Jason Kidd: A risk… worth taking

Jason Kidd
Jason Kidd (AP)
Jason Kidd
Jason Kidd (AP)

If media reports are accurate, the Brooklyn Nets are close to bringing on Jason Kidd as their next head coach. Depending on who you listen to, this is either a smart move by a franchise in need of a young, brilliant basketball mind to help them catapult their roster to the next level, or a panic move by a nostalgic franchise desperate to steal back-page coverage away from the New York Knicks.

And yeah, it’s probably a little bit of both. Kidd reportedly impressed Nets brass in their meeting Monday, and you have to imagine both the basketball operations side and the business side are salivating at the idea of Kidd as a coach; Kidd is not just a Nets legend, he’s an NBA legend. His story sells itself: the franchise’s greatest NBA player taking the reigns in its new era to lead them into greatness. He’s someone you can promote to a fanbase critical of the team after a Game 7 first-round loss at home to the Chicago Bulls. It seems like a no-brainer, but a few concerns give me pause.

Players often talk about being in the NBA as being part of an exclusive club. Once you’re in, you’re in. But what Kidd’s trying to do is break out of that club and into a new one: as a full-fledged mentor of the player’s club — all within a few weeks. Practicing mentorship as a player is one thing. Having the pressure of coaching and mentoring fall exclusively on your shoulders, with players as your subordinates, is another. Kidd and Deron Williams, for instance, are good friends. They went golfing together last offseason, and joked about signing together as players in Brooklyn. How will that dynamic shape what would essentially become a boss-employee relationship?

Not one person, inside or outside of the NBA, questions Kidd’s basketball ingenuity or ability to help develop players as a “veteran leader” on the bench. But as a coach? It’s not as simple as knowing the game of basketball. You have to be a disciplinarian, a tactician, a game manager, a mentor, a professional that can handle external and internal pressure from both above and below.

Can he make that change? I don’t have an answer, and its difficult to divine from his recent performance. If you give Kidd credit for his influence on Carmelo Anthony keying New York’s unbelievable start to the season, you have to detract for Anthony’s somewhat miserable playoff performance, where he reverted back to his all-Melo, all-the-time ways. Game 3 of the NBA Finals ended last night and LeBron James only just passed ‘Melo for the most field goal attempts in the playoffs in Game 2.

If you asked players last year what player was most ready to become a head coach, my guess is that Jason Kidd would’ve been at or near the top. But Kidd’s career is barely over and they’re potentially handing him the keys to a franchise. No one questions his desire or competitiveness, but if that’s all you needed to succeed, Michael Jordan would be one of the best owners in the league. But Jordan’s ego got in his own way, and he’s still struggling to field a competitive team in Charlotte.

We haven’t seen Kidd run one practice. We don’t know what type of system he’ll run, or if he’ll make necessary tweaks to that system as the season evolves. We don’t know definitively who he’s going to surround himself with.

If Kidd gets the offer, and the job, it shouldn’t solely be because he wants it. If they give him the job, it should be because he’s right candidate. Because he can maximize the talents of their imperfect roster. Because he can be a professional on and off the court (his DWI last year is either going to be overblown by people who think he’s immature, or swept under the rug by people who adore him. But the past is the past, the point is he can’t do it again). Because he expresses a clear ability to implement a creative offensive system and teach it effectively. Because he can manage the minutes and expectations of his players. And because he can distance himself from his playing career enough so that players don’t see him as a friend, or even a former player, but as a coach.

If Jason Kidd expressed those principles to Billy King on Monday, and did so better than Brian Shaw can today, then there’s nothing standing in his way.

What we do know is that Jason Kidd is a Nets legend. We know he’s one of the smartest, most innovative players in the history of basketball, who could see plays develop before anybody else. His unparalleled passing ability and court vision all but made Kenyon Martin an All-Star and Richard Jefferson a Nets star. He took on a new challenge late in his career, developing a three-point shot as his other skills eroded, and the once-nicknamed “Ason Kidd” (no “J”) is now third all-time in three-point field goals. He was the primary factor in turning the Nets from a 26-56 laughingstock to a 52-30 Eastern Conference powerhouse in one season.

The Nets have a ceiling no matter who their head coach is; they’re not taking the crown from the Miami Heat for tops in the Eastern Conference even if they exhume Red Auerbach’s corpse and put him on the sidelines. Maybe Jason Kidd is the right man to make this team interesting, make them re-examine what went wrong in the playoffs in a newly critical way. Maybe Kidd, who will have a significant amount to prove if he gets this job, will work harder than any other candidate to prove his worth.

I’ll be honest: I have no idea if Jason Kidd would be a good coach. And until we see him on the sideline, you won’t either. But given the potential upside, I think it’s worth the risk to find out.