Following one of his team’s blowout losses, Brooklyn Nets first-year coach Jason Kidd received a call from owner Mikhail Prokhorov.
The Russian billionaire’s message to the future Hall of Fame point guard turned coach: You’re not on the hot seat. Don’t believe what you read. Ignore the critics. You’re my guy.
Easy to say when you have the full support of your owner -- and your team is firing on all cylinders.
Prokhorov may not be as patient as James Dolan -- so says the New York Knicks owner, anyway -- but he has remained patient with Kidd. And that patience is starting to pay off.
Since the New Year began and Kidd shed his tie, the Nets (16-22) are 6-1.
But it’s not just about the calendar change or the lack of neckwear.
For the first time all season, the Nets are playing cohesively on offense and tenaciously on defense, dictating pace and dominating the opposition with their smaller lineups.
“Mikhail is the best,” Kidd said. “He’s got a great sense of humor, but he wants to win, and everybody that’s wearing a Net uniform or is employed by the Nets, we all want to win. We might not have gotten off to the start that we wanted, but it’s a process and the biggest thing is from our owners to our players, no one panicked. And we feel that we’re getting better each day and we’ve still got some room to grow and get healthy and see what happens.”
Prokhorov’s Nets came into the season with a projected $190 million payroll and championship expectations. But they got off to a 5-14 start, and Kidd quickly came under fire, his rookie coaching season stained by his decision to re-assign assistant Lawrence Frank to doing “daily reports” and “soda-gate.”
One scout told ESPN Insider David Thorpe Kidd was “the worst coach in the NBA.” Another told Bleacher Report, “he doesn’t do anything.”
Just a season ago, Avery Johnson was fired following a 14-14 start.
He was the guy the team’s Russian ownership group pushed for despite being just weeks removed from his retirement following a 19-year playing career. The guy they believed in. The guy they were going to stick with through thick and thin.
“What is more important is that Jason Kidd is being more and more comfortable. And what is important is he has the support of the players,” Prokhorov replied when asked about the difference between Kidd and Johnson.
Kidd ripped into his team following 17-point home loss to the Chicago Bulls on Christmas. Six days later, the Nets were whooped by 21 in San Antonio on New Year’s Eve.
But they’ve lost just once since. And over the past two weeks, they rank eighth in defensive efficiency and 13th in offensive efficiency.
Kidd’s systems are starting to take shape. Joe Johnson is playing like an All-Star. Garnett and Pierce look rejuvenated. Reserves Shaun Livingston and Mirza Teletovic have stepped up to play prominent roles. Kirilenko has been such a difference-maker on both ends of the floor.
Williams has been recovering from his second cortisone shot-PRP injection combo in as many seasons, but the Nets have done just fine without him; they may even get their $98 million point guard back Monday against the Knicks.
“It’s always great to have support from the top guy, from our owner,” Kidd said. “But I think we’re all on the same page that we want to win. There’s a process, and you can see the team is starting to play better since the New Year, but when you hear those words, they’re always encouraging. But it’s more about those guys in the locker room, and those guys are playing at a high level right now.”
Then, as both Prokhorov and GM Billy King pointed out, anything is possible.
And why not think that way -- especially given the way their coach is coaching and their players are playing.
How much did that phone call have to do with it? Who knows. But it couldn’t have hurt.
“I told him about a very famous Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov, who said, ‘Don’t read Soviet papers before breakfast,’ ” Prokhorov said. “In other words, don’t pay any attention to what they are writing about. Just keep doing your job.”