When the Nets stumbled to a 10-21 record, everything crumbled around rookie head coach Jason Kidd. After the calendar had turned, the coach seemingly found his way, though.
The journey culminated with a trip to the playoffs.
The Nets continued their miraculous turnaround Tuesday night at the Barclays Center, beating the Houston Rockets 105-96 in front of a sellout crowd. The Nets won a franchise-best 14th straight home game, pushing their streak to some two months without a loss on Atlantic Avenue.
A team that could not win now cannot remember what it feels like to lose.
“We had a moment where we were just really, really terrible,” shooting guard Joe Johnson said. “And then we had moments where we were pretty good. I’m glad the better part came in the second half and we’ve just got to try to keep climbing.”
As Kidd changed, the Nets followed suit. The ball movement quickened, the defense picked up intensity, and most importantly, players started hitting shots. They retraced Johnson’s steps along the way.
Johnson, the lone Nets representative at the All-Star game, scored a game-high 32 points against the Rockets. His consistency under trying circumstances prevailed throughout a trying season.
For many of the Nets, the day when they had clinched a playoff spot seemed like an unattainable dream.
“That’s something that we felt that we could accomplish as a team, but unfortunately we didn’t start off well and I guess some people didn’t believe it,” Kidd said. “We just stayed the course, but that doesn’t mean that the season’s over. We’ve still got a long way to go.”
Johnson did not always share his coach’s steadfast belief.
“Honestly, I couldn’t even see it,” Johnson said. “I kept saying to myself, eventually it’s going to turn around. It’s going to turn for us. Eventually it did.”
Kidd set the pace by criticizing the Nets’ apathy following a number of embarrassing losses. The team’s ineptitude led many to wonder if Kidd was cut out for the job.
He got the last laugh, though. Although the Nets have a long way to go before fulfilling their high-priced aspirations, the head coach started the ball rolling. His stoic demeanor and unflappable confidence and belief in this team never wavered. He got aggravated at times, confused at others, but he had it right all along.
Following Lawrence Frank’s dismissal in early December, the Brooklyn fans wanted no part of the first-year coach. Kidd drew venomous boos, even though the team had only played a quarter of the season. Many fans forgot just how instrumental Kidd was in the team’s first turnaround at the turn of the century.
But on April 1, the joke was on everyone else. Prior to the game, Kidd received his second coach of the month award in the new year. For those keeping track, Kidd has won two of a possible three NBA coaching accolades in 2014.
While getting Deron Williams healthy certainly made the difference, Kidd has accomplished quite a bit with a banged up roster. Avery Johnson referred to healthy teams as, “locked and loaded and ready to go.” At no point in the Nets’ turnaround have the Nets been completely healthy.
While Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko will likely return before the end of the regular season, the Nets have gone much of the way without them. Kidd also jockeyed with personnel when general manager Billy King acquired another piece to the puzzle in Marcus Thornton.
In many ways, the salary cap is a blessing and a curse to Kidd. Tom Thibodeau will head into the playoffs with a seven-man rotation. He has no hard decisions, anybody could make them. Kidd, on the other hand, must juggle between aging players and above-average role players who might boast far superior roles on other teams.
“We expected it at the beginning of the year, and we’ve been expecting it lately with the way we’ve been playing,” Williams said. “So we’re definitely excited.”
Kidd’s next test comes in the playoffs. With the turnaround complete and a playoff spot assured, the rookie head coach will have to manage a full series against the same team with varying minutes allotments.
If his calm and cool nature to this point is any indication, the increased pressure will not faze him.