We were all wrong. None of the consensus top candidates for the Nets’ coaching job next season – not incumbent Jacque Vaughn, not the fantasy of Spurs legend Gregg Popovich, not even Tyronn Lue, the Clippers assistant and former Cavs championship-winning coach who was my choice for best fit – got the nod.
We even missed on the Hall of Fame point guard who was supposedly in the mix. Nope, Jason Kidd will have to wait for another opportunity.
Instead, Brooklyn announced on Thursday that they had hired Steve Nash on a four-year contract, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
The move makes sense while also coming with incredibly high risk, since this will be Nash’s first head coaching assignment following his retirement from playing in 2014. He is a compromise choice, someone known for having positive relationships with both Nets stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving but also someone who allows general manager Sean Marks to retain control. While Lue is believed to insist on bringing along Chauncey Billups as his lead assistant, Marks could more easily negotiate with newbie Nash a way for Vaughn to stay on as the league’s highest-paid assistant, per Wojnarowski.
If you think you’ve heard this story before, note that this is different from when Brooklyn hired Kidd, perhaps the franchise’s greatest player ever, in 2013. Kidd had been retired less than two weeks before he got the gig. Nash, meanwhile, has been acting as a player development consultant for the Warriors.
The only similarity is the immense pressure Nash will surely be facing as a rookie coach. Kidd had the challenge of getting his aging team to live up to the championship-level hype that accompanied the blockbuster trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. He failed, winning one playoff round before arranging a bizarre exit to Milwaukee. Hopefully, Vaughn doesn’t meet the same fate as Lawrence Frank, Kidd’s lead assistant who was relegated to “writing reports” after an early-season tiff.
Nash, however, is not known to be so volatile. He enters this opportunity reaping the benefit from previously endearing himself to Durant, as he reportedly helped him reach another level as a shooter in Golden State. Irving, who, like KD, once participated in Nash’s charity soccer event in New York, is also said to be on board with Brooklyn’s decision.
Having the two top dogs’ blessings will surely buy Nash some time, but that doesn’t change the massive expectations for this team and the consequences from not meeting them. Durant and Irving, two sensitive sorts, are only guaranteed to be here for two more seasons, as both free agent contracts they signed last offseason included fourth-year player options. Both are coming off major surgeries, and if the league doesn’t start the 2020-21 season until January, as some predict, Durant and Irving will have gone about 18 and 11 months, respectively, between games.
That’s an awfully tough position for any coach, especially a first-timer whose marvelous vision on the court won’t necessarily translate to his vantage from the sideline. Kidd once talked about how his toughest transition was having to learn a whole new way of watching the game on the fly.
We know nothing of Nash’s core coaching strategies, how he views the recent trend (especially in Marks-ist Brooklyn) that has embraced analytics, or how his mind works in a close game with implications. Kidd’s best move in those moments was to have a player knock a soda out of his hand to manufacture a timeout.
Remember, playing success has never correlated to coaching success. Six of the eight coaches still working in these NBA playoffs never even suited up for a second in the league. Doc Rivers (Clippers) was a solid performer, with one All-Star berth in 13 seasons, while Mike D’Antoni’s (Rockets) best scoring average in either the NBA or the ABA was 4.8 points per game. Neither came close to Nash’s outstanding 18-year on-court resume.
Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie jokingly posted on Twitter, “Y’all wanted a third star,” a reference to Nash’s hire trumping all the ideas floating around social media as to which superstar the Nets should trade for this offseason to tag along with KD and Kyrie.
As Dinwiddie knows, none of Nash’s past accomplishments will matter one bit going forward. Neither will Nash’s prior relationship with his stars or one-time teammate Marks.
All that will matter is whether Nash has what it takes to get Brooklyn to the one place he never found as a player—a championship parade.