The Knicks hired Derek Fisher officially last week, making him the fourth coach in NBA history to play one year and move to full-time coach the next. He is the second player to do this in the last two years after Jason Kidd retired and then moved immediately into the lead chair for the Brooklyn Nets.
Does that make this a trend? No. But the league has seen a large amount of first-time coaches take over with little or no coaching experience and players who are recently retired move to the lead bench. There is no earning your dues anymore with the head coaches in the league. You can jump to the lead chair with very little coaching experience or none at all.
Jason Kidd did it last year and helped guide the Nets tot he second round of the Playoffs. Steve Kerr has been retired for a long time and took a turn as a general manager, but has no NBA coaching experience. He will lead the Warriors now. Even Magic coach Jacque Vaughn was two years removed from his playing days when he took over as head coach of the Magic. At least, he spent those two years as an assistant with the Spurs.
What Fisher’s hiring proved is that just about anyone can be the next head coach if they have good game sense and respect from teammates. There are a lot of great potential coaches still playing in the NBA. And, if the trend continues in the NBa, they could probably be coaching a team tomorrow.
Here are our favorite five players who could step in and be a head coach tomorrow:
Steve Nash, Lakers: Point guards always seem to make the best head coaches out of former players. They have the experience of leading a team and being the “floor general.” They are the coach on the floor. And there are a million other cliches about a point guard’s ability to run a team.
Nash, though, has a great sense about the game. His ability to lead a team and make plays is not just simply about talent. It comes with an understanding of Xs and Os and where players need to be and how to deliver the ball to them. He would make a great teacher and his cool demeanor would look as good in a suit and tie as it would in a jersey.
Whenever Nash decides to retire, he will likely get some attention to be a head coach somewhere. If he wants to coach, he will probably get that chance somewhere. He has the on-court credentials and the basketball knowledge. He seems like the kind of guy that would relate really well with players — as proven by some of his perceptive and comedic endeavors.
Andre Miller, Wizards: His nickname is already “Professor Miller,” so he has some teacher in him. But that might be because of his clinical skills and his ability to break down his opponents even without extreme athletic skill. To do that you have to have an understanding of how to play the game at a little bit of a higher level.
Miller has continued to last in the NBA because of his basketball smarts. That usually translates to a good tenure and presence on the bench.
What Miller lacked in talent, he made up for with good basketball sense. And that can matter as much as anything at the end of the day. That basketball know-how usually makes good coaches. He has mentored lots of young point guards while playing at a pretty decent level. Guys from John Wall to Ty Lawson. Miller seems like a good guy to put in the lead seat and help guide players through a season. He should have some form of respect.
Of course, Miller is also someone who has had clashes with coaches before. His dust up with Brian Shaw this year was well documented and led to Miller missing tons of time where he was told to stay away from the team. That is not exactly a good thing to hear from a would-be coach.
James’ ability to recall individual plays from past games is well known throughout the league. He has an unquenchable thirst for the game and is always looking to improve himself. You have to imagine he could take that to the sidelines as a coach.
If anything, James is too selfless as a player when compared to his talent level. That is exactly what would make him a great coach.
Think of all the teams he has already carried on his back. He knows the burden of a star and knows already how to keep everyone involved to get a team to play above their pay grade. That is something he would seamlessly translate to the coaching bench. If that is the route he wanted to go after his retirement.
There may not be many more smarter basketball players currently in the league. LeBron James, head coach, does not sound very crazy.
Chauncey Billups, Pistons: Billups might as well be a coach already. He played just 19 games this season and held himself out of a few when he was healthy just to try to manage his minutes for the remainder of the season. Billups’ body was just breaking down a little quicker than maybe he would have liked.
But for most of his career, Billups was always a solid leader and teacher on the court. His Finals MVP was no fluke. It was also no fluke that Carmelo Anthony saw his greatest playoff successes with Billups running the show.
Billups was always a game manager who knew how to bring the best out of his teammates. And when the time called for it, he also knew when to step up. He was killer in the 2004 NBA Finals and had a knack for hitting big shots.
That kind of leadership always gave him a sort of gravitas with teammates. He already seemed to be acting like a coach on the floor with the teams he was on later in his career and coaches could trust that he knew exactly what he was doing and could lead the team. He was always someone coaches wanted in the locker room.
With his retirement on the horizon, a shift to the coach’s bench seems extremely natural.
Mike Conley, Jr., Grizzlies: This one is a little off the wall and Conley is a long way from retiring. But he seems to be the exact kind of player that would make a good coach. A solid, but not spectacular player who knows how to manage a team and put in the work to make players better. Conley is often described as a game manager, but he is a little bit more than that for the Grizzlies. He is very much the head of a very good Grizzlies team.
Obviously, Conley needs a little more seasoning. He is not ready to come off the floor and his playing days are long from gone. But with a rookie coach in Dave Joerger, Conley helped steady the ship and keep the Grizzlies on track to make the Playoffs this year as they fought through injuries. He has really ducked his head and done his work throughout his career, rising from a disappointing beginning to become a solid player.
His rise has helped stabilize Memphis and turn the organization into one of the best teams in the league, even if they have had trouble breaking through the glass ceiling of the established teams in the West.
Conley is a player that could very well have a nice coaching future in front of him . . . after his career is over. For now, he will just have to settle for veteran voice on the floor and coach on the court.