Thursday, June 13, 2013

Why the Nets had to hire Jason Kidd

It's been reported that Jason Kidd will serve as the new Head Coach of the Brooklyn Nets. The initial reaction of many in the sports world is one of skepticism, due primarily to the fact that Kidd has no previous coaching experience at any level, let alone in the world's premier league; since Kidd has never done it before, the thinking goes, now way he can do it competently on his first try! Although I understand the risk averse thought process of NBA decision makers (the name of the game for NBA GM's is "don't give them a reason to fire you"), hiring Kidd would prove a prudent calculated risk for the Nets with the potential benefits far outweighing the risks.

Head Coaches impact three major facets of the game responsibilities:

A) Designing strategies
B) Inspiring the troops to play hard
C) Allotting burn to players

(NB: When it comes to tangibly improving player performance, the differences between the vast majority of coaches is shockingly slim. But assuming the Nets are seeking the rare coach who can impact player performance consistently, and they can't hire one of the select few coaches (Phil Jax, Popovich, etc...) who does improve player performance [and if the Nets could, they presumably would have by now] which option would you prefer: the low risk/low reward retread option or the higher risk/higher reward option, a well respected player/tactician who has never coached before?)

I have few questions about Kidd on point A given the fact that he is a brilliant basketball mind and will no doubt feature an all-star staff of coaching assistants (including Lawrence Frank, the same Mensa who only played Andre Drummond 21 minutes/game last year). As for getting his guys to buy-in, Kidd is a well-respected veteran fresh off (during...?) his playing career, thus making him identifiable to both veterans and youngsters.

That leaves C: playing the right players. This is a biggie because it's the coach's most impactful decision; but isn't playing time allotment a concern the Nets would have with any new hire? Would you rather have Larry Brown and his debilitating obsession with shitty veterans who "play the game the right way?" Additionally, when you consider the makeup of this team (PG, SG, SF and C are locked up for the next couple years, whether those players deserve the run or not), the risk is further minimized.

So really, the only risky bet you're making is that Kidd (and his staff) understands player productivity and lineups well enough to not hurt you. Considering the following potential rewards, is hiring Kidd not well worth the minimal risk?

-Put yourself in Brooklyn's hipster Chuck Taylors: you are in roughly the worst possible cap scenario in which any NBA team can find themselves: up against the luxury tax for the foreseeable future with a semi-competitive team, no good draft picks/young studs and sans flexibility; you owe big money long-term contracts to Deron Williams, who may or may not have lost 20-25 lbs throughout the season, Brook Lopez, who has yet to meet a rebound he's found of, Gerald Wallace (whose productivity just fell off a cliff and isn't getting up any time soon) and Iso Joe Johnson, whose deal looks particularly egregious because A) he's not very good and B) he signed it during the previous CBA when salaries were longer and inflated.

Realistically, your team ain't competing any time soon unless you hit a homerun in acquiring a stud player or coach. Can you afford to NOT take the high risk/high reward option, for either players or coaches? In Kidd, it's not like you're getting some Vinny Del Negro chopped liver: you're getting a rare basketball mind - one of the finest offensive tacticians the NBA has seen and an underrated defender who relied on guile to maintain some effectiveness as he aged. You may not have this chance again if some other team picks him up.

-Given your lack of cap flexibility, the only chance you have at acquiring any good players is getting a steal in the draft, fleecing another team in a trade or talking a veteran into the midlevel or veterans exceptions. Given that Billy King is your GM, you can throw the draft/trade route out the window. Now I know veterans typically choose to sign with winners, but is it out of the question to think Kidd could speak with some of his mentees and friends and get them to play for him in New York? At the least it's an added potential benefit.

-Not only does it help you on the court, but it helps your branding and marketing. Hiring a Nets legend away from the rival Knicks is exactly the type of splash every mediocre, high salaried New York team needs.

-And finally, I cannot verbalize how excited I am by the thought of a current day player-coach. Yes, Jason Kidd has retired, but as any sports fan knows, an athlete's retirement announcement is roughly the equivalent of his wedding vows. Besides, is there really any doubt the JKidd would be far and away their best option at backup guard? According to advanced metrics, Kidd was still a valuable player last year on a per minute basis with the only real knock on him being his lack of scoring, a non-issue on this current Nets team.

So what do you think - was hiring Kidd worth the risk?

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