In a changing league, Jason Kidd’s return to Dallas is as much a shift in pace as it is a trip home.
On Thursday morning, the Dallas Mavericks held Kidd and Nico Harrison’s introductory press conference, making their hires as official as it gets just weeks before the NBA draft. This is Kidd’s third time joining the Mavericks organization, but it’s his first time as a head coach. The saying goes, ‘third times the charm.’ Kidd has an opportunity to prove that age-old adage true. And to do so is a dream come true for Kidd, who sees every part of his journey as leading him to this moment.
“What it means to be the head coach of the Dallas Mavericks? It’s a dream come true. What an incredible journey,” Kidd said. “To be drafted, win Rookie of the Year, win a championship and then to come back and be the head coach… I am a kid in a candy store because this is a dream come true.”
In the beginning:
The Mavericks and Kidd first crossed paths professionally in 1994. Dallas selected him with the second overall pick in the draft. Kidd was a wide-eyed rookie who hoped to take the NBA by storm. He did. Averaging 11.7 points and 7.7 assists per game, Kidd took home the Co-Rookie of the Year award alongside Grant Hill who played for the Detroit Pistons.
Kidd was supposed to be the franchise savior. Former Mavericks coach Dick Matta said to Richie Whitt at the time that Kidd was “the real deal and truly a once in a lifetime player.”
But, paradise quickly turned sour, and it was effectively lost in 1996 when Kidd forced his way out of town. A 23-year-old Kidd told Dallas management at the time that it was a “trade me or trade him” situation when dealing with his locker room feud with Jimmy Jackson. The Mavs elected to ship Kidd off to the Phoenix Suns, receiving back Sam Cassell, A.C Green and Michael Finley. At the time, Kidd was averaging nearly a double-double with 10.9 points and nine assists. It didn’t matter.
That was it. The Kidd era in Dallas was supposedly over before it even got off the ground.
“Jason isn’t the guy who could take us to the next level,” interim general manager Frank Zaccanelli said to Whitt upon trading him in 1996. “Management wasn’t comfortable putting the franchise in his hands.”
Key to the championship team:
14 years after the Mavericks selected Kidd with the No. 2 overall pick, and 10 years after they traded him to Phoenix, they wanted him back.
By the 2006-07 season, Kidd was slogging through what became his final full year with the New Jersey Nets. He’d been a multiple-time All-Star and led the league in triple-doubles. He’d played in the NBA Finals twice but lost both chances at NBA immortality.
In 2008, the Mavericks were two years removed from losing to the Miami Heat in the 2006 NBA Finals. They needed one player that would put them over the edge. That’s when it happened. After months of rumors and attempted deals, Dallas brought its prodigal son home. Kidd was back. He was older. He had a more mature perspective on what was important in this life and in the NBA. Kidd glimpsed glory but never got over the hump. The Mavericks with Dirk Nowitzki gave him that chance.
“There’s no bigger reward than to have that championship trophy in your hand,” Kidd said at the time. “That’s why I’m here. Because Dallas has its eye on that prize.”
The 2011 championship run:
2011 was well past Kidd’s physical prime. But even without his ‘fastball,’ he still had something left in the tank.
He averaged 9.3 points and led the team in assists at 7.3 in the playoffs. And he saved his best for the biggest moments, scoring 24 points in the playoff opener against the Portland Trail Blazers. He followed that up with an 11-point nine-assist performance to take a commanding 3-0 series lead over the defending NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Against the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Heat, Kidd was a veteran presence who gave Dallas an edge in the playmaking department. And after all the shortcomings and failures in his career, he was a big contributor to an NBA championship team. He was a “saint-turned sinner-turned saint,” yet again. And though Nowitzki deservingly took home Finals MVP, the 2011 championship meant the world to Kidd.
“I can’t put this into words, what this means to me right now. On this journey, I’ve played against the best players in the world. Playing 17 years in the league, coming up short twice. It’s a dream right now,” Kidd said to reporters after winning a championship in 2011.
Note, he was using the word “dream” then too. That’s not by accident.
Kidd’s career didn’t end the night he won a championship. Instead, he played one more season in Dallas before heading to New York for a year spent in obscurity with the Knicks. His departure ruffled feathers in the organization. Many believed his bridge in Dallas was burnt.
Cuban in 2012, upset with Kidd, said he had “no chance” of having his jersey retired in Dallas’ rafters.
That’s what made what happened Thursday morning so monumental. Kidd’s legacy in Dallas is a jagged one. He was loved. He was hated. His skill set was adored. His attitude was despised. And Cuban, who exclaimed that Dallas would never honor Kidd’s jersey back in 2012, brought the prodigal son back to coach his franchise out of no man’s land and into contention.
“With Kidd, he is a voice that can lead our players and create a culture on the court and off the court that motivates them to perform,” Cuban said on Thursday.
Those words are a far cry from how Cuban perceived Kidd in 2012.
A dream come true is how Kidd defines being the next coach of the Mavs. His journey led him here. Each failure and each success drew him one step closer.
Though Kidd is far from perfect, he’s learned. He’s grown. Very rarely do NBA stories come full circle. With Kidd it has. The next step is proving himself to Dallas for the third time.
“I will take what I’ve learned and apply it here,” Kidd said. “You tend to think you know everything, well that’s not true… Being able to share my journey and my experience with my players will be helpful.”
The third time is the charm. Kidd certainly agrees.
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Feature image via Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports.