The NBA community was taken aback by the hiring of Steve Nash as the Head Coach of the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday. The Hall of Fame point guard was a “stealth hire” by the Nets’ front office. Many names had been thrown around since the firing of Kenny Atkinson. Jason Kidd had been touted for a return, while Tyronn Lue was also in consideration. Other assistant coaches like the Pelicans’ Chris Finch and the Sixers’ Ime Udoka were also believed to be on the shortlist. There had even been rumors of Gregg Popovich being under consideration. The key question now is what should we expect from Steve Nash as head coach.
Steve Nash lacks any meaningful coaching experience. And yet, he was a desired candidate by many teams around the league. Nash even had to be convinced to take a coaching job, which sounds quite odd. Most coaches spend years – even decades – working their way up the ladder. Having an exceptional career seems to allow players a fast track up the ladder. The Nets clearly believe in the abilities of Nash, but X’s and O’s may not be why they value him so much.
Steve Nash is a well-known person in the NBA community for obvious reasons. Although he never won a ring as a player, his resume speaks for itself. Two Most Valuable Player awards, seven All-NBA team appearances and eight All-Star selections led to his Hall of Fame induction in 2018. Since retiring, Nash dedicated much of his time to his second love: soccer. A side note: Nash’s insight on TNT’s Champions League shows were extremely engaging for someone who never played the game professionally. However, he could never dissociate completely from basketball.
The Hall of Famer has worked with players to a certain degree since his retirement. Nash worked with Kevin Durant during KD’s time with the Golden State Warriors as a player development consultant. Kevin Durant was likely consulted during the hiring process, and knows what to expect from Steve Nash. The pair have a very strong relationship, and were seen training together at the Lakers’ training facility last summer. Caris LeVert is also believed to have a strong connection with the new head coach. The players who have no previous links to Nash will likely respect the authority of the new head coach, even if they do not know what to expect from Steve Nash.
The idea of young-but-accomplished retired players landing themselves high profile jobs is an important trend of the last decade in both basketball and beyond. Jason Kidd had no experience when he was handed the Nets job in 2013. Tim Duncan got an assistant coaching position in San Antonio. In soccer there has been great success from this strategy. Zinedine Zidane won the first ever three-peat of Champions League titles despite having little experience before becoming Real Madrid boss. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard have began successfully rebuilding Manchester United and Chelsea. Being able to manage the large egos of professional athletes is easier for someone who players already admire.
There is an unheralded level of star power in the NBA today. Tactical geniuses alone are useless if players don’t buy into a coach’s philosophies. While it would be foolish to suggest that Nash or anyone else would just tell their players to go out and play, there is much more to basketball today than tactics. Players have to be willing to accept certain positions in the team for the sake of its success. The Heat losing in 2011 to the Mavericks but beating the Thunder and Spurs is a testament to this. Dwyane Wade had to accept his role behind LeBron James, which could never happen instantly after LeBron landed in Florida.
Making things click
The Nets were 8-12 with Kyrie Irving in the lineup this season. Five of those losses came against teams with worse records than them. They went 27-25 for the rest of the regular season (including seeding games in the bubble) when Kyrie was inactive. Even if we exclude the seeding games, the Nets were playing at a .500 level without Kyrie before the season was suspended. While the excuse can be made that it was difficult for the other players to become familiar with playing with Irving and vice versa, such an excuse would not be made for the other stars that Kyrie wants to be compared to.
Kevin Durant showed his ability to steady the ship when he starred for the Warriors in their series against the Clippers last summer, but the Nets are not the Warriors. Kyrie Irving is not Steph Curry, Spencer Dinwiddie is not Klay Thompson and Jarrett Allen is not Draymond Green. It might be unfair to compare the Nets to arguably the greatest team ever, but the competition in the league right now has never been greater. The Nets could well be one of seven (the others being Milwaukee, Toronto, Miami, Boston, Philadelphia and [at a stretch] Indiana) teams in the East with a chance of making the Finals next season. Steve Nash has to ensure that this team bonds fast, and that the necessary cohesion is in place next postseason.
The Nets were a playoff team this season without Kevin Durant and (for most of the season) Kyrie Irving. This team, once healthy, will be aiming for the NBA Championship. The LA Clippers should be the blueprint for Nash’s team. The regular season needs to be used to work things out. Eighty-two games should be enough time to do this. The playoffs are the defining part of the season, and sacrificing 10-15 wins in the name of forming team structure must be done. Furthermore, next season could well be played in a bubble. This would remove the necessity of trying to earn home advantage in the playoffs.
The Clippers were far from perfect during the regular season. Both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were injured during the season, and Leonard also has to load manage. This meant that the Clippers chose to treat the regular season as a learning experience as much as they treated it as the competition that it is. If the Nets are healthier than this season’s Clippers, they could be ready to make a meaningful run towards the NBA Finals next season.
Many parallels were drawn between the hiring of Steve Nash on Thursday and that of Jason Kidd in 2013. Nash faces a similar challenge in the immediate future to Kidd in 2013: win now. However, there needs to be context added to this. What the Nets expect from Steve Nash overall is slightly different to that of Jason Kidd. The 2013 Nets banked completely on the star power they assembled with the knowledge that they only had one shot at the title. Even with the Heat to contend with, Brooklyn threw everything they had at winning in 2014. This ended up crippling the franchise for the best part of the next five years.
Nash has slightly less pressure on his shoulders than Kidd did seven years ago. The current Nets roster has about three seasons of shelf life. Excluding Kyrie and KD, the rest of the roster are reasonably young, versatile and valuable. Should things work out badly over the next year or two, the rebuild would be far less ugly than the one we saw between 2014 and 2018. Teams are more apprehensive about trading for older players on large contracts, but Durant would represent a risk worth taking for most teams in the league. This would hand the Nets young players and/or valuable draft picks. Furthermore, Brooklyn already have a first round pick and at least one second round pick for every future draft. Should the front office back Nash to oversee such an operation, the task would be simpler than last time.
Team basketball is the in thing in the Eastern Conference. The Nets have star power on their side once Kyrie and KD are healthy again. If Steve Nash can unleash the full potential of this roster, he could well have a winner on his hands. Coaching is easy if you have the right players. This doesn’t necessarily mean the best players, but the right players who can both play in a system and be the system when required. On paper, it certainly seems like Nash has these kinds of player.
What do you think? Can the Nets go all the way in the next two seasons? Will Kyrie prove himself as the superstar that he wants to be? What style of basketball do you expect from Steve Nash? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. Check out more of my content here, and click on the NBA tab for more quality basketball content.