New challenges await Kidd in playoffs

TORONTO -- When he was orchestrating fast breaks as a New Jersey Net, Jason Kidd would sometimes shave his head and facial hair before the team's postseason opener.

To go along with his clean shave, Kidd would begin the playoffs sporting an intense game face -- a stare rarely seen during the regular season -- which marked the shifting of his high-octane game into another gear.

Kidd returns to the postseason on Saturday, but for the first time in his basketball life, he will start a series without the ball in his hands.

While he won't have the ability to control the game on the floor, Kidd hopes to direct his Brooklyn Nets to a Game 1 victory over the Toronto Raptors from the bench.

The sixth-seeded Nets might own an overwhelming advantage in postseason experience over the young Raptors (570 combined career playoff games on their roster to just 156), but Kidd will be a playoff rookie for the first time since 1997 when the teams tip on Saturday afternoon in Toronto -- this time as a coach.

Kidd's counterpart, Toronto's Dwane Casey, will also be taking charge of his first playoff game as a head coach. Casey, however, experienced plenty of playoff series as a longtime assistant coach under the likes of George Karl and Rick Carlisle.

Kidd had never coached at any level before this season. While his coaching initiation got off to a rocky 10-21 start, Kidd directed a staggering turnaround, as the Nets finished 34-17 the rest of the way.

But now the next and most important stage of his new career begins in Toronto, and Kidd will have to prove himself in a seven-game series against Casey, who knows Kidd well after winning a title together with the Dallas Mavericks.

"Um, we'll find out," Kidd said when asked if his 158 games of playoff experience over a 19-year future-Hall of Fame playing career will transfer to his new gig. "I think it's basketball at the end of the day. The little things become that [much] more important. ... We can't overlook the little things because those can come back to haunt us: taking care of the ball, free throws, boxing out. ... As a player, I always felt that is what wins series."

Kidd's counterpart is going with the same approach.

"You are not going to come out and reinvent the wheel," Casey said earlier this week. "That's the tendency. Being with Rick and George, that is one thing I gained from them. We did the same things we did during the regular season. You can't come out and become something [else]."

"So you can only imagine with young players, you try to come out with 15 new things all at once. Their heads are spinning," Casey added. "So you got to be consistent. You got to be predictable within your own sets and system to have some success, because if you come out and try to overcoach, that is just as bad as anything else."

Kidd's head was spinning as he navigated the team through a season's worth of drama in just the first two months. There were countless injuries, a controversy over demoting lead assistant Lawrence Frank and even a $50,000 fine for purposely spilling a drink on the floor to create a timeout when he had none.

At one point, Kidd even joked he had to learn when his team needed him standing and pacing on the sideline versus sitting and watching. Through it all, the Nets were routinely getting blown out as his revamped roster was still coming together.

"He ran the gamut," said Mike Fratello, who is a Nets broadcast analyst for YES Network. "He experienced the lows of coaching, the disappointments of coaching, the tough times that you come up with coaching based on injuries, schedule not being in your favor. He experienced all that.

"He experienced the highs of what coaching is all about when they had the turnaround. He has gone through a whole cycle of things this year."

A major component to the Nets' turnaround was Kidd's decision to do things his way. After demoting Frank, who did a good deal of coaching in training camp and early in the season while orchestrating the team's defense, Kidd became more assertive, tinkering with the defensive scheme.

He also moved Paul Pierce to power forward after Brook Lopez was lost for the season in late December.

"I think that [Pierce] move is the one lineup change that totally altered the Nets' fortunes this year," ESPN NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy said. "It turned out to be a brilliant move by Jason Kidd and really helped revive Pierce and their team."

Now we have to wait and see if Kidd will make any more savvy moves. In a best-of-seven series that could be decided by a slight adjustment or a tweak to the rotation, the opportunity is there.

Van Gundy said one key to coaching in a playoff series is to pick one or two things a coach believes can win the series and stick with them. A coach can't get caught up trying to make too many adjustments.

"What he's comfortable with, what his team can handle as far as adjustments will be the only significant thing that he hasn't faced [yet]," Van Gundy said. "Because he has already probably faced withering criticism, and he held his team together so well.

"I think the other thing is his rotation," Van Gundy added. "Is he going to play [Kevin] Garnett, [Mason] Plumlee and [Andray] Blatche? Is he going to up the minutes of his main guys and play everybody mid-to-high 30s [minutes]? Or is he going to keep the minutes down? I think that, to me, is what I am most curious to see."

Deep down, Garnett and Pierce might be curious to see how Kidd handles his first experience coaching in the playoffs. The duo has seen it all, combining for a total of 267 playoff games' worth of experience -- many of which came under the direction of Doc Rivers.

Now, the two are hoping Kidd can help guide them to the NBA Finals one more time. The Nets would not have made it this far if Pierce and Garnett had lost faith in Kidd during the team's early struggles.

They didn't stray on Christmas Day, when sources said Kidd screamed at the team following an embarrassing loss in a nationally televised game against the Chicago Bulls. While Garnett might have stormed out after Kidd's outburst, sources maintained he steadfastly supported the rookie coach and was more upset with some of his teammates' play.

"I think he's grown just like this team has grown," Pierce said of Kidd. "His maturity, his hands-on [approach], coming from a guy who had no coaching experience -- [even coaching] his kids -- I don't know if he ever coached at the YMCA or any of that.

"But, from the beginning, he has always had our respect," Pierce continued. "And he's always had our trust that he will figure things out. He has one of the great basketball minds, and he can adapt to any role."

Pierce and Garnett put their "trust" in Kidd. They wanted to see what he can do without the ball in his Hall of Fame hands in a playoff game.

Kidd didn't panic as a player, and Pierce believes he'll be the same as a playoff coach.

"He has this calm demeanor about him," Pierce said. "I can just see him being very good under the pressure situations.

"We trust him. That is all I can say. We trust him in any given situation."