Steve Nash knew it was coming, and he was prepared when asked during a video conference call on Tuesday for his reaction to what Kyrie Irving said about the Nets’ surprise September hiring of the Hall of Fame point guard as a first-time NBA head coach to lead a team built around superstars Irving and Kevin Durant.
With a sly smile, Nash said, "Can you repeat the Kyrie quote? I never heard that one." After a pause, Nash added, "Just kidding."
Irving stirred a social media tempest when he spoke about Nash on Durant’s podcast "The ETCs." Reacting to Nash’s lack of experience, Irving said, "I don’t really see us having a head coach. You know what I mean? KD could be head coach. I could be head coach."
Durant noted assistant Jacque Vaughn, who was interim coach after the firing of Kenny Atkinson in March, also could assume that role. "It’s a collaborative effort," Durant said.
No doubt, the personal relationship between Nash and his superstars will come under intense scrutiny, and the new coach took it head-on. "I think it was one phrase at the end of a bunch of things he said about being excited to have me in this position and coaching," Nash said. "Maybe he took it to another level that seemed to grab all the headlines, which is fine. I’m in a fortunate position where I get to coach Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
"What we’ve built here in a short period of time, how we’re going to practice and play is exciting…It’s one statement that I don’t necessarily think was meant the way it was taken by the press. That doesn’t bother me at all. It’s going to be a blast for me to get to coach those guys every day."
Nash will have plenty of help. He designated Mike D’Antoni, his former Suns head coach, as being in charge of the offense, and Vaughn as having primary responsibility for the defense.
"We realize that we’re trying to compete for a championship, and we have to be excellent defensively," Nash said. "It’s going to be a process. The defense last year changed in the bubble…I think JV’s adjustments in the bubble were going toward where we’ve landed with it, and at the same time, it is a work in progress. It’s something we’re going to build all year."
Of course, it’s a high-powered offense in which Durant and Irving are surrounded by a bevy of top outside shooters that will spark the most excitement. Nash conceded it will resemble the style he played under D’Antoni that now has spread across the league.
"I think we want to play an uptempo style, we want to push the ball in transition and play in the open court," Nash said. "In the halfcourt, we want to make quick decisions, space the floor and take advantage of our playmaking and our shooting. We have some centers (DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen) that are vertical threats, so we can really put pressure on people above the rim but also stress them and make the court big and difficult to cover."