Players Becoming Coaches is a Sure Bet in the NBA

Jason Kidd
Could Kidd go straight from the court to the sidelines in Brooklyn?

When New York Knicks guard Jason Kidd retired earlier this week his entry into the Basketball Hall of Fame was as sure a thing as one can get. He leaves the game after 19 seasons and ranks second in both steals and assists. If the Jason Kidd you’ve seen the last couple of years is your only image, then that’s too bad because in his prime Kidd was a dynamic player who could do a little bit of everything.

Kidd has hopes today that his lengthy career and keen knowledge of the game will translate into a coaching career in the very Association in which he was so good in for years.

ESPN is reporting this morning that Kidd will meet with Brooklyn General Manager Billy King this week to discuss the head coaching position with the Nets. While it would be a bit unusual for a former player who has been out of the game for all of a month, it wouldn’t really be that out of character especially in the NBA.

For years, the NBA employed player-coaches on its’ sidelines but stopped the practice in the mid-1980’s because of the salary cap’s entry into the game. The league was worried teams would try to get around the cap (and paying coaches huge salaries) by having players paid for both coaching and playing.

While Kidd legally couldn’t go back to playing should he become the Nets’ head coach, he would certainly be as close as it gets to a modern-day player-coach.

More than any other league, former players become coaches at a greater rate than they do in other professional sports. Truth is, some former players make excellent coaches while others, not so much. While Kidd is what I would call a long-shot for the job, would it be considered ‘fair’ or even just for him to get a head coaching job when so many other former players have been waiting in the wings for their shot while being assistant coaches.

Patrick Ewing
Ewing has been an NBA assistant for over a decade now.

Patrick Ewing is a prime example of a former player who is more than due his shot at an NBA coaching gig. Since leaving the game as a player in 2002 Ewing has been an assistant coach in Washington, Houston and Orlando. If you listen to people who have played under Ewing or coached with him they’ll tell you this guy is more than ready for his shot at coaching.

So why does a guy like Ewing get passed over so often while the NBA continues to recycle coaches with horrible records? Your guess is as good as mine but to be sure there is a lot more that goes on between players, coaches and front office personnel than we’ll ever know. People often have long memories of what said player did to them in the playoffs when they played and still hold that against them when they pursue head coaching jobs.

While the days of a Bill Russell or Lenny Wilkens playing and coaching at the same time are over, could Jason Kidd’s pursuit of a head coaching job so soon after playing start a trend? The only way to answer that question is if Kidd actually gets the job. Then we must of course evaluate his success in that position before making any judgments.

Should Kidd not land this job, chances are good that he’ll land one down the road. While I’m not going to suggest he’ll be as successful as Doc Rivers, another former player turned coach, I do see some parallels. Either way, Kidd will be just another in the line of former players who become NBA head coaches at some point.