As he nears the end of his first week of training camp and gears up for Sunday’s preseason opener against the Wizards at Barclays Center, rookie Nets head coach Steve Nash is coming to grips with the fact that building a team with NBA title aspirations and navigating the challenge of coaching during the COVID-19 pandemic is going to be a season-long process, not something that will fall into place by the time the season opens on Dec. 22.
Yes, forward Kevin Durant and point guard Kyrie Irving, the franchise superstars, will be the focal point. But the Nets’ 15-man roster is one of the league’s deepest, and Nash remains uncertain where expected starters such as Caris LeVert, Joe Harris and DeAndre Jordan fit, never mind a bench that includes Spencer Dinwiddie, Landry Shamet, Taurean Prince, Jeff Green, Jarrett Allen, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Bruce Brown among others.
"For the rotations, I don’t know that we’re there yet," Nash said in a video news conference following Thursday’s practice. "We’ve got to give people more of a look and figure out what we have. So, that’s going to be a process with two exhibition games. If we jump into what is a perceived rotation, it might be too soon. This might be a process that takes a lot longer.
"To be frank, with the compressed, condensed schedule, that might be a process that goes on all year. We have to be flexible with rotations and roster, and who knows what happens with COVID or injuries? We’ll probably err on the side of not making any really firm decisions, being flexible and using as many guys as possible in the interim."
Much of the anticipation centers around a high-powered, high-tempo offense under the direction of Nash and assistant coach Mike D’Antoni. But Nash is focusing on developing a championship-caliber defense with the help of assistant Jacque Vaughn. Nash has said the rim protection afforded by centers Jordan and Allen should afford perimeter defenders leeway to be more aggressive extending pressure to the three-point line and to switch as much as possible. But it’s a work in progress.
"Yesterday, we had a more controlled scrimmage, and our defense, I thought, was excellent, took a step. Today, we played more of a scrimmage, and I thought our defense got a little picked apart. So, we’ve got to keep building. It’s so new. There needs to be a process to hone in on those principles and that connectivity with one another, and today, the defense proved we need to work at it."
Nash said it became clear last seasonin the NBA bubble in Orlando that the absence of crowds facilitates communication on defense between coaches and players on the bench with those on the court. But now that teams will be playing in their own arenas, they must continue to adjust to a strange, new world.
"Actually, sitting in that seat is going to take a little bit of time to get used to it whether there’s fans or no fans," Nash said of his maiden head-coaching voyage. "It’s a shame that we’re in a global pandemic and we’re not going to have fans. That’s the right call. Teams that are more willing to accept that this isn’t going to be regular and this is going to be constantly in flux have an advantage.
"So, I don’t know if it’s a good thing to start off my coaching career with no fans yelling at me to call a time out or whatever, or if it’s a bad thing because our business loves having fans and the competitive nature of the fans aids and inspires. So, let’s hope they come back soon, but obviously, that means we have a healthy society."