Larry Brown believes in the system. He believes the best way to become a good NBA coach is to first be a good NBA assistant coach.
Brown, a former point guard and Hall of Fame coach, also believes that there are exceptions to every rule. And Jason Kidd, whom the Nets hired last week to coach their team just two weeks after he retired from playing, is the ultimate exception.
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"I think it sends a bad message to hire guys who haven't coached," Brown said in a phone interview with Newsday. "I don't think it's a good thing for our profession. That being said, I think this is a phenomenal hire. I have no doubt that Jason will do a great job. It's not an easy transition to make from player to coach, but Kidd is someone who has instant credibility with the Nets and the team is smart enough to put the right people around him."
Though the NBA coaching ranks are filled with former players -- 14 of the 25 current NBA coaches once played in the league -- it's relatively rare for a former player to get a head-coaching job without at least logging a year holding a clipboard alongside another head coach.
Brown did it in the American Basketball Association, going straight from being a player on the Denver Rockets to coach of the Carolina Cougars. Larry Bird had a very successful three-year run with the Pacers in Indiana in the late 1990s. Celtics coach Doc Rivers had no coaching experience when he was hired by the Magic in 1999. And most recently, Mark Jackson, a former player and broadcaster with zero coaching experience, has made Golden State relevant again.
In the news conference Thursday, Kidd called both Jackson and Brown inspirations.
"When we played Mark in New York, I went up to him before the game and said thank you," Kidd said. "Because he did give guys an opportunity and cracked the door open for guys who are playing to be able to go into coaching because of the success that he's had."
Yet it takes more than opportunity to be successful. Those who have tried the transition before say that there are a number of things that Kidd will have to do in order to successfully make the transition.
Magic Johnson went through some rough times when he took over a struggling Lakers team for 16 games in 1993-94. On a conference call with reporters this week, Johnson said one of the toughest things a "Hall-of-Fame player like Kidd" will have to get used to is that he will be coaching players who don't have the same abilities that he did when he played. Johnson told a story of how he would repeatedly holler at Nick Van Exel about not passing to an open player. And then one day, Michael Cooper, one of his assistants, had to set him straight.
"By the third game, Michael pulled me aside and said, 'Earvin, he can't see like you, so you've got to stop hollering,' " Johnson said. "So I think that Jason's going to have to understand that guys are not going to be able to play like him . . . He can't expect everybody to be great like him, and so that will be his biggest challenge."
Johnson's experience shows that great players don't always make great coaches. Some observers, however, believe that the advantage Kidd has is that he's a great point guard who played for a number of different coaches and teams.
"When you've been in this league as long as Jason has and played for a number of coaches, he's pretty much seen everything that the NBA can offer," said San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, a former Larry Brown assistant who never played in the league. "So he does have experience."
Another big adjustment that Kidd will have to make, say Johnson and Brown, is the number of hours the job requires.
"The biggest challenge is how hard you have to work as a coach," Brown said. "When you're a player, you show up for practice, show up for games and go home. When you're a coach, you're always working."
Brown, who coached Kidd on the U.S. Olympic team that went to Sydney, added that it is critical that Kidd surround himself with loyal and experienced assistants who can help him with the workload and ease his transition. Kidd said Friday on ESPN radio that he has offered a position to Lawrence Frank, who was one of his head coaches when he played for the Nets in New Jersey.
"I've had a lot of assistant coaches who were smarter than I am," Brown said. "He has to have people around him who are smart, who can mentor him and don't have the kind of ego where they think they should be doing what he's doing. I think Jason's going to have that there and he will be very successful."