What Jason Kidd Can Learn from Other PG Legends-Turned-Head Coaches
Jason Kidd's presence and relationship with Deron Williams reportedly helped convince the Brooklyn Nets that the 19-year pro could handle the leap from dominating the hardwood to commanding the sideline, according to ESPN.com.
But it's hard to imagine that Kidd's natural position didn't help ease the concerns of the Brooklyn front office that just handed over the keys to the franchise to a man lacking any coaching experience.
Point guards are said to be extensions of the coach, like a quarterback in football or a catcher in baseball. They have to have the ability to juggle multiple duties on the floor, putting their teammates in the best position to win without losing focus on their individual responsibilities.
Kidd's basketball background didn't just help him land his first coaching gig, it also provided a blueprint to how he can hold on to the position. His predecessors helped to write the leadership rule book—some shined a light on the path to success, while others have showed him what not to do in his new venture.
Despite having nearly two decades of offseasons in his background, Kidd's about to face a summer unlike anything he's ever experienced. Overwhelming seems short of describing the task at hand, and what's worse is that this is supposed to be the easy part.
With so many new tasks to attend to in the coming months (assembling his staff, evaluating his players and potential adds, planning an offseason regimen to implement his system), Kidd won't have the time to be pouring through the history books to unearth the lessons that they possess.
So I'll do the heavy lifting for him, pinpointing the rights and wrongs of the point guard-legends-turned-coaches over the years.
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But don't expect to see those same wide-eyed looks coming from Cheeks. This marks his third journey into the head-coaching ranks after previous stops with the Portland Trail Blazers and Philadelphia 76ers.
He has a solid enough track record to carry a near-.500 coaching record (284-286), but he has yet to see even relative success in the postseason. While he guided his team to a playoff berth in three of his full six seasons at the helm, he's yet to produce a postseason series win.
All of that blame can't fall squarely on Cheeks' shoulders. Even the most talented teams that he led were severely flawed.
His first taste of life as a head coach came at the head of the infamous Jail Blazers teams of the early 2000s. While they had the talent to compete with anyone (Rasheed Wallace, Bonzi Wells, Damon Stoudemire, Ruben Patterson and an aging Scottie Pippen), the team was mired in on- and off-court incidents.
He was fired by Portland midway through his fourth season there, then landed with the 76ers the following year. Again he inherited a talented group of players (led by Allen Iverson, Chris Webber and Andre Iguodala), but poor team play led to Iverson being traded and Webber getting released in the coming years.
In the 2007-08 season, expectations were at their lowest for a young Philly team, but Cheeks' player development skills shined as the 76ers secured a playoff berth. But the 76ers were bounced by the Detroit Pistons in six games, and Cheeks was let go the following year after a rough 9-14 start.
What does any of this mean for Kidd? Unfortunately, not a lot.
Cheeks has had his greatest success with young players. He played an integral role in Russell Westbrook's development as an assistant with the Oklahoma City Thunder but struggled to meet the same high expectations that are now being placed on Kidd's Nets.
Unless Kidd plans on donning a Nets jersey as a throwback player-coach, an extremely unlikely scenario that's still managed to crack the rumor mill for Marc Berman of the New York Post, he won't have to research Hall of Famer Bob Cousy's 34-minute experiment with the Cincinnati Royals in the 1969-70 season.
But that doesn't mean that Cousy, who played 14 years in the league and coached for four-plus, has nothing to offer Kidd. In fact, he's already offering up advice on the transition that Kidd's getting ready to make.
Cousy told ESPNNewYork.com's Mike Mazzeo that Kidd's got some of the needed qualities that man a sideline but can't overlook the difficulty in the process.
"He seems like a pretty intense player so I think that's a good thing," Cousy said. "It's a nice thing to bring to the table. When you become a leader, your personality usually translates to the people you're working with."
Kidd's extremely fortunate to be inheriting such a talent-laden roster. He has a pair of former All-Stars on the perimeter (Williams and Joe Johnson), a blue-collar worker on the wing (Gerald Wallace) and a blossoming big man guarding the interior (Brook Lopez).
Cousy, who coached at both the professional and collegiate levels, said Kidd might not realize how important that is.
"Your fate is determined by the so-called players you have," he said. "If you don't have competitive players, it doesn't matter how good a coach you are, you're not gonna do well."
