Nets' new coach must balance minutes for older superstars
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Jason Kidd knows a thing or two about limiting minutes for aging superstars.
He experienced it first-hand last season with the Knicks, logging a career-low 26:53 per night while registering just 6.0 points and 3.3 assists, which were also the lowest totals of his Hall of Fame-worthy 19-year NBA career.
Despite New York coach Mike Woodson's careful use of the 40-year-old point guard, Kidd still didn't have much left in the tank by the time the Knicks stood poised to make what they hoped would be a deep run in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
In an embarrassing showing by his own admission, Kidd went scoreless over the Knicks' last 10 playoff games, missing 17 consecutive field-goal attempts to painfully cap his time on the hardwood after finishing second all-time in NBA history in assists (12,091) and steals (2,684), and third overall in 3-pointers (1,988).
"I understand what it means to not be able to make a shot," a self-deprecating Kidd jabbed during last month's press conference to introduce him as the 18th head coach in Nets history. "I came [into the league] a non-shoter, and some would say I left as a non-shooter."
Kidd played the good soldier throughout his farewell tour.
In fact, he seemed to realize that his time as the go-to guy had passed him by after playing a vital role on an NBA championship team with Dallas in 2011, leading the Nets to their only two Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003, as well as grabbing a pair of gold medals with the U.S. Olympic Team.
But now, Kidd, a first-year coach caretaking the highest-paid team in the sport, will be the one making hard decisions regarding playing time.
With the addition of future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, as well as former Sixth Man of the Year Jason Terry, the Nets have acquired some of the "experience, competitiveness and toughness" general manager Billy King felt the team lacked during last season's disappointing first-round playoff exit against Chicago.
But Brooklyn has also added nearly a half-century of NBA seasons and 105 combined years of age to its roster, leaving Kidd to figure out how best to keep our borough's newest Big Three from breaking down before the games that matter most next spring.
When asked about their collective age in relation to their expected playing time, the 37-year-old Garnett, 35-year-old Pierce and Terry, also 35, turned to Kidd on the podium during last week's fete to welcome the trio at the Barclays Center.
"You've got to talk to the guy to the right of us," Pierce playfully re-directed the question.
To his credit, Kidd didn't blink at the query.
"The best example of that? I just sat in that same seat as these 'young guys'," he reminded everyone.
"Our job is to win ballgames during the season, but keep their minutes down," the neophyte coach added. "Billy has built a team that these guys don't have to play 35 to 38 minutes per night. My job is to watch the clock and keep these guys' minutes down. Maybe they won't play one night. The bigger picture is for these guys to be healthy going into the playoffs."
That may prove easier said than done.
Kidd, a feverish competitor by nature who always wanted the ball at the end of the game, will have to resist the temptation to overuse championship-proven performers like Garnett, Pierce and Terry.
In turn, the new arrivals will have to understand that Brooklyn already has an established Big Three in All-Star center Brook Lopez, $98 million point man Deron Williams and shooting guard Joe Johnson.
But none of those players has lifted, and/or kissed, the Larry O'Brien Trophy in June, as Kidd, Garnett, Pierce and Terry have.
"That’s going to be the biggest question for this team: how well are we going to jell and how quickly are we going to be able to jell?" Garnett openly wondered last Thursday afternoon in Downtown Brooklyn while citing "sacrifice" as the main ingredient to championship success.
Last season, Williams and Johnson averaged over 36 minutes per night, and Lopez logged just over 30 while leading the team in scoring and rebounding.
Pierce was on the floor for over 33 minutes per game while leading the Celtics in scoring, and Garnett came in at just under 30 as he paced Boston regulars in rebounding, blocks and shooting percentage.
To whom will Kidd turn, and perhaps more importantly for how long, when the Nets need a big basket in the clutch during the 82-game run-up to the NBA's second season?
Garnett, for one, is willing to let Kidd dictate the pace for the coming season.
“He is a friend first, and now we have to put in perspective that he’s the coach, and I have no problem with that," the 18-year NBA veteran ceded. "The point I’m trying to make in all this is that the communication, the fact that I’m comfortable to talk to a friend about anything, is a great incentive."
With billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov hungry for a championship within the next two years, a star-studded roster eager to make good on that mandate, and three aging stars taking their last stab at greatness, the Nets are a team built to win now at all costs, as evidenced by their record-setting payroll.
Will Kidd find a way to have all his players healthy and primed to earn Brooklyn its first major pro sports championship since 1955?
Of course, only time will tell.
But for Kidd, the way he distributes that time could prove most telling.
The 2013-14 Brooklyn Nets are officially on the clock.
Hoop du Jour: While most of the focus the past week has been on all the age and experience the Nets have added to their roster, rookie C Mason Plumlee quietly put on an impressive show during the Nets' Summer League slate in Orlando, Fla., earlier this month. The first-round pick out of Duke averaged 13.2 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists in just under 30 minutes of playing time per game in five contests. ... Though he suffered a sprained ankle during the close of point-round play during the annual exhibition round-robin, G Tyshawn Taylor also put up solid numbers in Orlando. The second-year point man, who is battling with incoming veteran Shaun Livingston for backup minutes behind Williams, averaged 16.8 points and 3.5 assists in four games. He also was one of only five players to average 30 minutes per game, clearly getting additional time on the floor to give King an idea of how well he's progressed this offseason. Last season, Taylor played in only 38 of the Nets' 82 games, splitting time between Brooklyn and the team's NBDL affiliate in Springfield, Mass.