Frustrating. Disappointing. A Mavericks in the last few weeks to describe the team's inexplicable freefall out of playoff contention. Two months ago it would've been shocking to think that the Mavericks, who made it to the Western Conference finals a season ago, would stumble this far, this embarrassingly down the standings. But instead of preparing for the postseason, the Mavericks are prepping for the draft lottery.. All words used by the
Every adjective in the book has been used to describe Dallas' downward spiral, and blame has been thrown on everyone for the team's underachieveing. Kyrie Irving's has been blamed. The front office who assembled this team have been called to account. So has franchise centerpiece Luka Doncic, who despite his offensive brilliance has been questioned for his leadership and poor defense.
However, despite what is clearly a disaster of a season, Mavericks general manager Nico Harrison recently said that head coach Jason Kidd is "still our guy" when it comes to his job security. Team owner Mark Cuban echoed Harrison's thoughts while talking to reporters recently, shielding the head coach of blame, and instead putting the onus on roster construction. And yes, while the front office should be taken to task for their inability to build a championship roster around Doncic, Kidd has done little in his second season as head coach to warrant such ironclad job security.
In fact, Kidd's time with Dallas is starting to resemble his coaching days with the Milwaukee Bucks, and if you remember anything from that era, then you'll know that isn't exactly a ringing endorsement for Dallas.
In Kidd's first year with both Milwaukee and Dallas he coached them to the playoffs, and transformed them from bottom-of-the-barrel defensive squads, to top-10 defensive units.
|Team||Defense the year before Kidd||Defense in Year 1 with Kidd||Defense in Year 2 with Kidd|
He was praised in Milwaukee for his aggressive approach on defense in Year 1. It was a scheme that blitzed opposing teams, sending two defenders at the ball-handler, completely disrupting an offense. It was incredibly successful in the first season, and it resulted in Kidd finishing third in Coach of the Year voting. But over the next two and a half years teams began to snuff that scheme out, and with no adjustments made the Bucks defense suffered. Milwaukee finished 19th on defense twice over Kidd's next two seasons at the helm.
Kidd hasn't employed the same aggressive defensive approach in Dallas, but his in-game adjustments made during Dallas' second-round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns last season were lauded. Dallas adjusted to every haymaker the Suns threw, and pulled off a huge upset against the top-seeded Suns to earn a trip to the Western Conference finals.
You would think that with primarily the same roster the Mavericks would be able to replicate that same defensive success a year later. But Dallas finished this season ranked 24th on defense, which is the worst its been since the 2003-04 season, per Cleaning the Glass, when the team ranked 26th in the league. Ironically, in that dreadful season from 19 years ago the Mavericks lost in the first round of the playoffs the year after, you guessed it, making it to the Western Conference finals.
It wasn't just the defense that slipped each season after the first year Kidd was in Milwaukee. The wins fluctuated, too. After finishing the first season 41-41, Kidd's Bucks teams proceeded to win an average of 32 games over the next three and a half years. Not far off from the 38 games Dallas won this season.
And while Kidd isn't trying to take control of the front office like he did in Brooklyn, or be ultra-demanding like he was in Milwaukee, he's taken a different route to still end at the same destination: a strong first year followed by dwindling results in the seasons to follow.
Just as Kidd was poor at making in-game adjustments with the Bucks, that same characteristic has carried over to Dallas. There have been several games this season in which Kidd's reluctance to calling a timeout to stop an opposing team's run has cost the Mavericks games. That trend came to a head in Dallas' loss to the Lakers on Feb. 26, in which Dallas built up a 27-point lead only to watch it vanish as L.A. went on a run with little adjustments made by Kidd.
When asked after that game why he didn't call a timeout to stop the Lakers' run, Kidd deflected.
"I'm not the savior here," Kidd said. "I'm not playing, I'm watching, just like you guys."
Kidd gave many of these nonchalant answers over the season when pressed about Dallas' struggles, perhaps most famously responding withwhen asked about the concern level regarding the team potentially missing the postseason. An eyebrow-raising response from a head coach, but Kidd held the same posture in Milwaukee, where after bad losses he would push the narrative that the team was too young and expectations were too high instead of taking accountability.
The lack of urgency Kidd displayed became Dallas' identity this season, but according to Cuban, the Mavericks' identity, or rather lack of one, wasn't Kidd's fault, but rather due to how the roster was built. That may play a part, but when your coach isn't taking responsibility for mistakes during games, and isn't inspiring the team to put better effort in on defense, that -- guess what? -- becomes the team's identity.
But it's not just the lack of accountability from Kidd that made this second year in Dallas a doozy. Rotation decisions were also always a topic of discussion. Starting JaVale McGee at the beginning of the season was a major head scratcher, especially as he looked like a shell of the rim protecting big he once was. The same was true of giving minutes to Frank Ntilikina over guards like Josh Green and Jaden Hardy in certain situations. There was also the inconsistent use of Christian Wood, whose minutes and touches waxed and waned over the course of the season.
Though the Mavericks postseason run a year ago surpassed the success Kidd had in Milwaukee, Year 2 has been a painful reminder of the pitfalls of having Kidd as the head coach. Whether it's calling the same unsuccessful game-winning play over and over again, or shirking responsibility in favor of sarcastic excuses, Year 2 of Kidd's era with the Mavericks has shown that the honeymoon phase is over in Dallas, just as quickly as it ended in Milwaukee.
Cuban and Harrison may be convinced that they don't need a change in head coach, but Kidd's time in Milwaukee proves that his coaching tenures don't get better the longer he's in charge. With reports surfacing that the Mavericks fear, the pressure to succeed in Dallas is at an all-time high. With that much at stake, Dallas doesn't have time to wait and see if this time around will be different than Kidd's previous head coaching gigs.