Legacies on the line: What NBA Finals mean for Jason Kidd and Luka Doncic

Point guards of the past and present, the NBA Finals are a maiden voyage of sorts for both Jason Kidd and Luka Doncic as coach and star player.

DALLAS — As the Dallas Mavericks make final preparations for the final series of the season, the pairing of Luka Doncic and Jason Kidd arrive together hoping to add immortality to their resumes and offset perceptions of the pair that have followed them throughout their careers. 

After being the point guard for the only championship in franchise history, Kidd has often been maligned for his coaching decisions, but now in his third tenure – twice as a player and now as head coach – he has kept his finger on the pulse of the locker room throughout and has his team on the brink of a championship. 

Doncic, meanwhile, the young superstar point guard who inherited much of what Kidd built throughout his playing days, has absorbed criticisms on his playstyle, maturity and ability to win basketball games in spite of loud stats to storm through three teams seen as a favorite over his squad all while dealing with an injury that literally bleeds him every time he steps on the court. 

The more you look at it, the more you realize that these two make for the perfect pairing in the perfect moment.

Kidd himself was a high-value draft pick for the Dallas Mavericks many years ago, was a co-Rookie of the Year, and the face of the team before the arrival of Dirk Nowitzki. With the team suffering a terrible run in the early ‘90s, Kidd had an instant impact on the franchise and brought them out of their worst years. He was also traded within two seasons of his arrival due to issues with the coaching staff, but went on to have a Hall of Fame career before returning to Dallas in 2008 for the twilight of his career, chasing his first championship.

With Rick Carlisle at the helm, Kidd arrived to provide mental fortitude as a part of a contingent of veterans. Notorious for not playing young guys, Carlisle happily gave the keys to the offense to Kidd, already known for his incredible basketball IQ. It was another perfect pairing for Nowitzki as he was starting to leave his prime years without a ring.

Thirteen years ago, those Mavericks were also an underdog against the original Superteam in Miami led by LeBron James and former Mavs killer Dwyane Wade. To get to the final boss, the 2011 Mavericks and Kidd also went through a collection of vets looking for another run in Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, and a young Oklahoma City Thunder squad, then led by young guns Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. It’s a road that’s not too dissimilar to the one that the 2024 team has traversed in the playoffs with Kidd and Doncic.

Fast-forward a generation after Dallas’ first championship and Carlisle’s old school disciplinarian personality that led Kidd to a title as a player had worn thin on the Mavs young superstar relatively quickly. Though Carlisle was Doncic’s first coach in the NBA, Doncic was no stranger to winning as he did as a teenager in Europe before joining the Association. 

Doncic, as fans of other teams have grown to notice, takes challenges a bit differently than a coach like Carlisle may expect, and by 2021, with little playoff success between Dallas’ only champion coach and their new superstar, both sides were seemingly ready to move on when then-owner Mark Cuban decided to shake things up with the Mavs front office. 

Kidd and Nico Harrison arrived as a duo after longtime GM Donnie Nelson had an acrimonious ending to his Dallas tenure as well. Kidd was brought in to be the antithesis to Carlisle, a player’s coach who had a more recent tenure in the league as a player, and who had a reputation for being a favorite amongst the elite players in the league. 

Combined with Harrison’s time as an executive with Nike, the pair would be looked at to fill the gap of losing player interest against the bigger markets, and molding a championship roster around the new point guard superstar. 

Learning from his own shortcomings as a young player, and as a coach that had little success in his first stints with Brooklyn and Milwaukee, Kidd could also assist in understanding Doncic’s coaching needs to maximize his abilities. Doncic, while still young, was so good so fast that even a year in the wrong direction could spell doom for the franchise, so the coach had to bring the right approach and command his respect.

When the heir apparent arrived to the NBA in the summer of 2018, former GM Nelson was desperate to get Doncic on the Dallas roster, and much like in 1998 with Nowitzki, he swindled a generational superstar out of another franchise’s grasp. Nowitzki, for as great as he was, needed time to get acclimated to the NBA when coming over from Europe. Not Doncic. He arrived well versed via his time at Real Madrid, where he won the EuroLeague title and MVP a month before his arrival to Dallas. By training camp, it was obvious that Phoenix, Sacramento and Atlanta made a huge mistake passing on Doncic. 

Doncic scored 26 points in his second game ever and never looked back, winning the 2018-2019 Wilt Chamberlain Trophy as the league’s Rookie of the Year, much like Kidd had 24 years prior. Six years later, his war chest of awards and accomplishments holds a league scoring title, five All-Star selections, and five ALL-NBA First Team nominations. His individual accolades started accumulating almost immediately after entering the league, but the final judgment for a player of his ilk will always be what he does in the postseason, a refrain that Kidd also had to learn.

Doncic first got a taste of the playoffs at age 20 when the Mavs took the Clippers to six games in the opening round. While the team did not advance, Doncic showed that he would not be daunted by the bright lights, scoring at a near triple-double pace averaging 31 points / 9.8 rebounds / 8.7 assists during the series, and he increased his scoring average to nearly 36 per game the following postseason. 

A 2021 Game 7 loss again to the Clippers was the final time that Carlisle coached Doncic and the Mavericks. With Kidd the following season, Doncic’s Mavs got to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in his age 22 season, but fell to the last great punch from the generational championship Golden State Warriors on their way to a final title. 

After a lost and frustrating season in 2023, in which calls for Kidd’s head grew louder at times, Doncic has pushed through injuries to both himself and his supporting cast with the most talented roster that he’s had in his young career and that has led to the first ever Finals appearance for both Doncic and Kidd as a head coach.

For as good as Doncic has been, and there truly is no comparison to him other than with all-time greats already at just 25 years old, the 24/7 sports news cycle’s talking points on Dallas’ star player entering the playoffs remained on the lack of team success, issues with his high usage rate leading to the perception of a padded stat line, and concerns for his ability to keep a cool demeanor when the calls don’t go his way. 

Enter Kidd’s leadership and the emphasis on keeping Doncic level-headed and enjoying basketball. 

With just four wins separating both from a championship together, nearly all of those slights abasing player and coach have been negated. For Kidd, he can join a small number that have won a title as both a player and a coach. He would also add the distinction of doing it for the same franchise. For Doncic, he would elevate himself to a territory at 25 that the likes of Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, Elgin Baylor or Karl Malone never got to.

And the war chest could have its signature piece, too. With this year’s run, Doncic narrowly missed the League MVP award this year despite superior stats, but did add the Magic Johnson Western Conference Finals MVP trophy to the mantle. Kidd helped bring the franchise a championship for the first time as a player and now he’s back for the first time as a coach. If he helps Doncic raise the Larry O’Brien trophy for the first time, the legacy for each will be cemented. 

Do you think Jason Kidd will lead the Mavericks to another championship? Share your thoughts with Irvin on X (formerly Twitter) @Twittirv.

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