- Mike Mazzeo, ESPN Staff Writer
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Brooklyn Nets general manager Billy King needed to be sure.
King was thinking about taking what many would consider a risk in hiring Jason Kidd, a recently retired future Hall of Fame point guard with absolutely zero coaching experience, as his team's new head coach.
So King did what he always does before making a huge decision: He called his coach from his days at Duke, Mike Krzyzewski.
"Billy and I talk all the time. So this is one of those situations where [the Nets] were going through a good list of candidates, and he asked about Jason," Krzyzewski, who coached Kidd at the 2008 Olympic Games, told ESPNNewYork.com on Thursday.
"I said, [Jason]'s been a coach on the court since he was probably about 15. He's been as cerebral a player as there has been in college basketball and then obviously in professional and international basketball, and he has a remarkable way with people.
"I thought it would be a great thing. I just said that it's going to be a transition [for Kidd] going from player to coach on the bench, so make sure he has a great staff [of assistants around him]. But his instincts and his knowledge of the game and people and who he is, you're getting the very best."
After Coach K gave his OK, King went ahead and hired Kidd on June 12, naming the 40-year-old, who led the Nets to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003, the 18th coach in franchise history.
"[Coach] knows Jason more than anybody. And he thought it would be a good idea," King said at Kidd's news conference. "He felt that with the right staff and with his basketball instincts that he would be good at this.
"Before I make any decision, I call him. I just picked his brain. Any time I do something, I call him."
From the very beginning, Coach K could see that Kidd had a future in coaching. And with Krzyzewski handling the coaching duties and Kidd handling the point guard duties, Team USA went on to capture gold in 2008.
"I knew right away that this guy was very special," said Coach K, who wanted Kidd to be part of his team right after he was appointed as the coach of the men’s national team in 2005.
"In our first practice, [Kidd] came up to me and asked, 'What do you want me to do?' And I said, 'You be yourself. I'll adapt to you. You've played in more games than I've coached. Let me adapt to you. What you see, you do, and then as we add our system, I want you to always know what you think. And I want to tap into that,' so that was right from the start.
"And all the players respected him greatly. During shooting drills at a few practices, he would ask guys where they would want to catch the ball, their sweet spot, and these guys were amazed that a guard would ask them that. I can remember our first full-court drills, and he was throwing some passes and they weren't connecting for lobs or whatever, and then he said, 'I'll tone it down.' And Kobe [Bryant], LeBron [James], all these guys said, 'No! No! No! You do what you do, we'll adapt. We're just not accustomed to playing with somebody that sees the game like you do.' And so that was really a neat thing, to experience that, and they did, and they did adapt, and it was beautiful."
Asked what the toughest part of Kidd's transition would be, Krzyzewski said: "Well, it's not just player to coach, it's great player to coach. Quite frankly, I don't know because I wasn't a great player, so I think I would guess that you would want them to see the things that you see at the instant that you see it. And Jason was an incredibly instinctive player with great vision. To me, having patience and making sure that you're not trying to do too much, that you take your time and understand that somebody else on the court has to do what you see or see what you see, and they may not be able to do it. They may not be able to see all those things. So, just have patience.
"I think there's a learning curve, just like there would be for anyone. There was a learning curve for me, a college coach, to do the United States team. And don't just have them adapt to you, make sure you adapt to the situation and the people you have, so it’s a collective process."
Coach K believes the Nets' veteran team -- which features Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez -- will buy into what Kidd is selling and sacrifice their individual statistics in pursuit of trying to win a championship as a group.
"I think you're talking about accomplished, very, very accomplished professional players who have won big and they're great players, and they've accomplished great things. they've been in pressure situations," Krzyzewski said. "I think that's another reason why you want to adapt somewhat to what they see, and what they do. So it's ... again it's better to have all that knowledge, instead of just trying to [do] what one person thinks. Try to do what the group is thinking or what the group is doing. It's a learning process because all those guys have so much to give that it's going to take a little time to get acclimated. But it's a good situation to be in."
Coach K thinks Kidd will be able to get the most out of his good friend, Williams.
"Well, I think it’s gonna be great," Krzyzewski said of the Kidd-Williams partnership. "First of all, they're two really good guys. They've been teammates on the Olympic team. They're different guards. Deron is this dynamic scorer who can get other people shots, and sees the game really well. You don't want him to be who Jason was. I think Jason will allow Deron to be himself, but be better. And I think he'll give him great freedom and put him in very advantageous positions for Deron to use his incredible talents."
Coach K has texted back and forth with Kidd since he got the Nets job. Brooklyn is hosting its training camp on Duke’s campus Oct. 1-5.
"I'll see him down here. We'll get together. He's a good friend. He and I are very good friends," Krzyzewski said. "I want him to do really well. While he's here, I'll only be here for a couple of the days that they're here because of recruiting and other requirements, but while I'm here, hopefully I'll be able to sit in on a practice or two if they allow me to do that, and if not, to visit with him in between practices. I look forward to that."
Asked what advice he'll give Kidd, Coach K said: "'Just be yourself and adapt as a group. Don't let the group adapt to you, you adapt to the strengths of your group because you has a strong group. Adapt to Deron, and Pierce and Garnett, common, those guys have won, so get the best practices of everyone and see what you can do as a result of doing that.'
"That's something we've tried to do and we've done it OK so far with our national team, and I think it's kind of similar really. It's a little bit similar really, because I was this college coach going into the pros, which was new for me, and that approach really worked well for me."
5dMarc Stein and Mike Mazzeo