The guys who get hired to coach NBA teams seem to come in about four varieties: the legends, the coaching lifers, college coaches and former players who still are young enough to seem vaguely cool (or at least familiar) to current players.
The latest NBA coaching hire fell into that final category. The Brooklyn Nets hired Jason Kidd, who retired so recently he probably still has some personal property laying around at Madison Square Garden. He replaces P.J. Carlesimo, who falls into the coaching lifers category and is out of a job despite his wealth of experience and having led the Nets to the playoffs last season. And Kidd beat out another former point guard, Brian Shaw, who has years of experience as an assistant.
Despite Kidd’s lack of coaching experience, the hire makes sense for several reasons. For one, Kidd led the Nets to consecutive NBA Finals in his 6 1/2 seasons in New Jersey and is the franchise leader in several statistical categories. He’s also close friends with Nets point guard Deron Williams.
Also, Kidd has credibility with the players he’ll be coaching. (This kind of thing is not so important in other sports leagues, but the NBA is the “inmates running the asylum” league.) He is second on the NBA’s career list in assists and steals, won an NBA title with Dallas and has two Olympic gold medals.
”Jason is a proven winner and leader with an incredible wealth of basketball knowledge and experience,” general manager Billy King said. ”This will be a natural transition for him to move into the role of head coach, as he embodies the tough, smart and team-first mentality that we are trying to establish in Brooklyn.”
Kidd also aligns with another line of reasoning when it comes to these hires, which is that actual basketball coaching experience may not be as important as leadership qualities.
The 40-year-old Kidd was considered one of the smartest players in the NBA, which he believes will help him make the transition into coaching.
”This is a tremendous opportunity to be named head coach of the Brooklyn Nets, and it’s a role I have been studying for over the course of my playing days,” Kidd said. ”Championship teams are built on being prepared, playing unselfishly and being held accountable, and that’s how I expect to coach this basketball team.”
Maybe this is nonsense, or maybe it only sounds like nonsense.
Only four of the 30 teams last season had coaches who were hired without coaching experience: Doc Rivers, Mark Jackson, Kevin McHale and Vinny Del Negro. And now Del Negro is out of a job. But all four led their teams to the playoffs last season. They had a combined .578 winning percentage (189-138). And the weakest link, Rivers (41-40), is a two-time NBA champion and former Coach of the Year.
Before Kidd, the most recent such hire was Jackson, who signed on with the Warriors in 2011. After a rough first season, he led them to 47 wins and a second-round playoff appearance this year. And while Del Negro and McHale also are relatively unproven coaches, they too have boosted their win totals lately.
History has shown us these hires can be very good. The coaches with the most wins in NBA history, Don Nelson (1,335) and Lenny Wilkens (1,332), both were hired without coaching experience.
History also has shown us these hires can be very bad. Magic Johnson lasted just 16 games coaching the Lakers, and Kiki Vandeweghe went 12-52 in his only season in New Jersey.
Then there are the ’tweeners: Dan Issel, Isiah Thomas.
If this always worked, everyone would do it. Instead, the biggest lesson might just be that you have to hire somebody, and it probably can’t be Phil Jackson.