MIAMI — The snickering started early, growing louder and nastier with each gaffe.
The technical foul in the first summer league game for straying too far from the coaching box. The suspension for DUI that caused him to miss the first two games of the regular season, including a highly anticipated encounter with the Miami Heat. The $50,000 fine for directing one of his players to spill his soda and force a stoppage in play. Oh, and the abominable 10-21 record by the time the ball dropped to open 2014.
It seemed clear that the Brooklyn Nets had dropped the ball when hiring Jason Kidd.
But while others were taking potshots, Erik Spoelstra and the Heat were still taking Kidd seriously. Spoelstra viewed Kidd's vast and varied playing experience as an asset, since playing point guard for so long, with so many different types of teammates, allowed him to understand every position.
Spoelstra believed Kidd's Hall of Fame credentials would allow him to earn the respect of his veteran players faster, and that those veterans would help him keep the locker room together. And Spoelstra was impressed by the staff that the Nets had assembled in support, starting with former head coach Lawrence Frank and longtime Nuggets assistant John Welch.
No one could foresee Kidd banishing Frank from his bench, nor the season-ending injury to prized pivot Brook Lopez, nor the subtraction of Jason Terry, nor the addition of Marcus Thornton, nor the emergence of Mason Plumlee and the resurgence of Shaun Livingston.
But Spoelstra and the Heat are not surprised to see Kidd and the Nets here.
And now, the coaching matchup will be central to the outcome of this series.
Kidd played in 1,391 regular season NBA games and another 158 in the playoffs.
Spoelstra played professionally for just two seasons, for a club called Tus Herten in Germany.
Yet, in this role, at this stage, Spoelstra is the one who will be expected to do the schooling. He's coaching in his 16th playoff series, and has won 12 of the previous 15. In some cases, such as against Charlotte this season, Milwaukee last season and Philadelphia in 2011, he's had an overwhelming roster advantage. On other occasions, he's made the necessary adjustments, sometimes (as when turning to small ball in the 2012 Eastern Conference finals and NBA Finals) deviating drastically from what he'd done all season. Rick Carlisle outmaneuvered him in the 2011 NBA Finals, but Spoelstra was a step ahead of Gregg Popovich in the 2013 NBA Finals.
Now, here comes Kidd, the 12th different coach to oppose Spoelstra in the postseason, and perhaps the least predictable. Kidd has shown that he isn't beholden to anyone, shaving Kevin Garnett's minutes to preserve him for the playoffs, starting Livingston over Deron Williams, even after Williams returned from injury, and promoting the rookie Plumlee for a spell. Then, for the final two games against Toronto, he elevated Alan Anderson over Livingston to create more spacing, and he played 11 players in Game 7's first 18 minutes.
The Heat may have a handle on the Nets' offensive and defensive styles, and understand their intention to drain possessions down to the final seconds, but they can't know for sure which five they'll be facing at any time.
The Heat have cause to downplay their 0-4 record in the season series, considering that only five of their players (LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen, Norris Cole, Chris Andersen) played in all four games.
Dwyane Wade missed two of them and the most-used lineup (Cole, Allen, James, Bosh, Rashard Lewis) played only 23 minutes. But Brooklyn has a general idea of whom Spoelstra will put on the floor when it matters, starting with James, Bosh, Wade, Allen and likely Mario Chalmers.
The Heat can only guess what Kidd will do.
Only four Nets (Anderson, Livingston, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce) played in all four games against the Heat, and only three lineups played more than eight minutes together. Brooklyn's rotations were all over the place, game-to-game and quarter-to-quarter. At first by accident—due to Lopez's injury—and then intentionally, Kidd has developed a deep stable of interchangeable players at multiple positions; 12 different players averaged at least 18.2 minutes this season, with 11 still at Kidd's disposal.
Kidd has shown a willingness to feed the hot hand, without other players—even more accomplished players—giving him the cold shoulder.
The approach worked well enough to win the three games he coached against the Heat this season, two by one point and once in double overtime.
It worked well enough to win a Game 7 in hostile Toronto, becoming the first first-year NBA coach to win a Game 7 on the road in 19 tries.
And when that series was secured with a Paul Pierce block, Kidd raced over to embrace Deron Williams.
"Find the closest guy," Kidd said. "Maybe he was the farthest."
It was another answer that made him sound like he's coaching by the seat of his pants, doing whatever comes first to mind.
Only now, that characterization of his coaching style doesn't sound so derogatory.
"I sit a lot and I try to enjoy the greatest athletes play this game," Kidd continued. "I was just excited. I don't know if that was my Jimmy V, but I was caught in the moment, because of us getting a stop on the defensive end. And we did that a couple of times during the season."
One of those times came in Miami, when Plumlee swatted—or got away with a foul against—James at the rim.
At this time of year, spontaneity means unpredictability, and that can come in handy.
The only thing you can predict for sure in this series is that you won't hear any snickering from the Heat.
Ethan Skolnick covers the Heat for Bleacher Report.
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