CLEVELAND – "I have an opportunity to share my experiences and help a team from a different seat. I have a lot to learn about coaching, but when I played the game I felt like I was an extension of the coach.'' – Jason Kidd, at his June 13 introductory news conference.
Fast forward: The Brooklyn Nets closed out their first season with Jason Kidd as a successful NBA head coach Wednesday night, having clinched the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.
They will face the Raptors in an opening-round NBA playoff series starting on Saturday in Toronto. The Nets and Raptors split four games this season with three of those games decided by four or less points.
The Nets lost in a first-round playoff series last season. But these are not the same Nets.
Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have made this team smarter, tougher and more experienced.
And Kidd, well, all the rookie coach did was instill a sense of trust that should serve the Nets well as they begin their quest for the franchise’s first-ever NBA title.
“There were times where I’ve let the guys play throughout the season and hopefully that pays off,’’ Kidd said. “The trust that I’ve given to those guys on the floor, that they can believe that they can make a play offensively. And then we had a stretch during the season when we got stops at the end of the game, and hopefully that can come into play, where if we need a stop to win the game, that we believe that we could get that stop.’’
The Nets finished at 44-38 after a 114-85 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, which edged Brooklyn, 98-94, in the opening game of the season for both teams.
Don’t read much into the team’s 1-4 record down the stretch. The Nets started Jason Collins, Andray Blatche, Marcus Thornton, Jorge Gutierrez and Marquis Teague against the Cavs as Kidd opted to rest his starters. Only seven Nets played against Cleveland (33-49)
When asked how much the Nets have progressed since the season-opening loss until now, Kidd said, “Leaps and bounds.’’
The same can be said of Kidd. Some of the changes he made seem subtle, such as going without a necktie, making him more relaxed on the bench.
Other changes were more obvious, such as his decision to reshuffle the assignments of his assistant coaches and to be a more active presence on the bench. Whereas Kidd once seemed content to sit and watch, he is often standing and shouting instructions.
“As a player, I always felt confident that if I was caIm, my teammates knew that, ‘He’s going to do something to help us win,’" Kidd said recently. “As a coach, my hands are really tied. I got to believe in my players.’’
The Nets begin the playoffs with a full complement of players. Only center Brook Lopez, who suffered a broken bone in his foot in December, isn’t available to go against the Raptors.
Alan Anderson, Kevin Garnett, Joe Johnson, Shaun Livingston, Paul Pierce, Mirza Teletovic and Deron Williams didn’t make the trip or didn’t play as Kidd opted to rest as many players as possible.
A year ago he was a player in the playoffs. This weekend starts his journey as a playoff coach.
“I think it’s basketball at the end of the day,’’ said Kidd. “Again, the little things become that more important and that’s something that I’ve got to relate to my guys in that locker room.
“We can’t overlook the little things because that can come to haunt you. As a player I always felt that’s what wins the series, so that will be the same message I give as a coach.’’
PARADE GROUND: I’m a Paradenik. If there’s a parade in town, I’m going. It’s become one of the best ways to learn about the many cultures that make this city the "Greatest Melting Pot on the Planet." (It helps that most parades end just about on my block.)
The Persian Day Parade was held Sunday on Madison Avenue and among the thousands of fans that lined the parade route were four Nets fans wearing the alternate gray and blue short sleeve jerseys the players wore in Tuesday night’s home finale against the Knicks.
The Persian parade is more than a celebration of culture.
“This is to celebrate the Persian New Year, which coincides with the coming of spring, a time of hope, known as Nowruz,’’ said Azara Tavana, 27, of Ozone Park. “We joke that this is why the NBA chooses to begin its playoffs at this time of the year. The teams that are in have hope for a championship.’’
When asked if that was why she and her friends were wearing Nets jerseys, Tavana laughed.
“A little, but the jerseys are cool,’’ she said. “Women can wear the short sleeves and it’s a good look.’’