In a way, Jason Kidd's quick transition from New York Knicks no-show to NBA retiree to head coach of the Brooklyn Nets isn't all that surprising. If anything, it fits a pattern of prodigium that's marked Kidd's basketball career since his formative days competing against Gary Payton on the playgrounds of Oakland.
Kidd's always been gifted, ahead of the curve and incredibly charismatic. But never has he had to prove that he could support his apparent style with heavy helpings of substance.
Until now, anyway. Until he leapt to the head of the line for the Nets' vacant coaching gig, ahead of veteran bench bosses and rising stars alike.
To be sure, it's easy to see why Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov and general manager Billy King gave Kidd the keys to a car that, they hope, he won't crash in the Hamptons.
He's a legend of what little lore there is within the Nets organization, having led the team to its only two NBA Finals appearances, in 2002 and 2003. He represents yet another opportunity for Prokhorov and the Nets to grind the gears of the rival Knicks, by taking their recent retiree and installing him within another organization that's now only a bridge away.
He's well-respected as a leader of men among players, coaches and executives across the basketball landscape. He also shares close ties with Deron Williams, Brooklyn's biggest star, from their days playing together during Team USA's gold-medal run at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
And, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, Williams idolized Kidd as a child.
But even D-Will couldn't ignore offering a particular word of caution that's crossed so many minds since rumors of Kidd's candidacy first surfaced (via Stefan Bondy):
Nobody knows if he’s going to be a great coach. It’s going to take him a couple years to adjust. But at the same time, he could be a great coach off the bat.
It’s a risk, but I think it’s somebody we can grow with. I think it’s somebody we’re definitely going to respect and listen to. And I’m excited about the ways he’s going to help me as a player and a leader.
Indeed, hiring Kidd is a risk. Then again, what about the Nets' current operation hasn't come by way of a risk?
They initially acquired Gerald Wallace by giving up a draft pick that turned into reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard. They retained Brook Lopez by way of a max contract after the promising center missed all but five games due to foot injuries in 2011-12. They took on a ton of salary to snag Joe Johnson from the Atlanta Hawks, and added quite a bit more to re-sign Kris Humphries.
To date, some of those bets have paid off and some haven't. Such is the nature of running a team in the NBA.
(Even more so if your GM's track record is as spotty as Billy King's, but I digress.)
By comparison, hiring Kidd was a safe move. He's a bright basketball mind and a longtime "locker room guy" who understands both the X's and O's and the importance of interpersonal balance on a team better than most.
Kidd won't be alone on the sidelines, either. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Kidd will look to fill his staff with former head coaches (Lawrence Frank) and veterans of the assistant trade (Tim Grgurich), presumably as a means of hedging against his own inexperience.
And if it doesn't work out, Brooklyn can always bounce Kidd from his post and find someone else to do the job. It's not as though Prokhorov can't (or won't) sustain the hit of a three-year contract to his massive wallet.
Not that anyone should trivialize the importance of the Nets hitting this hire out of the park. Brooklyn is just about stuck with an aging, expensive and defensively challenged roster that, if unchanged, will leave the organization capped out like Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in the tide.
Which is to say, From Here to Eternity.
To make matters worse, Prokhorov promised to deliver the Nets to a championship within five years when he bought the team back in 2010, and renewed it last fall upon at the opening of the Barclays Center (via Mike Mazzeo of ESPNNewYork.com):
"Every team has a grand plan, and we're moving slowly, step by step, because it's easy to make a strong team, but it's very difficult to make a championship team. So we are on the right way and I'm expecting our championship within three years now."
That leaves Kidd with two years to figure out this whole "coaching" thing, to lead the Nets to the Promised Land and to help his new boss save face.
It's an ambitious and rather daunting task, to be sure, though to a certain extent, it's one with which Kidd is intimately familiar and for which he is uniquely equipped. Remember, those two Eastern Conference titles to which he dragged the Nets came during his first two seasons in New Jersey.
Granted, coaching a team and starring on one in one's athletic prime are two entirely different animals. But if there's anyone who just might have what it takes to defy convention and exceed expectations from the outset—and who has an impressive track record of doing so—it's Jason Kidd.
The guy who couldn't shoot, but wound up as the third-most prolific three-point shooter in NBA history anyway.
The guy who could've played his college ball wherever he wanted, but chose to stay close to home. The guy who guided the Cal Golden Bears to the Sweet 16 in 1993, with an upset of the two-time defending champion Duke Blue Devils along the way.
The guy who'd been a focal point as a slashing, pass-first point guard for most of his career, but reinvented himself as an outside denizen on a championship team with the Dallas Mavericks.
Consider this Kidd's latest reinvention, his latest bucking of trends. There's no telling whether he'll take the Nets to the next level, but if he does, Kidd will have yet another substantive line to add to a resume that's already replete with the sort of panache that caught Brooklyn's eye in the first place.