How Former Point Guards Fare as NBA Head Coaches
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Some of the best coaches in league history were point guards, after all. But other point guards—great point guards—were flops on the sideline.
The Brooklyn Nets shocked the basketball world when they hired Jason Kidd as their new head coach. One month ago, Kidd was playing in the Eastern Conference playoffs for the cross-town rival New York Knicks before hanging up his sneakers for good.
Now, he will become one of the few people to ever take the helm of an NBA team with no coaching experience.
For the Nets, it is a plunge into the unknown.
Kidd has spent nearly two decades as the premier floor general of his generation. They say point guards are the coach on the court—and he is one of the best to ever do it.
But history is full of widely variable outcomes among coaches who take over with no experience leaves.
Will being a point guard truly help him? It's hard to say.
Here is a run down of how some notable floor generals turned head coaches have fared since taking off the uniform and picking up a clipboard.
NBA head coaching record: 1327-1011 (0.568)
Larry Brown was a star point guard in the ABA, where he won the league's first All-Star Game MVP award. But he will always be known for his coaching prowess.
Only a few have won more games, and leading the Detroit Pistons to the 2004 NBA Championship became his triumph after years spent coming up just short in Indiana and Philadelphia.
NBA head coaching record: 284-286 (0.498)
Mo Cheeks was the point guard for arguably the greatest team in NBA history: the 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers. Along with Julius Erving and Moses Malone, he won a title. Though he wasn't the best floor general in the game, he was a defensive standout and the type of player anyone would want to go to war with.
After transitioning to the sidelines, he has been average—as in, one loss worse than exactly mathematically average. After a successful stint in Portland and a lukewarm job in Philadelphia, he was just named as the new head coach of the Pistons.
NBA head coaching record: 141-207 (0.405)
Cousy may have been the NBA's biggest star when he retired, but the sidelines were not kind to the point guard who won six titles as the engine that powered the early years of the Boston Celtics' dynasty.
Despite overseeing a roster that included Oscar Robertson, he never had a winning season—or even won more than 36 games—in four full seasons as a head coach of the Royals (first in Cincinnati then Kansas City).
NBA head coaching record: 696-604 (0.535)
In 1996, the NBA honored its 50th anniversary by naming the top 50 players in league history. The league also released a list of the 10 best coaches. Red Holzman, of course, was on that list.
After an inglorious playing career with the Rochester Royals in the 1950s, he made his name as the legend who led the New York Knicks to their franchise's only two titles (in 1970 and 1973). Old-timers in NYC will tell you that he coached the best team of all time.
NBA head coaching record: 12-29 (0.293)
The long-time Detroit Piston point/combo guard took up coaching after retiring in 2010 and got his first try in the big-boy seat this season after the Phoenix Suns fired Alvin Gentry. Hunter won 12 games and lost 29 as the Suns' season continued to tailspin.
He was not asked to return, as Jeff Hornacek will take the reins in Phoenix. Hunter's name has not surfaced much in recent weeks despite all the vacant jobs in the NBA, although he did interview with the Pistons for their head coach position (the job went to Mo Cheeks).
NBA head coaching record: 70-78 (0.473)
Mark Jackson was a passer of the highest order who spent years coveting a coaching job after retirement but reportedly remained unwilling to start out as an assistant. He was passed over for jobs due to lack of experience. Then, the Warriors came knocking.
In year one, the results were poor (a 23-43 record), But he turned the team to a pseudo-contender in year two when Golden State won a riveting first-round series against the Denver Nuggets and played the Spurs tough in round two. Though Jackson had a lot of time in the announcing booth before hitting the sideline, he has helped prove—so far—that experience is not a prerequisite for success.
NBA head coaching record: 254-186 (0.577)
Even in his playing days, it was obvious that The Little General was destined to hold a clip board. All looked right when Mark Cuban hired him to run the Dallas Mavericks, and Johnson made good on the hire by leading the team to the NBA Finals in his second season.
The following year, however, the first-place Mavericks lost in the first round. It was the beginning of the end for Johnson in Dallas. He went on to coach two full seasons for the lowly Nets before getting fired after a 14-14 start during the team's first year in Brooklyn. Among coaches who have been run out of town twice in five years, he might have the best regular season record.
NBA head coaching record: 5-11 (0.313)
What a colossal disaster. Magic ran the 1993-94 Los Angeles Lakers for all of 16 game before realizing he had no business coaching an NBA team. This is the worst-case scenario for the Nets and Jason Kidd.
The coup de grace came early in 1993, as both parties knew it was time to end this sideshow. Johnson never returned to the coaching seat.
NBA head coaching record: 173-258 (0.401)
John Lucas was a troubled, if at times excellent, NBA player. He struggled with drug and alcohol problems, yet still helped lead the Houston Rockets to the NBA Finals in 1986. So even with his history, it wasn't shocking to see him get off to a great start as a head coach with the Spurs in the early 1990s.
