Jason Kidd transitioned from an NBA player to head coach of the Brooklyn Nets in less than two weeks. Although many former players have found success coaching, very few actually have made the transition so soon after retiring as a player.
Brooklyn owner Mikhail Prokhorov described Kidd as a "natural coach" and said that fans should expect a championship in the coming years. However, the 10-time All-Star will be in a seat that has twice been vacant within the past 12 months. Avery Johnson was dismissed shortly after being named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month in November. P.J. Carlesimo then took over and coached the team to a 35-19 record before his dismissal shortly after the Nets exited in the first round of the playoffs.
Widely recognized as one of the NBA's all-time greats, Jason Kidd is known for his vision and on-court leadership. However, relatively few star players transition to become successful coaches. Magic Johnson, whose vision on the court and leadership skills on the floor were legendary, lasted only one season as head coach of the Lakers in 1994. In parts of four seasons coaching the Knicks and the Nets, Willis Reed produced a .398 winning percentage.
Wayne Gretzky, hockey's top all-time player, struggled in the head coaching position. The Great One coached the Phoenix Coyotes to a pedestrian 143-161-24 record and failed to make the playoffs in his four NHL seasons behind the bench.
Often, superstar players have difficulty understanding why others cannot do things that naturally came to them or play at the level that they did. That's partly why so many great coaches were themselves average players. Pat Riley averaged 7.4 points per game in the NBA, and Phil Jackson, who has guided teams to 11 NBA championships as a coach, averaged just 6.7 points per game.
In his favor, Jason Kidd has a great understanding for the game, is smart and innovative and has experienced success at the highest level as an athlete. In the locker room, Kidd will have instant respect from key players such as Deron Williams. This is important because, more than any other league, the NBA is a league where star players exert huge influence over coaching decisions. Eleven coaches -- including two from the Nets -- were fired this year. There are only five starters on a team; if just two highly paid star players aren’t happy with a coach, his long-term viability is slim.
Hiring Jason Kidd comes with risk. Nothing makes up for the experience of sitting in the No. 1 chair, and he walks into this job not having coached on any level. So many assistants fail when they are promoted to head coach. There are lots of decisions you have to make that you don't have to make as a player or an assistant. It's an entirely different experience. In order to be successful as a head coach, Kidd must surround himself with an experienced group of assistants.
Coaching in New York is particularly challenging. New York is a market in which coaches must deal with a large media contingent, winning games and selling tickets. It is a lot to ask of an inexperienced head coach. Watching to see if Jason Kidd can successfully make the transition from player to coach will be fascinating.