What Does It Take for a Player to Become a Coach?

The Brooklyn Nets’ hiring of Jason Kidd mere weeks after his retirement was a curious choice, especially given the number of respected candidates on the market, but it’s one that can be defended (at least until the team loses 5 of 6 and he’s on the hot seat). He has ties to the franchise, Deron Williams may benefit from having someone who can relate to his situation coaching him, and one caveat to the hiring was that Kidd hire a veteran assistant to help him along. The addition of Lawrence Frank (not to mention Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce) should give Kidd some support.

It may not end well, but taking a risk on an unorthodox coaching hire was one of the few bullets Nets’ management had left in the chamber. Unfortunately, at least for some, the move really wasn’t that unorthodox. While the timing might have been a bit odd, it’s not unusual for former guards to get the reigns.

What is odd is for bigs to get a shot. In recent years the two most prominent examples of bigs openly trying and failing to get a head job are Patrick Ewing and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Ewing has been an assistant several times, notably working with Dwight Howard during Orlando’s run to the Finals. He has repeatedly publicly expressed a desire to become a head coach, most recently with the moribund Charlotte Bobcats following the 2011-12 season. For that job he was passed over in favor of Mike Dunlap, who lasted all of one season at the helm. Now Ewing has accepted an associate head coach role with the same team.

Abdul-Jabbar has had even less luck. He’s worked with the Lakers in various capacities over the years, but has never sniffed a lead job. The reasoning may have more to do with personalities in Kareem’s case, as he has a reputation for being somewhat closed off, but the outcome is the same. He may be called in to help Andrew Bynum, but not to coach a team. The same goes for post-move whisperer Hakeem Olajuwon.

Yet Kidd announces he wants to be the Nets’ coach and is filling out his staff within a month of retiring. Of course, there are some notable big men who have ended up as head coaches, such as Kevin McHale, but on the whole you’re more likely to find guys like Avery Johnson or Kidd than McHale.

One reason for hiring a former point guard is the idea that a “floor general” understands how all the pieces of the offense fit together and can carry that knowledge over into coaching. While there may be a degree of accuracy to this, the question remains why the same can’t be true for the orchestrator of the defense. Guys like Ewing, while effective in the post on offense, were perhaps even more valuable handling the bulk of the load on defense.

Every coach has strengths and weaknesses. No one is going to expect Kidd to spend hours working with Brook Lopez on his footwork, and Ewing wouldn’t be expected to help Kemba Walker with his handle. Organizing a defense that could put his bigs in strong help position might be a little more up his alley though. The onus is on assistants to fill in the gaps.

Player development is another key area for coaches, and having a head coach who is capable of developing bigs on both ends would be incredibly valuable. A specialist can be brought in to help a point guard just as easily as one can be brought in to help a center.

There may be other factors at play, but at a high level there just isn’t enough difference between a Hall of Fame point guard and a Hall of Fame center when it comes to coaching resumes. Only a bias against big men can explain Kidd prepping the Nets’ for the next season while Ewing is relegated to a sidekick role with a bad franchise.