2024 NBA Finals: These Mavericks are a reflection of Jason Kidd — 'We like the underdog role'

MINNEAPOLIS — Pardon Jason Kidd if he chooses to flex. He won’t outwardly, but he takes a great measure of pride both for himself and this Dallas Mavericks team in getting to the NBA Finals.

Not many believed they would, and if they would fix their minds to seeing it, plenty believed Kidd wouldn’t be on the sidelines, guiding and pushing this franchise through an impressive playoff run.

He was thought by some to be on a hot seat in Dallas despite taking the Mavericks to the Western Conference finals in 2022.

“Everybody’s gonna change their tune or their tone or to say I am the one [to lead],” Kidd told Yahoo Sports on Thursday night after the Mavericks finished off the Minnesota Timberwolves in five games in the Western Conference finals. “My job is to build something. Everybody’s into this instant thing. It doesn’t happen. Championship organizations aren’t built overnight.”

Kidd still has his players believing they’re the underdogs despite their impressive run to the Finals — a part-truth, part-motivational tactic to keep them on edge.

Dallas Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd watches play during the first half in Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference finals against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sunday, May 26, 2024, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Dallas Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd watches play during the first half in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sunday, May 26, 2024, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

“We like the underdog role, we have to be,” Kidd said. “Boston’s been there before. We’re just a group of guys, that some people say, that just got put together and will play on the playground. It’s cool to see this group come together for a short amount of time and believe, and we got a great group of young men.”

Moments before he huddled up in an extensive but celebratory meeting with new Mavs governor Patrick Dumont, Kidd was able to exhale — if only for a minute. His contract extension from three weeks ago remains fresh, and yet he looks worth every penny.

“And for Nico [Harrison, Mavs president of basketball operations and general manager] and Patrick to see that with the extension before we even got past the first round,” Kidd said. “Understanding that they believed in what I could do, and they saw the impact I had on the guys …”

“It’s definitely a vote of confidence. I actually believed I was doing the right thing. If you looked at our roster, it got better. We all got better.”

That’s the thing. The NBA world judged Kidd as a coach before he was fully formed. He was barely off the floor in 2013-14 when taking over the old and broken-down Brooklyn Nets — and yes, Kidd was green.

He was fired in the middle of the 2017-18 season with the Bucks, who improved under Mike Budenholzer in the next full season, and that was seen as confirmation Kidd was holding the team back.

But he wasn’t given credit for putting the ball in Giannis Antetokounmpo’s hands and speeding up his development that culminated later. And Kidd was still growing into his position, with his voice and tactics.

Kidd and Harrison found a roster that plays to Kidd’s strengths after the coach acknowledged to Yahoo Sports over a year ago that Luka Dončić needed stronger perimeter help: “The usage is just too high, no one can [sustain] that.”

Then they got Kyrie Irving, and later Dereck Lively II in the draft, and then at the deadline added P.J. Washington and Daniel Gafford. Kidd fully credits Harrison in building the roster.

Kidd speaks in low tones, but delivers strong eye contact — it’s understated but intense. It would be disarming to view him as a strong leader if he didn’t have three trips to the NBA Finals on his ledger as a player, two as the lead dog.

He can be demonstrative on the sidelines, directing his players on defensive rotations. And in one rare show of emotion against the Timberwolves in Dallas, he made like a referee and pointed toward Dallas’ end during a critical fourth-quarter possession when the officials conferred to make a correct call.

So when he’s asked if he’s taking personal gratification, he tries to downplay it.

“It’s great,” Kidd said. “I don’t know what else you want me to say.”

He’s said plenty, and has more to say over the next couple of weeks.