An In-Depth look at the Brooklyn Nets' hiring of Steve Nash
The Nets Hired Who?
The Brooklyn Nets surprised the league on Thursday by signing Steve Nash, the former 2 time league MVP, to a four year deal to become the next head coach for the franchise. Where did this seemingly shocking move come from and will it work out for an organization contending for their first title?
The first domino of the NBA coaching carousel has fallen, and it’s a bit of a stunner. Former NBA star Steve Nash has been tapped by the Brooklyn Nets to attempt to lead this team to their first NBA championship. The 46 year old Suns legend was announced as the Nets’ head coach early Thursday morning, bringing the highly coveted search to a close. The Nets are expected to become immediate title contenders in the Eastern Conference with the highly anticipated return of Kevin Durant, who missed the entire 2019-2020 season as a result of a ruptured achilles he sustained during Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals. They also add a healthy Kyrie Irving, who only played 20 games this season as a result of a variety of injuries. With the return of these two stars. expectations are lofty right out of the gate, making the search for the next head coach especially important.
This was evident in the names that were in circulation to win this position which included coaching legend Gregg Popovich (though this felt unlikely) and NBA champion Ty Lue. Jacque Vaughn, the interim head coach for the Nets, was also a strong candidate after the team impressed with a 5-3 record in the bubble despite playing with a totally depleted roster. Vaughn also reportedly left a strong impression on Nets leadership during his interview earlier this week.
So, if the Nets had the capability of hiring a coach with an NBA coaching pedigree such as the ones listed above, why did they opt to go for someone with absolutely no coaching experience on any level? Nets General Manager Sean Marks seemed to make the reasoning pretty clear while speaking on Adrian Wojnarowski’s podcast on Thursday saying that Nash met Durant and Irving’s criteria of being a “communicator” and someone who would demand respect and form off court relationships with the players. To add to this, Nash already has formed a solid relationship with Durant during his time as a player development consultant for Golden State dating back to 2015. Nash also has a history with Sean Marks, whom he played with for two years in Phoenix, so Marks had a front row seat for the leadership and communication skills that earned Nash the respect of both teammates and opponents alike.
The two-time MVP spent most of his playing career in Phoenix, where he was coached by current Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni. When reacting to the hiring, D’Antoni reinforced the idea that Nash earned respect as a leader on the court, “The game plan was give it to Steve, and Steve, you can figure it out… He was pretty well involved with how he prepares his team.” So while Nash doesn’t technically have any experience coaching the sport that he spent 19 seasons playing professionally, his leadership on the court has always been obvious to those around the league. On top of this, the Nets apparently get the best of both worlds, as they made the hire they believe puts them in the best shot to win the finals, while also bringing back Jacque Vaughn as the highest paid assistant coach in the league to help usher in the Nash era.
The Nets went out and made a big splash in their first offseason as a title contender, and while it remains to be seen how this experiment works out for them, the reasoning for bringing in Nash over other coaches makes sense. As we’ve seen in recent years, the player empowerment movement is well underway in the NBA and there is no question that Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving had a heavy influence in making this selection. Personally, I think that bodes well for Nash’s chances to succeed in Brooklyn. Having a positive relationship with your two star players out of the gate allows for the team to start out the season on a positive note chemistry-wise. This was also important to Marks, who previously noted that he had plenty of time last year to create a strong relationship with both players, so adding a head coach that can come in and immediately have those relationships is something that shouldn’t be overlooked.
We’ve seen how a team can fail to live up to expectations with an unhappy star (look at the Kyrie-led Celtics), and it seems that Sean Marks has taken notice of that as well. Then, when you take a look at the other coaches in the hunt, maybe Steve Nash was the best option. Gregg Popovich leaving San Antonio was admittedly a pipe dream for the Nets, and the next man up appeared to be Ty Lue. Lue won a championship back in 2016 on the Cavs with Irving, but if Irving wanted to play for him again he likely would’ve been a more vocal advocate for the now assistant coach of the Clippers. Irving’s time in Cleveland ended a bit abruptly when he was traded to Boston, and maybe that isn’t a relationship that Kyrie is ready to mend quite yet.
Once you factor in Vaughn’s decision to stay aboard as Nash’s top assistant, the choice becomes more obvious than at first glance. Bringing in fresh talent to a coaching position sometimes is the best option as opposed to going through the same few coaches that seem to find their way back on the market every couple of years. While Nash certainly will face a learning curve as a first time head coach, it is clear he has been provided the perfect opportunity to begin his post-playing NBA journey.