It started brilliantly. San Antonio went 94-49 in Lucas' first 143 games, but the team never even made the Western Conference finals. His future gigs in Philadelphia and Cleveland didn't even go that well. Neither team won 30 games with Lucas as coach.
NBA head coaching record: 197-260 (0.431)
Though his brother Al McGuire, of Marquette University fame, may be the more well known, Dick was a seven-time All-Star who made the Hall of Fame as a player before transitioning into a respected coach.
Even prior to retiring, he became player-coach of the Pistons. He stayed on after his playing days ended and later headed the Knicks. His teams never went that far, but talent may have been the biggest factor for his lack of success in a top-heavy 1960s NBA.
NBA head coaching record: 478-452 (0.514)
Both in his playing days—when he was a part-time point guard who earned the nickname Mr. Sonic—and as a coach, most people only use one attribute to describe Nate McMillan: Class. He was always the consummate pro, and his days as head coach of Seattle and Portland had more good times than bad.
In 12 seasons, only once has a McMillan-led team finished below .300, while seven of those teams eclipsed .500. His name now comes up as a possible hire whenever a coaching position becomes vacant.
NBA head coaching record: 443-433 (0.506)
Scott Skiles was an undersized point guard who played with a chip on his shoulder in order to make up for his limitations. As a coach, he has maintained a less-than-chipper attitude that has been divisive among fan bases of his teams: the Phoenix Suns, Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks.
He was canned halfway through this past season after failing to ever lead the Bucks past the first round of the playoffs in four and a half seasons (though the team was 16-16 when he was let go). Under his iron-fisted, disciplined style, teams generally overachieve initially but soon falter as players seem to tune out his traditional ways. When it comes to record and success, he may be the definition of middling.
NBA head coaching record: 187-223 (0.456)
Isiah Thomas remains vastly underrated as a player; he is one of the best to ever lace them up. But he was never a high-level coach, despite some early regular season success with the Indiana Pacers. The team was above .500 in all three seasons that he served as head coach, but it lost in the first round of the playoffs each time.
The best way to sum it up: In the season before Thomas, the Pacers (under Larry Bird) made the NBA Finals. In the season after he left, the Pacers (under Rick Carlisle) made the Eastern Conference finals. The Thomas era was under-achievement at its worst. As for his days coaching the Knicks ... yeah. Those were much, much worse.
NBA head coaching record: 20-62 (0.244)
As a player, Jacque Vaughn was a college star at Kansas who was overmatched in the NBA. But he still managed to be a useful contributor at times, most notably for Gregg Popovich's 2007 title-winning Spurs.
His transition to a coach was natural, and although his first year atop the Orlando Magic was ugly record-wise, it did have some promise. He appears to have set a foundation for the franchise to move on post-Dwight Howard.
NBA head coaching record:1332-1155 (0.536)
The only man to make the Hall of Fame as both a player and coach, Lenny Wilkens is a legend in both professions. As a nine-time All-Star, he took over the coaching duties in Seattle while still playing. He served as player-coach of the Sonics for three years, leading the team to a 47-35 record in his final season.
After retirement, he again became head coach of the Sonics, taking over in the middle of the 1977-78 season and leading the franchise to the NBA Finals. They lost to the Washington Bullets but would avenge this defeat the following season by decisively beating Washington to claim the franchise's lone championship. By all measures, Wilkens is one of the greatest to play or coach.
Jason Kidd is a tough player to extrapolate.
The names and success stories above make it seem like point guards who become coaches are generally average at worst. There are some true coaching greats on this list, and even most of those who haven't inspired have fared better than average
The rub: the three best point guards on this list—Magic, Isiah and Cousy—all floundered. And none had any experience on the sidelines. Thomas served in executive roles with the CBA and the Toronto Raptors prior to coaching, but all three were thrown into the fire and asked to learn on the job.
They never did.
On the other hand, Wilkens and Mark Jackson—the only other two NBA point guards listed here worth comparing to Kidd, the player—did well. Wilkens was amazing, and Jackson has fared very well after taking to the sidelines despite never working their way up through the ranks.
A sample size of five men is too small to read much into.
But ultimately, if you're going to hire a coach with no experience, that man would have to be a player. And if that player is a point guard, all the better.
Kidd may go down in flames in Brooklyn—like Magic did in Los Angeles. But there is no former player without experience who seems more ready to succeed than him. He is that smart and that well versed in how the modern NBA player thinks.
With Deron Williams looking for a leader to motivate him and a Nets team that needs a huge lift to make the next step, hiring Kidd was a risk worth taking.
The Xs and Os side of the job might be shaky in the beginning, but other than Phil Jackson, there was no way for the Nets to make more of a statement than by hiring Kidd.
While other teams may be content to go the high-percentage route and make a safe move, Brooklyn has done the hiring equivalent of trying to thread a full-court bounce pass through traffic for an easy score.
One thing is for sure: There's nobody alive who can do that better than Jason Kidd.
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