Jason Kidd already looks the part of a coach. In his postgame attire of double-Windsor-knotted ties and impeccably tailored suits, Kidd cleaned up quite well after running around a basketball court for however long he was allowed to toward the end of his playing career. If he takes over on an NBA bench, as he desires, at least he would not need to update his wardrobe.
Aside from his attire, though, there are reasons for misgivings about Kidd’s reported interest in the Brooklyn Nets’ open head coaching position. Maybe for some teams, looking the part would be good enough for a first-time head coach jumping straight from a playing career. But not for these Nets. Not right now.
Coaching in the NBA is tough, and it is one of the major determinants of whether a team can contend for a championship. Look no farther than these playoffs, in which the last four teams standing also happened to employ four of the league’s elite coaches, with the best (the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich) facing off against the next great one (the Heat’s Erik Spoelstra) in the NBA Finals. A coach is more than a mere figurehead who rolls the ball out and watches as his players play — although the really good ones, like George Karl and Rick Adelman, make it look that way.
So if the Nets, who clearly fancy themselves title contenders at the moment, indeed share Kidd’s affection, they could be in for a surprise. It is mildly insulting to the experienced yet unemployed head coaches and seasoned assistants currently looking for head coaching gigs that this freshly retired player, with no coaching chops aside from his reputation as a smart decision-maker on the court, thinks he could be in the running for a job many of them would kill for. This is not to say Kidd will necessarily fail, just that his success will be much more difficult than some might imagine.
First-time head coaches have had success in the past. Phil Jackson won a championship with the Bulls in his second year. Paul Westphal led the Suns to the finals in his first year. Doc Rivers won the coach of the year award in his first year on the job in Orlando.
There were substantial differences between those coaches’ situations and the one Kidd would walk into in Brooklyn, of course. Jackson was Doug Collins‘ top assistant in Chicago before he was elevated in 1989. Westphal spent three years as a college coach, then four more on the bench in Phoenix under Cotton Fitzsimmons. Rivers began his coaching career in Orlando, but with a roster in transition, rather than the All-Star laden group currently in place in Brooklyn.
That last point may be the most important. A lack of previous coaching experience should not preclude Kidd from consideration for a job. Mark Jackson and the Warriors have proved that an inexperienced head coach can be successful if he is surrounded by competent assistants while he learns on the job. Yet when Jackson slipped up — and he slipped up often, to be sure — he let down a team that is ostensibly on the rise and learning to win along with its coach. By contrast, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson are in no mood to tolerate a coach’s learning curve. They have felt disappointment. Johnson is on the wrong side of 30. Williams is approaching it. Even their young centerpiece, Brook Lopez, is heading into his sixth professional season. Patience is not a virtue the Nets possess.
Kidd could be a fine coach at some point. He might even be a pretty good one right away, given the right situation. New York is a tough place to cut one’s teeth, though. Williams will not care that he once lost some battles to Kidd on the court if Kidd screws up his rotation patterns. Brooklyn fans are unlikely to have many fond memories of Kidd leading the franchise back when it was in New Jersey, a world away from the brownstones and blacktop of their borough.
We have already seen P.J. Carlesimo, one of the most qualified coaches around, fail to get the Nets out of the first round. In a way, it makes sense that the Nets would be interested in bringing in new blood, rather than another retread. But Kidd’s blood may be a little too new. The Nets need a coach right now who can do more than simply look the part.