Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are opening up about the Nets' stunning hire of Steve Nash as head coach -- and suggested it could herald a new era for coaches in pro sports.
Irving, appearing on the second part of the debut episode of Durant's newly launched podcast, The ETCs, offered up some interesting thoughts on Nash's role in the Nets locker room -- and responded to critics who said Brooklyn's superstar duo had an underhanded role in Atkinson's ouster at a time when the team was playoff-bound.
"Let's talk about Nash," Durant says. "What do you think about Nash being on the sidelines for us?"
"Tell us about the secret meeting where you hired him," jokes co-host Eddie Gonzalez, "or whatever the narrative is."
"First off all," Irving responds, "I want to give a shoutout to Kenny Atkinson, because, you know, some people came out and were like 'Yo, Ky and KD got Kenny fired.' That was completely false.
"Listen, Kenny was great for the group that he served. And I was very appreciative of what he was giving us throughout the season, when we were playing."
However, the Nets needed a unique figure in order to reach their potential, Irving explained -- perhaps someone not so wedded to old-school coaching values.
"We always heard how great Nash was, or saw how great he was as a player. But also, when you get to know him as a person, you understand why he can coexist with us, because we don't need somebody to come in and put their coaching philosophy on everything that we're doing, and change up the wheel, and 'Yo, you guys need to start doing this,' and we start running on the first day of practice.
"It's just like, no, I need somebody that's going to understand that I am a human being first. I serve my community and where I come from first, and then basketball is something I come and do every single day because I love it, and also because I have the right ingredients of people around to come in and do my job at a high level. And I know that they'll hold me accountable to that level.
"It's no disrespect to Kenny or any other coach I've played with, but it's just that Steve coming in at this moment, and then following up and putting together a great coaching core, was going to make us more successful."
That's where Nash comes in -- and, according to Irving, it sounds like his job expectations are fairly different than what we're accustomed to in pro sports of recent vintage.
"Now he's the head coach," Irving said. "And I think it's also going to change the way we see coaches. I don't really see us having a 'head' coach. KD could be a head coach, I could be a head coach."
"Jacque Vaughn could do it, one day," Durant added. "It's a collaborative effort."
Vaughn, a Nets assistant, took over the lead job on an interim basis after Atkinson's dismissal. Vaughn returned to an assistant role upon Nash's hire, keeping at least one staffer on board who had a hand in the Nets' climb back to respectability the past couple seasons.
While the Nets superstars appear to have something different in mind for their coach, Irving said he still deferred to Nash as "coach" after he was hired.
"I gave him 26 and 9, I like to remind him," Irving said, referring to one of their matchups before Nash retired from playing. "Coach -- he said I was the first person to call him Coach Nash -- but I call him Steve. Steve is great, and I have a relationship with him that's going to build over time. Steve don't know me from anything he heard, or anything he's heard from anyone else -- we worked out one time in 2014 -- but it's just grown into a respectful relationship from afar. I saw him at the Hall of Fame two years ago, gave him a big hug."