Hall of Famer Steve Nash knew instinctively that coaching was in his future, but after an 18-year playing career, he needed time to separate from his identity as a two-time NBA MVP player to focus on growing his family while staying active in the game managing Team Canada and working as a part-time development coach with Golden State.
But over the summer, all the pieces fell into place, starting with his friendship with Nets general manager Sean Marks and including his past relationship with All-Star Kevin Durant, and Nash knew the time was ripe for him to accept the Nets’ offer to become their head coach.
"Over the last few years, I realized there was an itch forming and that I was starting to gain some interest in taking that leap at some point," Nash told Nets television announcer Ian Eagle in a near one-hour interview that aired on the YES network Tuesday.
"I think that collided with this incredible opportunity, this moment in time with this organization that’s just continued to grow and build the roster. All the departments are so mature that it’s an opportunity that was too good to pass up."
Of course, the Nets signed Durant and All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving as free agents more than a year ago, but Durant sat out the entire season while recovering from Achilles tendon surgery and Irving was limited to 20 games by a shoulder injury that required surgery. But Kenny Atkinson’s firing in March left the door ajar for Nash to reach out to Marks, who played two seasons with him in Phoenix and is a long-time close friend.
"It’s been a lot of fun," Nash said. "Sean is a big reason why I’m here, my comfort level with him, my respect and admiration for him as a person, his family, but also what he’s built here with the Nets. It’s a perfect spot for me."
Nash traced his relationship with Durant back to 2013 when he still was playing for the Suns. Nash knew current Nets assistant Adam Harrington, who was Durant’s position coach when he was with the Thunder.
"We have a strong relationship," Nash said of Durant. "[Harrington] connected Kevin in a way that I could maybe guide and mentor him in a sense…I could share some of the experiences I had, and we developed a bond over the game. That led to the Warriors situation a few years later where we continued to develop our relationship, and here we are working together again. He’s just a human being that I have a lot of love for and a lot of belief in the type of person he is and the character he is."
Although Nash has worked out with Irving in the past, their relationship is growing, but he is looking forward to where it will go. "It’s a thrill for me to get to coach Kyrie," Nash said. "He has an incredible skill level, like off the charts.
"Having those common experiences, playing the position, playing in the best city in the world and the responsibility that comes with that is going to give us such a commonality. I’m thrilled to be his coach, but I’m also thrilled to get to know him even better. We have a great relationship."
Nash said defense is his top priority in building a championship contender, but he acknowledged being influenced by the high-tempo offensive system utilized by Mike D’Antoni, his former Suns coach. Nash emphasized he doesn’t have a system or playbook that is etched in stone.
"I don’t want to come in with too many hard and fast concepts and designs," Nash said. "I’d much rather come in with principles and ideas that allow our players to collaborate with us and allow their personalities and the dynamic between them and the chemistry to have a role in how it evolves. Mike D’Antoni’s brilliance was that he allowed it to evolve instead of getting in the way."