Having players certainly helps, but Cousy cautioned that a point guard-to-coach move isn't as natural as the outside world suggests:
Perhaps it prepares you a little bit better, maybe as a point guard you're geared in terms of thinking about five people, as opposed to just worrying about yourself and your own responsibilities. But you also have to have the other qualities: being able to interact with other people, being able to teach in an unselfish way and requiring the feedback that you need as a leader in order to motivate them properly.
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Mark Jackson's probably the ideal case study for Kidd to follow.
Both were wildly successful during their playing days (Kidd and Jackson rank second and third, respectively, on the league's career assist leaders). Both found their way to an NBA sideline without any prior coaching experience. And both saw the value of adding strong, veteran presences on their staff.
According to Kidd has already set his sights on Lawrence Frank, who coached Kidd in New Jersey and later served as Detroit's top man. Jackson had the help of Michael Malone, a highly regarded assistant who's since left his perch to take over the Sacramento Kings.
Jackson struggled during his first season with the Golden State Warriors, thanks in no small part to having his roster ransacked by the injury bug and the trade that sent scoring guard Monta Ellis out of town for the already injured big man Andrew Bogut. The Warriors limped to a 23-43 in 2011-12.
But a year of frustration was all but forgotten the following season.
Golden State's rough record yielded them the seventh pick of the 2012 draft, which they used on do-it-all forward Harrison Barnes. Barnes and fellow rookies Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli were brought in with veterans Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry to bolster a talented core that featured a healthy Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, All-Star David Lee and a healthy enough Andrew Bogut.
With Jackson's motivational skills and Malone's tactical approach, the Warriors soared 47 regular-season wins and earned the franchise's second playoff berth since 1994. Golden State pulled off a first-round upset of the third-seeded Denver Nuggets before falling in six games to the eventual Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs.
Jackson's entering some uncharted waters with Malone plucked from his side, but that's not Kidd's problem. If Kidd can couple his basketball savvy with an experienced helper like Frank, the Nets just might find a way to realize owner Mikhail Prokhorov's lofty expectations.
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If Kidd can take away anything from Magic Johnson's career, it will only be implementing some new wrinkles in Williams' deep bag of offensive tricks.
Because Johnson the coach was...well...almost nonexistent.
After a two-year hiatus from the NBA following his retirement in 1991 after announcing he had tested positive for HIV, he returned to the Los Angeles Lakers as their head coach late in the 1993-94 season.
Surged by the arrival of their fallen star, the Lakers won five of Johnson's first six games.
But that adrenaline boost quickly disappeared. L.A. lost its next five games and Johnson announced that he would be resigning after the season. Five losses later the Lakers season had mercifully come to a close with Johnson's career coaching record sitting at an unsightly 5-11.
And it would never get the chance to improve. The next time Johnson would be seen by the Lakers he would be back at his natural point guard spot, where he played 32 games in the 1995-96 season.
It's not a complete sob story, though. Johnson joined the business world after his playing days and has since compiled a massive fortune, running his net worth to at least $500 million.
See, there's something that Kidd can learn from basketball's greatest magician. You know, if this whole coaching thing doesn't work out.
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If Kidd can just piece together the paths of the four coaches listed here, he'll be in great shape.
If he grabs some of Cheeks' player development skills, follows Cousy's advice, maintains a presence like Jackson's while devouring the teaching of an experienced assistant and keeps Johnson's shrewd business brain as a backup plan, Kidd could be on the verge of a lifetime contract.
But in every study there's always a disaster case. And here, that horror story belongs to Isiah Thomas.
Following a brilliant Hall of Fame career as a player, Thomas hasn't been able to keep out of his own way.
While Thomas had his share of ugly moments in those stops (trading three players and four draft picks for Eddy Curry, too many horrendous contracts to list, an ugly sexual harassment lawsuit), none were quite as rough as his coaching days.
He got his first coaching chance with the Indiana Pacers in 2000. Indiana went from an NBA finalist to a first-round casualty in his first season. After two more opening-round exits in the next two seasons, Thomas was let go.
He returned to the coaching ranks in 2006 when Knicks owner James Dolan essentially tasked him with cleaning up the mess that he had created as the team's president of basketball operations.
Thanks to years of gambling on high-risk, low-reward players, Thomas' Knicks predictably fizzled fast. He was "reassigned" within the franchise after the 2007-08 season after compiling a 56-108 record in two years.
He later made an awkward-from-the-start landing as the head coach at Florida International University, where he was fired after three years with two years left on his contract.
From underperforming talent to atrocious decision-making, Thomas wrote the book on what not to do as a head coach. To be honest, though, Kidd's probably better off just avoiding the read altogether.