By Steve Lichtenstein
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Can the Kidd do it twice?
It didn’t take Jason Kidd very long to change the culture back when the Nets called New Jersey their home, as his leadership as a point guard immediately helped transform a rather run-of-the-mill core from perennial losers into back-to-back Eastern Conference champions.
That’s why the Nets wasted little time in raising Kidd’s No. 5 jersey to the rafters of Barclays Center. Kidd, the best player in the Nets’ NBA franchise’s history, retired in June and was honored on Thursday night in a pregame ceremony prior to Brooklyn’s preseason game versus Miami.
I wrote about how much Kidd meant to Nets fans right after his retirement. All the tribute speakers on Thursday night reiterated those thoughts regarding Kidd’s devotion and sacrifice to make his teams and teammates the best they could be.
Kidd insisted that this event occur in the preseason so as to not upstage the game or interfere with his new gig as Nets head coach.
You see, Kidd now has to plant those same values he exhibited as a player on a new cast — albeit one that is significantly more star-studded — while relegated to the confines of the coach’s chair. It’s a significantly more difficult task.
It’s too early to tell how well it’s working, as the games have yet to count. You certainly couldn’t tell from last night’s ugly 86-62 romp over the Heat.
Both teams played without vital parts, with Nets point guard Deron Williams still on the shelf with ankle woes and guard Dwyane Wade sitting out for the two-time defending champion Heat. The Nets’ starters — except Kevin Garnett, who saw just 10 minutes of court time — played about half the game while Miami’s went a tad longer.
There were snippets on Thursday night of the vision that made Kidd such a wonderful performer. Nets forward Paul Pierce, who had a team-high seven assists, seems to have taken Kidd’ spirit to heart the most. More than anyone, he seems to be more interested in creating for others as opposed to focusing on getting off his own shot.
And he’s the NBA’s 20th-highest all-time leading scorer.
However, before anyone puts too much emphasis on the outcome, let’s understand that this win wasn’t entirely molded from Kidd’s image. Both teams looked out of sorts on offense, befitting a game of meaningless stature. The Nets’ rout was facilitated by outscoring the Heat’s meager bench, 46-18.
The Nets committed a ghastly 25 turnovers — continuing their streak of plus-20 turnovers to all five preseason games, a very un-Kidd like trend) — with the starters plus sixth man Andray Blatche contributing 15. Kidd, who mastered the three-point shooting craft later in his career, could probably still beat the 25-percent conversion rate of the long-distance attempts the Nets hoisted last night. And the Nets were credited with a mere five fast-break points, a figure Kidd used to singlehandedly top in a span of a handful of possessions with his nonstop baseline-to-baseline forays.
No, this group in Brooklyn will not model everything that Kidd was as a player. It will have its own identity, one with far superior inside muscle than Kidd’s best teams in New Jersey.
To me, however, the most interesting development over the course of this season will be whether Coach Kidd can imbue these Nets with a similar culture of sharing that rescued New Jersey from the abyss the instant he was traded from Phoenix in 2001.
Though that culture can be difficult to impart on the young and wealthy athletes in the league, Kidd was able to take it with him to every stop as a player. He finished out his career last season as an integral part of the Atlantic Division-champion Knicks, who I’ll bet will suffer greatly from the aftereffects of his departure. If J.R. Smith is indeed the heir apparent to that starting spot once he is healthy, and eligible for league play, I think it’s safe to say that the Knicks will put less emphasis on making the extra pass this year.
As for Kidd’s Nets, the culture change is a work in progress. The talent is oozing from every corner of the roster, but team chemistry often doesn’t sync overnight, especially with so many new components. Fortunately, the regular-season opener is two weeks away.
Right now this veteran group is still working through divergent issues of both overpassing and reverting back to the isolation-heavy offense that was their trademark in 2012-13. Hence, the spike in turnovers.
In most of their lineups — virtually every one that doesn’t include Reggie Evans — the Nets can throw out on the floor five guys who know how to score. Some, like center Brook Lopez and guard Joe Johnson, are used to receiving the ball and telling the others to get out of the way while they go to work.
That’s not Kidd’s way. You can tell that he is stressing ball movement in the preseason over those one-on-one games, but it will take some time for the Nets to find that happy medium.
Kidd has the players’ respect — for now. He’s still a rookie coach. It remains to be seen whether the Nets have truly bought in. Let’s wait until the Nets start playing those trench battles that count against teams like Miami, Chicago and Indiana.
Oh, the players all spew the proper spin, that this season is solely about “winning a championship.” They just might have different views on how to get there.
Hopefully, they will all take a peek at the jersey above before each home game to get a reminder of how their coach’s sharing philosophy from his playing days once turned the hapless Nets into winners.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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