Jason Kidd and the Brooklyn Nets have had quite the turnaround this season. It really wasn’t that long ago that the rookie head coach was considered a sputtering dolt, in stark danger of losing his job a month or two into signing a four-year, $10.5 million contract (with $7.5M guaranteed).
As of December 5th, the team was 5-14. In a late November loss to Detroit, Kidd benched his starters in the fourth quarter, Paul Pierce took a jab about the coach’s inability to make adjustments, and Kevin Garnett summed everything up by saying, “I think everybody here is embarrassed.” It would get worse — later that week, Kidd would draw national ridicule and a $50,000 fine for instructing Tyshawn Taylor to bump him and spill his drink in order to synthesize an extra timeout.
The season continued to spiral. Kidd cursed out and re-assigned his assistant and former head coach Lawrence Frank and, at 9-19, found himself the subject of a scathing Adrian Wojnarowski column:
The Nets had tried to be supportive of Kidd, but patience is running low on the belief he can deliver the structure and organization desperately needed. As the Nets have devolved into chaos, Kidd has increasingly isolated himself within the locker room and organization, sources told Yahoo Sports. From management to players, Kidd has shown an inability to manage crisis and keep the respect of his players. Rifts exist between old players and new, trust eroded with every humiliating loss in this 9-19 season.
At the same time, Bill Simmons theorized that Paul Pierce would demand a trade or buyout (“that’s coming”), and added:
Also keep hearing that a big stickler for the Nets vets with Kidd is that he doesn't wotk hard. Like a Steve Spurrier/Redskins situation.—
Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) December 27, 2013
Simmons did not absolve the players from accountability, noting that Pierce, Garnett, and especially Deron Williams deserved blame for their struggles, but the general sentiment — at this site, as well — was that Kidd was in completely over his head. It was quite likely that he wouldn’t last past the All-Star break. Was he trying to get fired?
Fast-forward to today. The Nets went 35-19 to finish out the regular season 44-38, and won Game 7 on the road in Toronto yesterday. Did anyone keep the faith that this type of turnaround was even possible? Clearly, it took the team awhile to gel to their new acquisitions, and then some more time to adjust to the loss of Brook Lopez.
Against Toronto, Joe Johnson led the team in scoring. He’s become a bit underrated because he’s so conspicuously overpaid, but he scored 21.9 points per game in the first round on 52.3% shooting (and 39.1% from 3-point range). Kevin Garnett’s made the most of his comparatively diminished minutes, and Paul Pierce has popped up with characteristic heroics late in games. Deron Williams hasn’t been wonderful or anything, but it’s also not as though he’s been a major liability, while Shaun Livingston, Mirza Teletovic, Marcus Thornton, and Mason Plumlee have been filling role-playing minutes off the bench.
Though Brooklyn swept Miami in the regular season, they’re still pretty decisive underdogs headed into the second round. Nevertheless, it’s gotta be considered a minor miracle based on where they were headed into the New Year that they’re still in the fold in the first place.