June 16--The NBA's sense of what can and can't work was reshuffled prior to the
1999-2000 season when Doc Rivers, without a shred of coaching experience, took
over the Orlando Magic.
He had retired from playing in the spring of 1996, but thanks to his highly acclaimed work in television, Rivers maintained a high enough profile to make that rare transition.
Dave Wohl was an assistant on Rivers' first staff and followed him to Boston in 2004. The same qualities apparent in Rivers' rise are what Wohl now sees at play in an even more dramatic move -- the Brooklyn Nets' choice of Jason Kidd as its new coach.
Kidd had barely sent out word of his retirement from playing when the Nets, led by their unconventional owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, made this radical choice with respected candidates such as Pacers assistant Brian Shaw and former Sonics and Blazers coach Nate McMillan still on the market.
"With any organization, you have to think out of the box a little bit," said Wohl, who last worked in the NBA as a member of Kurt Rambis' Minnesota staff. "But what you have to recognize is that the playing experiences of Doc, Jason and Mark Jackson is similar to if you were an assistant coach for a number of years on someone's bench."
In Rivers' case, the standard NBA box was clearly obsolete. Within two seasons he was voted the NBA's Coach of the Year. Before the decade was out he would win his first NBA title -- something he never realized as a player -- with the 2007-08 Celtics.
A byproduct of his current dilemma --deep, internal debate over whether or not to return to the Celtics -- is the way his options have expanded. A number of prime coaching openings, including the Nets' prior to the Kidd appointment, would be his for the taking.
So Orlando's gamble was an absolute success. And Wohl can see where a similar gamble now on the part of Brooklyn will bear fruit.
For starters, Kidd walks through that Barclays Center door with instant credibility. Perhaps a celebrated peer is what Nets star Deron Williams needs to stay happy. There's certainly no sense in disputing Kidd's pedigree.
"I see a lot of similarities between Doc and Jason," said Wohl. "Jason brings a lot of the same qualities. Both played under a lot of different coaches, and were able to borrow from a lot of different influences. Both had tremendous success as players, and that gives you immediate (clout) with other players.
"When Doc walked into that first locker room (as Orlando's coach), he had the respect of every player right away. The other thing was that Doc always had a terrific basketball mind as far as X's and O's are concerned. He was always thinking about the game. And Kidd has obviously always had that ability to see how things develop on the floor. Jason is going to bring that sense for how he can use his players in the best way."
The circumstances are, however, different. Rivers' first Magic team was on the decline, still quaking from Shaquille O'Neal's departure three years earlier.
The team Kidd inherits will be a contender -- one that underperformed this season in the wake of its celebrated move to Brooklyn from the swamps of New Jersey.
He'll need that instant clout. Though Kidd has always been known for his ability to calmly navigate a game, his patience will require an adjustment.
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