The risk-reward equation of hiring Jason Kidd
Hiring Jason Kidd as a head coach nine days after he retired as a player has a chance to be an incredibly bad idea for the Nets. It also has a chance to be a refreshing departure from the norm.
Nine days after he retired as a player, Jason Kidd became a head coach on Wednesday. The referendum on whether the Brooklyn Nets made a clever, outside-the-box hire or a ridiculous one begins immediately.
Former players have gone on to coach in the NBA. Some have enjoyed success. Phil Jackson is a former player, after all. So is Doc Rivers. And Larry Bird. But for the Nets to make the unprecedented leap and hire a future Hall of Famer with wet ink smudging on his retirement papers?
But is it a good idea? It has a chance to be an incredibly bad idea. It also has a chance to be really refreshing -- or, at least no worse than the hiring of some of the career retreads who get jobs in other NBA cities every summer.
The list of reasons to be circumspect is lengthy. Kidd has no head coaching experience -- no coaching experience at all that I'm aware of, at any level. Being a coach is a lot more like being a CEO than it's like being an NBA player. You need strong managements skills, and NBA players -- even those who are among the greatest ever -- tend to be missing that from their resumes.
To make the leap immediately from playing to coaching presents some inherent conflicts. Kidd is a contemporary of the players he'll be coaching, and will have to immediately draw a line between his days of socializing as a player and breaking down film and handing out discipline as a coach. It's not that Kidd, 40, isn't old enough to be Deron Williams' coach. It's just that Kidd and Williams are golfing buddies. That kind of relationship doesn't exactly lend itself to the kind of tough love D-Will needs from his boss.
Oh, and they're also represented by the same agent, New York-based Jeff Schwartz. An NBA coach's least favorite call is one from an agent asking that his client play more, shoot more, pass less or be utilized differently. Imagine if that call were coming from the guy who represented you as a player, too. The potential for conflicts of interest is staggering, and pretty much par for the course in today's NBA.
Technically, Kidd may not be represented in his coaching career by Schwartz under union by-laws that govern player representation. That line, however, has been consistently blurred in other instances around the league.
All of this makes you think that Kidd surprisingly securing the Nets' coaching job hardly happened by accident, given how crucial it was for the Nets to re-sign Williams last summer after trading for him only months ahead of free agency. Given the alternatives, Williams and Schwartz arguably did as much for the Nets franchise ahead of its move from Jersey to Brooklyn as Kidd did in leading the team to consecutive NBA Finals.
It all comes back around, doesn't it?
Whether Kidd winds up being a great coach or a lousy one is not necessarily the point. As any good coach will tell you, good coaching starts with good players. In Orlando, Rivers became a head coach without ever having been an assistant. And it's worth remembering that he almost got fired in Boston before the Celtics acquired Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in 2007. Now, Rivers and Gregg Popovich are, hands down, the most highly regarded coaches in basketball.
This has nothing to do with Kidd but everything to do with the state of the coaching industry, which is in utter chaos. The coaching business has changed more in a week than it had in the previous 10 years. With teams more limited than ever in their ability to throw money at players to solve their problems, coaches have become more expendable and more vulnerable than ever.
A dozen teams and counting will start next season with a new coach. Lionel Hollins, who led the Grizzlies to 56 wins and the Western Conference finals, is hunting for a job. Ditto for George Karl, the reigning coach of the year.
There's no questioning Kidd's intelligence as a player, or his understanding of the game or ability to impact winning with the ball in his hands. But with the ball in someone else's hands and a clipboard in his, things will be different. The hours are different. The workload is greater. The expectations, especially with a roster built to win now, will be immense.
While NBA veterans who aren't in the playoffs are working on their games or their "brands" at this time of year, coaches are grinding through pre-draft workouts, European scouting and prospect interviews. Their eyes are glazing over from watching hours upon hours of video. They're attending meeting after meeting after meeting about everything from the draft to free agency to potential trades.
If the Nets miss the playoffs or get sent home early, does Kidd want to spend weeks bouncing from the draft combine in Chicago to agent workouts to the European championships, looking for players? Does he want to be scouting D-Leaguers at All-Star weekend instead of sitting on a beach chair in the Bahamas? Does he want to be breaking down video at 3 a.m. instead of putting down adult beverages in the Hamptons, where Kidd was arrested and charged with drunken driving last summer?
Boys will be boys, but coaches have a higher level of responsibility. And remember: Just nine days ago, Kidd was still one of the boys.
Presumably, the Nets asked about all of this and more in his interview on Monday, and Kidd was apparently convincing. Nets GM Billy King is said to have come away impressed with how Kidd presented himself -- enough to offer him the job and finalize a contract agreement within hours of interviewing the only other known candidate for the job, Pacers associate head coach Brian Shaw.
How Kidd will carry himself as a coach will be a fascinating case of high risk and potentially high reward. As with any coaching hire, there are no guarantees.
If coaches with decades of experience and hundreds of wins can get fired at the snap of a finger, so can Jason Kidd. So welcome to the coaching profession, and good luck. The only advice I'm really qualified to give is this: Rent, don't buy.
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