At 40 years old, Jason Kidd isn’t the youngest head coach in the NBA — that distinction belongs to the 38-year-old Jacque Vaughn. (Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel is also younger than Kidd.) But Kidd is, by far, the least experienced: no other head coach in the NBA has zero experience coaching. Even Mike Budenholzer, Steve Clifford, and Jeff Hornacek, the three others who will be brand new to head coaching next season, all spent years as assistant coaching before taking the leap.
So how did Kidd blow away Brooklyn Nets general manager Billy King in their interview, so much so that King even called Brian Shaw’s agent to warn him that Kidd was “very good” before Shaw even got on the plane to Brooklyn?
King admits he was skeptical at first. “When his career ended, we thought, ‘Well, at some point he may be a good coach,’ Then when he asked (me) to sit down with him, I went in not sure.”
In their meeting, Kidd and King talked about “everything” — Kidd’s DUI, his relationship with Deron Williams, his personal life — and King left the meeting comfortable with where things stood off the court. But it was Kidd’s on-the-court knowledge that made the difference to King.
“His knowledge of the roster, his knowledge of other teams. When we talked, he had just watched the San Antonio game, and he drew up a play. ‘They run this, I can see Brook (Lopez) doing this.” Or “We’ve got to get Deron (Williams) to do this.” It wasn’t something that he just (decided) — he’s been thinking about this. He referred back to games that we’d played during the season that he’d happened to watch and he’d say ‘On this play, I thought they could’ve done this.’
“He talked about how (last year) we were a team that got to 90 (points) and sort of shut off. We’ve got to get easy buckets. We’ve got to get layups. We’ve got to get out and run. … He talked about the defense, how he wants to play in the pick-and-roll. Certain things like that.”
The Nets were criticized often (okay, often by me) this season for falling into predictable isolationist offense for their stars, rather than finding open shots with ball movement and floor spacing, as well as a poorly executed defensive gameplan. To see Kidd has ways to improve both of those gameplans is a welcome sign.
King also cited Kidd’s toughness, competitiveness, and desire to win as key attributes that shined in their interview, giving his roster an ultimatum that they have to keep up. “You look at (Chicago Bulls coach) Tom Thibodeau. I don’t know if I want to go down the alley against Tom Thibodeau. His team plays that same way. What Jason is going to bring to our team is that same competitiveness, that same toughness, that same desire to win.
“If we have guys that don’t fit that mold, (Jason and I will) talk and we’ll get those guys out of here.”
King is also convinced that Kidd’s relationship with Deron Williams wouldn’t be a recurring issue. “He’s the coach,” King pressed. “He’s going to be 41 years old. Deron’s 29. Deron looked up to him when he played.
“I think Jason is not taking this as ‘I ought to be good at this.’ Jason wants to be great. Jason doesn’t do anything just to be doing it. He wants to go into it. He’s not going to allow something to derail him just because of a personal relationship. I think he’s gonna coach Deron as hard as he coaches (everyone else).”
After his interview with Kidd, and after speaking with former coach at Duke Mike Krzyzewski (who coached Kidd with USA Basketball and knew him well), King was sold, but not finished. He wanted to speak with Indiana Pacers associate head coach Brian Shaw before making a final decision. Kidd and Shaw were the final two candidates.
After a four-hour meeting with Shaw, King promised him a quick decision, so that Shaw could move forward with his interviews if he wasn’t their choice.
That evening, King texted his players around 7 P.M. informing them of the decision, before an official announcement less than two hours later: Jason Kidd would be the next Brooklyn Nets head coach.