long, who knows how to play the game, and hopefully we can help develop him to be one of the pieces that could come off the bench and maybe start at some point.
“I think being able to have another playmaker will help us.”
The return of shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. will also help the Mavs. Acquired alongside Porzingis in that blockbuster Jan. 31, 2019 trade with the Knicks, Hardaway inked a four-year, $75 million free agent contract over the summer following a year where he averaged 16.6 points and converted a personal-high of 207 baskets from 3-point range.
“I think you’re talking about one of the emotional leaders of our team, one of the veterans on this ballclub, being able to get his shot and also being able to compete on the defensive end,” Kidd said. “I just love the way he competes, and he wants to win.
“He’s a big part of what we can do. Again, (a player who can player) multiple positions and also can play as a starter or come off the bench.”
All of that, along with the return of Dorian Finney-Smith, Jalen Brunson, Boban Marjanovic, Maxi Kleber, Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Burke and Josh Green leaves Kidd feeling as though he has a lot of complimentary tools in the toolbox at his disposal.
“I’m really excited about this team because we have depth and we have different combinations that we can play,” Kidd said. “We’re going to get to look at them in training camp and also early in the season – these different combinations that we want to see play together.”
The Mavs’ first preseason game is Oct. 6 at AAC against the Utah Jazz. Meanwhile, the regular season opener is Oct. 21 in Atlanta, and the home opener is Oct. 26 against the Houston Rockets.
Where the Mavs will land once the playoff invitations are handed out in April remains to be seen. But it’s a journey Kidd is more than ready to tackle.
“There’s a lot of talent in the West and there’s a lot of talent throughout this league,” Kidd said. “So for us, we just have to concentrate on our journey, understand that we’re going to have some highs and we want to minimize the lows.
“When you look at the West you’ve got Utah, Phoenix, the Lakers, the Clippers, Denver and Portland. There are no nights off in this league no matter if you play in the Eastern Conference or the Western Conference.”