In the current microwave society that demands quick results, the ability to get things done is the ONLY THING that matters to employers. A perfect case study in that notion is the NBA’s coaching profession.
A growing trend in the league has allowed young head coaches without years of formative coaching in the pro game to be given the keys to a franchise. While most recognize current ESPN NBA analyst Mark Jackson being hired as head coach of the Golden State Warriors in 2011 as the modern day catalyst for that trend, Monty Williams was in the trenches as head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans, a year earlier than Jackson.
A nine year NBA veteran, Williams is a disciple of Gregg Popovich, winning a championship with the San Antonio Spurs in 2005 as an intern. After becoming an assistant coach with the Portland Trail Blazers in 2007, he was named head coach of the Pelicans in 2010. Williams was selected by the Pelicans because of his keen leadership qualities. In his first season as head coach, Williams took a 46-36 Pelicans team to the playoffs where they’d lose in the first round. They’d miss the playoffs the next few years before returning this year.
The Pelicans were not expected to make the playoffs this year and dealt with injuries this season mainly to All Star Anthony Davis who missed 12 games due to injury. Although the Pelicans were swept, they did give the Warriors a run for their money in the first round. That grit is a testament to drafting well and making good trades over the last five years and acquiring Davis, Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday.
Williams’ experience as an NBA veteran has seamlessly translated into his current head coaching position. “If you’ve experienced things that players are eventually going to experience and have been down the road that they're now going, it's a good fit,” says New Orleans Pelicans scout Chucky Brown in our phone discussion.
Relationships are surely vital in the coaching race. Just ask Jason Kidd. Although Kidd had never had any formal coaching experience, his experience as a ring-rocking floor general validated him. In 2013, Kidd transitioned from a retired New York Knicks point guard to become head coach of the Brooklyn Nets. Kidd guided the Nets to a 44-38 record and a trip to the NBA Playoffs.
Kidd made headlines last summer when he bolted the franchise that he’d once led to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances as a player; agreeing to a three year, $15 million contract to coach the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Bucks’ Jabari Parker was eight years old when Kidd led the Nets into the 2003 NBA Finals against Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs. The Nets would lose the series 4-2 and Kidd would win a ring eight years later as a Dallas Maverick. “I feel like I’m going to be able to grow with that organization,” Parker told The Shadow League. “And I’m trying to be a throwback to the organization and only stick with one team.”
Kidd sold his players on his philosophy of winning. The Bucks were 15-67 last season and this season, Kidd’s team finished 41-41 and clinched a sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. With rising ballers Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, Michael Carter-Williams, Ersan Ilyasova, O.J. Mayo and John Henson, their future is promising.
Kidd and the Bucks avoided elimination in the playoffs in a 94-88 win over the Chicago Bulls at the United Center. The Bucks played spoiler to the Bulls behind a 22 point and nine assist outing from Carter-Williams and 21 points from Khris Middleton. The win forces a game 6 in Milwaukee on Thursday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
As a former college coach at Butler, Brad Stevens knows all about selling a program. He went from appearing in back-to-back National Championship games with Butler in 2011 and
2012 to becoming a head coach of the Boston Celtics. In his second season as coach of the Celtics, Stevens led an overachieving 40-42 Celtics squad to a seventh seed in the NBA Playoffs.
At season’s start, the Celtics were not expected to make the NBA Playoffs. Rajon Rondo was the only remaining player from the Celtics’ 2008 championship team and was traded. A young
squad, the oldest player on the roster is Gerald Wallace, 32, who is only six years younger than Stevens. Making the playoffs and playing physical basketball against the Cavaliers drew the respect of NBA purists.
Although the Celtics were swept by the Cavs in the first round, they didn’t lay down. Just ask Jae Crowder and Kelly Olynyk who didn't back down from J.R. Smith or Kendrick Perkins in game 4. The Celtics received the highest praise from the game’s best player, LeBron James. “I highly respect their coaching staff, and especially their head coach,” said James following the Cavs’ win at TD Bank Garden. “A very well coached team, he put those guys out there every night and put them in a position to try to win the game. I think Brad Stevens is a very good young coach in our league.”
Players and GM’s want to be led by folks that are credible. Retired NBA veteran Olden Polynice told me that the hiring that he surprised him the most were Jason Kidd, Derek Fisher and Steve Kerr, who is benefiting from the standout play of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson,
Derek Fisher and the New York Knicks are currently in rebuilding mode and will be in Secaucus, NJ awaiting their place in the NBA Draft Lottery selection. “Seeing guys like that getting high profile jobs like them was surprising to me but it matters who you align yourself with,” said Polynice.
“It’s all based upon relationships. If a guy like Kobe said I want to coach, they’ll probably give him a job. It’s unfortunate for guys like myself who have been around in the minor leagues and busting our butts, but still can’t get a job. But I tip my hat off to them.”
Young coaches in the NBA are here to stay. Jason Kidd, Monty Williams and Brad Stevens’success has created the new normal and in turn will continue to create opportunities for players who retire or coaches who create a high profile in the college ranks.
“Not a lot of people are retiring and all of a sudden become a head coach," Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving told me in response to what lane Jason Kidd has carved.
"That’s something that’s unheard of but he’s setting a trend for us, the players."