Jason Kidd has long been tabbed as a future NBA coach, but he improbably made that transition from player to coach within just nine days of his retirement. Kidd was on the Knicks' roster as recently as two weeks ago, but next season he will literally suit up as coach of the crosstown rival Nets. It all seems rather sudden, but Kidd's cerebral play and incredible pedigree have made this move a long time coming.
In light of Kidd's move from player to coach, this seems an apt time to examine those players who could be next in line, or who would seem capable of being fine coaches if given the chance.
Ray Allen, Miami Heat
I don't know that vocal leadership always came easily to the ever-stoic Allen, but over the course of his career he seems to have taken a more specific interest in the mentorship of his teammates. He's calm and meticulous by nature -- two things that young, developing players so often are not. He may not be easily labeled as a harsh disciplinarian or a player-friendly motivator, but Allen is an exceptionally bright basketball player who holds himself -- and would hold his players -- to a high standard. Track record goes a long way for a first-time coach, and in Allen's case he could lean on 17 years of high-level NBA experience supported by countless hours of practice. If he approached the craft of coaching with even a fraction of the precision and diligence that goes into his jumper, Allen would make for a fantastic coach.
Plus, Allen's style of play requires an intricate, working knowledge of teammate tendencies and play design. It's by no accident that Allen so consistently curls into a clear jumper or weaves through openings just as they close. His sense of space and timing is impeccable, and while some of that is predicated on an instinct that can't be imparted with a clipboard, the in-game application of that instinct reflects his understanding of the game at a deep strategic level.
Grant Hill, Los Angeles Clippers
Hill retired only two days before Kidd, technically excluding him from this list, but he's too good a candidate to leave out. Hill would be a natural, an easy communicator with experience in several very different NBA roles, and someone who clearly approaches the game thoughtfully. He'll be in demand as a broadcaster, but coaching may be a more satisfying course for a player so committed to the game. It can be difficult to infer a player's potential coaching style from his career and personality, but Hill's combination of natural charisma and basketball smarts positions him well for a Doc Rivers-style coaching career.
As a player, Ginobili attempts wild shots, throws precarious passes and tends to gamble on defense. Yet his understanding of the game seems to come from a sound, fundamental place -- like an abstract artist who learned the rules of his trade only to subvert them. That may not ease Gregg Popovich's headache, but it bodes well for the coaching prospects of a heady player with 18 years of professional basketball experience. He's not bad with a clipboard, either:
Ginobili is only 35, but one can already tell that he's a basketball lifer. He's empowered by an evident passion for the game that won't soon fade, which only leads me to believe that he'll linger around in some form, be it in the United States or elsewhere. And given the way that the Spurs' coaching and management tree has sprawled in recent years, it wouldn't seem too difficult for him to land a coaching position of some sort if he's interested.
The former All-Star and Sixth Man Award winner plays a particularly vocal role in San Antonio's in-game instruction, and he can often be seen giving counsel to younger Spurs as the team comes out of a timeout. That drive to direct has a hard link to his drive as a competitor, and it would be fantastic to see that passion displayed in a more formal capacity.
Chauncey Billups, Los Angeles Clippers
Billups is one of the go-to responses for this kind of hypothetical, and for good reason. Not only did he build a terrific career despite a tumultuous start, but he also boasts a level of statesmanship that would prove valuable to any coaching role. Leadership in the NBA can often prove to be some vague, intangible quality, but Billups simply oozes it. He conveys a bold but steady basketball perspective and knows how to manage volatile ingredients so that his teams might maximize their potential. He's been an All-Star and a cast-off, and has experienced being overlooked and being plagued by injury. He commands attention and establishes real, productive connections with other players. Billups should someday do a fine job of guiding a roster through the trials of an 82-game season.
An unusual choice, perhaps, but Bogut's nuanced approach to defense and blunt communication could make him an interesting coaching candidate. At present, he's already Golden State's defensive coach on the floor -- a role predicated on his ability to read play action instantly and understand his team's defensive system completely. That's not unusual among the league's best defensive big men, but Bogut is especially vocal in both barking out orders and holding his teammates accountable for their mistakes. He would surely bring the same discipline as a coach. Bogut did some moonlight work as an assistant for the Australian national team during the summer of 2011, though that role had more to do with his persistent injury than any actual interest in coaching. Still, there's some very real coaching potential in a player both well schooled in the basics and execution of defensive coverage and willing to demand consistent effort from everyone.