Jason Kidd, Mark Jackson and what we think we know about NBA coaches


Jason Kidd is the Nets' new head coach, with the team supposedly emboldened by Mark Jackson's success in Golden State. Is that smart?

The first thing to know about hiring first-time head coaches in the NBA is that there is extraordinarily little science about if it works, how it works and when it works. What science there is remains locked up in the spreadsheets of the analysts paid to figure it out. (Even that science is probably dicey.)

NBA coaches do a lot of different things. They are motivators, teachers, managers, communicators, rulers, tacticians and ambassadors. There's no common consensus on what makes a good coach. Really, the only measure of a good coach is wins, and the only measure of a great coach is championships. And that's very problematic.

The NBA is a players' league. That's the refrain we hear constantly. You can be the best coach in the league, but you don't win without talented players. Yet coaches are almost universally graded on wins and losses. More specifically, coaches are graded on how they measured up to expectations. Avery Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo won games in Brooklyn this year, but Mikhail Prokhorov, the Nets owner, expected the team to win more. Hence, a replacement. (Johnson is an interesting case, all told. He led the Mavericks to one of the greatest regular seasons ever early in his coaching career. But after some less glorious campaigns, particularly in New Jersey, he's considered damaged goods. Choose your jobs wisely.)

But the focus on team success to judge coaches leads to some odd vogues. This is where Mark Jackson comes in. He took over the Warriors in 2011 with zero coaching experience. He'd been an NBA point guard for years, then a broadcaster for years. After two years, he has a 70-78 record with Golden State. Half of that comes from a season in which Jackson set the unrealistic goal of the postseason, only to tank for a stretch of the second half. The other half was this year's vast improvement and run to the second round of the playoffs.

When you look at the reason the Warriors were so much better in 2012-13 vs. Jackson's rookie year, how far down that list is the coach? A healthy Stephen Curry has to be No. 1. Jarrett Jack is pretty far up the list. Harrison Barnes' arrival. Klay Thompson's improvement. Andrew Bogut's partial availability. The total absence of Monta Ellis. The impact of additional rookies Draymond Green and Kent Bazemore. A great season from David Lee. Jackson gets credit for some of that -- at the very least, the franchise and its staff deserves some credit for Thompson's improvement and the instant impact of the three rookies. Jackson and his staff also found ways to get Jack on the floor as much as possible.

So there is some credit for Jackson. But all of it? The majority of it? A substantial chunk? I don't think so.

Coaching staffs are becoming so important. A President's only as good as his Cabinet.

And this ignores that coaching staffs are becoming so important. A President's only as good as his Cabinet. It seems like every team has an offensive and/or defensive coordinator. Staffs almost universally have player development positions. The role of the head coach is diffusing in the modern NBA, and the primary job, it seems, is motivating the troops (through praise, minutes allocation, anger, spittle ... whatever) and communicating a series of visions on a game-by-game and seasonal basis. (In addition, making the major calls on substitutions, play sets and the playing rotation in general remain part of the coach. In some cities, like Miami, the head coach remains the lead tactician.)

This is all to say that if Jason Kidd getting hired by the Nets was made possible because Mark Jackson's team won a bunch of games, we're taking the wrong lesson from the Warriors. The lesson of Mark Jackson is that motivation, vision and communication are overlooked in many less notable hires. (We don't actually know the specific reason the Nets hired Kidd, though his "presence" has been mentioned a few times.) I mean no offense when I say that someone like Jackson or Kidd gives off a totally different vibe of confidence than someone like Lawrence Frank. Frank was a master tactician and could communicate with his players. I'm not sure he could motivate them or effectively share with them his vision. (This is all not to say that Jackson has nothing to do with the tactics the Warriors employ. But he has had offensive and defensive coordinators both years, so it's unclear how much credit even he would take for Golden State's schemes.)

The other cautionary tale here is that Jackson was not very good as a rookie head coach. He over-promised, he often got too cute (like a game-long Hack-a-Howard effort) and he was possibly less slick than any other coach who has pulled a protracted tank job. The Warriors were rebuilding; the Nets are not. Brooklyn can't afford a lost year as Kidd learns the ropes.

But, if the universally laudatory reaction Kidd's quick flip has seen from players is any indication, he won't likely struggle to reach his charges. Everything can be assisted greatly by his cabinet.

This is all to say that this is a really bold move by Brooklyn and we really have preciously little idea how it's going to work. But if it works, and if the Warriors continue to improve (as a young, good team should), you're going to see more teams snatch coaches off the players' free agent wire. It's the way the NBA works.

More from SB Nation:

Comeback Kidd: Nets hire franchise's greatest player

Deron Williams: "It's a risk" | Kidd in rare company

Flannery: All eyes on LeBron James

Chris Bosh tired of trade rumors, wants to retire in Miami

Spurs role players reign | The Kawhi Leonard lesson

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