I hate being in a position where I feel the need to defend a person or practice I’ve long criticized, but why can’t Jason Kidd be a successful NBA head coach?
For years, professional sports executives, players and yes, even fans, have subscribed to the fallacy that you had to have played the game at its highest level to understand the game at its highest level. And the worst violators of this archaic mindset have historically been team owners. But times have changed.
Twenty-five years ago, the NBA featured only 23 teams, and five were coached by legendary former NBA players: Bill Russell, Willis Reed, KC Jones, Wes Unseld and Lenny Wilkens. In 2013, there are 29 teams in the league, and Kevin McHale in Houston is the only head coach known more for his prowess as a player. And let’s be honest, no one is confusing McHale with Red Auerbach.
For 22 years, Elgin Baylor held the position of General Manager for the Clippers. In 22 years, the Clippers posted 20 losing seasons. Baylor’s overall record during his stint as GM, 607-1153. Prior to his time as an executive, Baylor was a head coach in the league. He went 86-135. One of the greatest basketball players to ever live was a lousy basketball mind, but Baylor held on as an NBA head coach or GM for nearly a quarter century. When he was finally let go, Baylor then sued owner Donald Sterling for discrimination. What exactly was he discriminating against? Winning?
The point being that just because you had a gift for playing basketball certainly doesn’t mean you possess the gift for teaching basketball or have an eye for scouting basketball talent. It also doesn’t guarantee that you possess the kind of tedious work ethic that is required to log hours of film study, contend daily with the media and take trips to Warsaw, Poland or Valdosta State University on the off chance they could have a player worth drafting in the second round. After all, Michael Jordan is the best we’ve ever seen play the game, but the Charlotte Bobcats have gone 62-168 since he started making personnel decisions for the franchise.
Further emphasizing my point: In case you haven’t noticed, right now the best coach in the NBA is Gregg Popovich, who never played a game in the league. And the best general manager in basketball is Sam Presti of Oklahoma City, who last took the court for Division III Emerson College.
Bottom line: Great player does NOT equal great coach or great executive. In fact, it traditionally means just the opposite.
Let’s not let the pendulum swing too far the other way. Just because you were great as a player doesn’t mean you CAN’T coach. I’ve heard Charles Barkley describe Jason Kidd as the smartest basketball player he’s ever watched play the game. For 19 seasons in the league, Kidd has, above all else, displayed knowledge of the team concept and established himself as a proven floor leader. Personally, the now former point guard has had little bad press since the incident with his ex-wife that led to his being traded out of Phoenix. And as long as Toni Braxton isn’t around, Kidd has never been labeled as anything but a great teammate.
I’ve noticed people are naturally drawing the comparison to Magic Johnson and his failed 5-11 stint as the Lakers head coach. But there are some marked differences between the two. Johnson went from being a superstar to forced retirement to disgruntled observer to head coach who still wanted to play and ultimately to player again.
On the other hand…
One could make the argument that Jason Kidd hasn’t been a star since 2008 and hasn’t been a superstar since 2004. In other words, he has gradually been weening himself off the spotlight for nearly a decade, preparing himself for the transition to the bench and has had plenty of time to consider the less desirable responsibilities of being an NBA head coach. And after all that, he not only wants the job, he wants it immediately.
Look, I’m certainly not here to claim Jason Kidd is going to be the next great head coach in the NBA. I’m not even here to tell you he’ll be successful. But what I am saying is that if anyone seems prepared to make a smooth transition from star player to successful coach, it’s probably Jason Kidd.