After an extravagant summer of spending was followed up by an assistant-demoting, soda-spilling, loss-mounting winter, many wondered aloud whether first-year Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd would spend his spring scanning the help wanted ads.
He isn't. He's guiding the Eastern Conference's hottest team and clearing mantle space for Coach of the Month awards.
And the basketball world could care less.
"It’s easy to criticize you when you have a new team and trying to put it together, and now nobody’s saying how great a job he’s done," Nets general manager Billy King said, via Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News. "It’s easy to attack people negatively, but when they have success, you should give them the credit. I think a lot of our success, it’s directly related to him."
The team that was eating double-digit home losses earlier in the year now owns a double-digit home winning streak (11 games and counting). The same Nets that left 2013 with an unsettling 10-21 mark have now run their 2014 record to 27-11.
Nothing about this turnaround is fluky.
The Nets aren't benefiting from breaks they previously couldn't catch. Brook Lopez is still sitting with his broken foot. Andrei Kirilenko continues shuffling in and out of the lineup. Kevin Garnett's bad back doesn't appear to be getting any better.
What this team is doing is simple: It's growing.
Not physically—in fact some of this success stems from Kidd's move to a smaller, quicker lineup—but rather growing as a unit and coming together as one. The stat sheets from the last 38 games can hardly recognize the ones pieced together over those first 31.
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And who's overseen this remarkable recovery?
The coach who was skewered by a veteran scout earlier this season. "He doesn't do anything," the scout told B/R's Howard Beck. "He doesn't make calls. ... I don't know what Kidd does."
The same one burned by one of the team's top offseason imports in November.
"We got to understand teams aren’t going to play the same way they did in the first half as they did in the second half because teams make adjustments," Paul Pierce said then, via Bondy. "We got to realize that and adjust with that."
The coach who seemed unwilling or unable to make adjustments early on now seems incapable of finding a card he wouldn't try playing at least once.
Like trotting out the 6'7" Pierce, a superstar small forward in his prime, at the center spot, for instance.
"We felt like Paul could play the 5. Why not?" Kidd said after employing the strategy down the stretch of Brooklyn's come-from-behind 107-104 overtime win over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, via ESPN New York's Mike Mazzeo. "We’ve put him at the 4, so we were going to try him out at the 5."
Or finding untapped potential in 28-year-old forward Mirza Teletovic (8.0 points in 18.6 minutes per game this season, 3.5 in 9.4 during his rookie campaign). Or living with Shaun Livingston's limitations (three-point shooting) in order to take advantage of his disruptive length and relentless energy. Or eliciting selfless play out of a lineup heavy on players with a history of isolation success:
Or simply trusting the knowledge base Kidd built during his 19-year playing career.
"I think he's coaching the way he wants to and doing things the way he wants to so that's what you're seeing," Deron Williams said of Kidd, via Bondy. "I think you see him putting his footprint on the game a little bit more."
Despite what Kidd's critics thought, him leaving a bigger imprint is actually a good thing:
Billy King on Jason Kidd: "That one scout that took that shot at him earlier in the year, I wish he would speak up now."— Tom Lorenzo (@TomLorenzo) March 21, 2014
Defensive leaks have been plugged. Offensive lapses have been limited by seamless ball movement. The win column has piled up as quickly as those broken dreams did early on.
Sure, the schedule has eased up a bit and Williams has surged out of the All-Star break again. Without Kidd's coaching calls, though, this team could have never weathered the storm.
That response in the face of adversity should be something we care about. For one reason or another, it hasn't been so far.
That won't be the case much longer. There are too many intriguing storylines—a tale of redemption, a potential playoff power, a rookie coach finding his way—for us to keep looking away.