In speaking about Dwane Casey, the words coming from Jason Kidd were warm, yet his voice was level, and his face remained fixed in the same intensely focused expression he'd worn all week.
Casey was the assistant coach and defensive guru of the Dallas Mavericks when they won the 2011 NBA title, and Kidd was the veteran point guard with exceptional basketball smarts who helped the coaching staff strategize. Three years after sharing in that championship, the two head coaches locked in a playoff series: Kidd's Brooklyn Nets versus Casey's Toronto Raptors. So when asked whether Casey ever imparted anything to Kidd that he uses today, Kidd's reverent yet unemotional response seemed fitting.
"Yes, definitely," said Kidd with both brevity and respect. "His patience, his competitiveness and his will to win."
The two spent countless hours helping orchestrate that championship in Dallas. A perennial playoff underachiever went into that postseason as a disrespected No. 3 seed in the Western Conference and fought through series with the Portland Trailblazers, the L.A. Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder and the vaunted Miami Heat en route to the title. Both Kidd and Casey walked away from that experience with their first career NBA rings, a résumé highlight that spring-boarded each to where they are today. Both recall the strategizing, adjusting, counterpunching, heart and willpower it took to get there.
"I'm thankful," said Kidd in his speech to fans after the Mavericks' championship parade. "These guys took me some place I'd never been."
Casey's journey to becoming a head coach in the NBA has been slow and methodical, first working as an assistant in college, then in the NBA under coaches like George Karl and Rick Carlisle. Kidd, on the other hand, retired from his 19-year playing career last June and stepped right into the Nets head coaching gig, reuniting him with the franchise he lead to consecutive NBA finals in 2002 and '03 as a player. Kidd had unfinished business in New Jersey that he hopes to settle at the team's new address in Brooklyn.
Today, the two are locking horns in a first-round series that's tied 1-1. Casey's team is the disrespected No. 3 seed in the East; Kidd's is the star-studded No. 6 seed accused of tanking late-season games to draw Toronto.
When the Nets began the season 3-10 and criticism rained down on the inexperienced Kidd, Casey publicly defended his old point guard, projecting Brooklyn would turn things around. The gentlemanly 57-year-old Raptors coach hasn't been shy to compliment his 41-year-old counterpart this week either.
"We used to get Jason's ideas because we knew we had to sell him on our game plans in Dallas to make sure he was on board, because he would help sell it to the other guys – Dirk [Nowitzki], Tyson [Chandler] and the others," Casey said. "So I would often run things by him, talk to him about certain things defensively. He had a great basketball mind when he was playing … he was way ahead of the curve as far as ideas and schemes he wanted to try to guard people. You knew he thought like a coach as a player, so it doesn't surprise me that he's doing a good job with this [Brooklyn] team."
When Kidd came to Dallas, he and the long-standing Mav Nowitzki formed a sensational tandem between future Hall of Famers. Kidd not only rollicked with behind-the-back passes and drained kill shots from all over the floor, but he put the ball on the money for the hot-shooting German, and brought out the big man's finest basketball. With Kidd's aid, Rick Carlisle's Dallas coaching staff strategized over Phil Jackson's Lakers, bounced Kevin Durant's Thunder and stopped the Miami Heat's megastar trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Casey landed the Raptors' coaching job fresh off the title.
"Whether we were a great defensive team or not, I don't honestly know, but I can tell you that those guys" believed that defence won them games, said Casey during a recent interview with The Globe and Mail. "There were games we would fluff around for three quarters and then lock down in the fourth quarter. We had it so Jason Kidd was the ringleader of the team, and he would suddenly lock down and everyone knew to follow him … my proudest moment in Dallas was realizing what we morphed into – what we were offensively and what we became defensively."
Kidd and Casey are now in a chess match. Kidd got the best of Casey's Raptors in Game 1, and then Casey responded with a Game 2 win by creating better opportunities for DeMar DeRozan, implementing Landry Fields on defence and stifling Nets veteran star Paul Pierce.
Philosophies were scrawled on the 2011 Mavericks' locker room whiteboard that both Kidd and Casey still use today. "Everyone, Every Possession" was one, and "Be the more aggressive team." Both men remember the recipe used to taste success.
"He's a great person, and off the floor too, you can talk about him as a human being – he's as good as it gets," Kidd said of Casey. "He's never going to quit, no matter what the circumstances are. He's going to fight, and he's got a group of guys who believe in what he's saying, and you can see that on that floor with this Raptors team. They're going to fight until the end."