The first day of the rest of his life begins on Sunday for Steve Nash when the Hall of Famer starts his NBA coaching career with a Nets team featuring Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving together in the starting lineup for the first time since they signed as free agents more than a year ago. The Nets are facing the Wizards and new acquisition Russell Westbrook, a former Durant teammate with the Thunder, but that barely matters.
The most important thing is how the new and incredibly deep Nets lineup meshes in the first of a mere two preseason games before the regular season begins on Dec. 22. Of course, Nash is excited for his first game as a head coach.
"It’s a great opportunity for us to kind of feel it and run through it and hopefully get something out of the game," Nash said on Saturday. "But also, it’s paramount that we kind of have this rehearsal, get the players into a rhythm of not just the play but also of getting back into the game days and what those entail because a lot of our guys haven’t played for a long time."
Nash said Caris LeVert will not play because of a minor patella tendon bruise. Spencer Dinwiddie will take his place in the starting lineup at shooting guard alongside point guard Irving, power forward Durant, small forward Joe Harris and center DeAndre Jordan.
"We’ll try to get as many guys as much looks as possible to get them that rhythm and cohesion and keep building," Nash said. "But at the same time, we have to build accordingly, try to get everyone a look, try to evaluate everyone, try to evaluate combinations and give as many people a chance as possible to get out there and feel the floor and the rhythm of an actual game."
Describing his own emotions about his head-coaching debut, Nash said, "It’s a great experience for me to kind of get my feet wet and understand the rhythm of coaching. It’s going to be a process for me, obviously, to be totally comfortable over there. But I’m excited, and I feel really proud of the guys the way they’ve approached camp."
Nash will introduce what might be described as "positionless" basketball to the Nets. His former head coach with Suns, Mike D’Antoni, is an assistant in charge of the offense, and he has perfected that style over 15 previous seasons as an NBA head coach. Because Durant, who is playing for the first time in 18 months since suffering a ruptured right Achilles tendon in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals when he was with Golden State, can handle the ball so well, he can play all five positions.
"I don’t know that we’ll see a ton of time with him at the one [point guard], but he’s definitely a ballhandler, playmaker and can thrive in pick-and-roll situations," Nash said. "So, he will play the one at times. But again, we are trending toward positionless basketball. On our roster, we have a lot of guys who can handle the point, set the team up, make plays. So, they’ll all probably have a part in that."
Before the Nets could take the court this season, Irving created controversy by refusing all interview requests, for which he received a $25,000 fine. Reacting to the fine, he labeled all reporters as "pawns." Asked if he had discussed the situation with Irving, Nash said he had not.
"He’s been unbelievable in camp," Nash said. "He’s been playing at an extremely high level. He’s been a leader. So, while he may not be in your guys’ good books right now, he’s in my good book. So, I’m enjoying coaching him."