Steve Nash is going to receive high grades for his performance at Wednesday’s introductory press conference as Nets head coach. Nash gave thoughtful responses to varied questions ranging from his relationships with Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks, demoted assistant coach Jacque Vaughn, and stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, to his views on white privilege and whether he “skipped the line.”
Not that this was going to be the setting, however, but other than a canned mention of prioritizing team defense, we learned little in the Zoom session about how Nash intends to actually coach the team.
For instance, Nash may have played under Mike D’Antoni, the forefather of modern-day analytics (whether or not D’Antoni knew it at the time), in Phoenix, but nothing was said about how Nash intends to utilize his trio of creative three-level scorers, including Caris LeVert, in an organization that invests heavily in data analysis.
Marks firmly reiterated his endorsement of Nash because of his abilities as a communicator on Wednesday, but then Nash mentioned that he doesn’t envision himself as much of a screamer. Well, he might have to learn to be one, at least sometimes, especially since he’s going to be facing the challenge of properly motivating the sublimely talented but often-mercurial Irving, a player Nash called one of his “all-time” favorites.
Nash also spoke glowingly of Durant, with whom he worked as a player development consultant during their time together in Golden State, Nash’s only pro basketball job since his retirement in 2014. Durant, though, is only going to give any coach so much rope; if the desired results aren’t achieved, he’ll undoubtedly let go, no matter the personal feelings.
That’s why Brooklyn’s opting to go for someone with absolutely no coaching experience should be concerning on some level. It’s almost like the organization devalued all the years of hard work put in by many of the league’s upper-echelon coaches, including the six among the NBA’s final eight playoff teams who never played a second in the NBA.
Nothing Nash has done, not his Golden State gig and certainly not his spectacular 18-year playing career, can prepare him for all the stresses he will encounter with a Nets squad that will enter next season with the highest expectations. Durant and Irving, both of whom are recovering from major surgeries, are only guaranteed to be here for the next two seasons, after which their massive free agent contracts they signed last summer contain player options.
Managing people, where Nash is presumed to have a head start given his aforementioned prior relationships and Hall-of-Fame status, is only part of the job. Managing moments when you’re not in full control of them requires a much different skillset. It’s chess versus checkers, adjusting to opponents’ adjustments on the fly. Can you design a play in the closing seconds with a playoff game on the line? Not many great players have that elite-level capacity. In the last 40 years, the only Hall of Fame players who coached a team to a title were Billy Cunningham and just-elected Rudy Tomjanovich.
No one brought up Hall of Fame point guard Jason Kidd on Wednesday, and for good reason, since the man whose No. 5 jersey hangs in the Barclays Center rafters is an entirely different sort who burnt bridges in Brooklyn following his bizarre 2014 exit. But, I am curious as to whether Nash will go through a similar process of learning on the job like Kidd did in his rookie season as Nets coach. Kidd started an equally-hyped campaign by going 11-21 before his small-ball experiment in the wake of center Brook Lopez’s season-ending injury triggered a run to the second round of those playoffs.
What will the reaction be if Nash’s Nets, assuming they are healthy and whole, underachieve?
Nash’s press conference provided further assurance that he will enter this gig with some house money. However, as we learned from others’ attempts at turning to superstars as first-time head coaches, those funds have a tendency to deplete quickly for those whose on-court wizardry doesn’t translate to the sideline.