On the surface, the Nets’ announcement of the hiring of Hall of Famer and two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash as their head coach appeared to come out of leftfield and catch the entire league off-guard on Thursday.
But upon closer examination, it was a natural fit that led Nets general manager Sean Marks to hire Nash, who is a close friend from their playing days and who later served as a respected player development coach with the Warriors, where he developed a strong relationship with Nets superstar Kevin Durant.
Newsday confirmed through an NBA source that Nash signed a four-year deal as a first-time NBA head coach. He will be introduced in a virtual news conference next Wednesday.
The team also announced that interim head coach Jacque Vaughn will return in the lead assistant role he held under Kenny Atkinson, who parted ways with the Nets on March 7.
Marks did not speak with local media beyond the team statement, but in an 18-minute podcast with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, he traced the decision to his 20-year relationship with Nash. He said it was Nash who approached the Nets.
“Steve searched me out when he knew the job was open,” Marks told Wojnarowski. “He said, ‘Look, I want to put my hat in the ring here.’ We started talking. It moved very quickly. But I was excited to have a guy of his caliber, his stature, coming in here to lead this organization forward.”
Nash joined the Warriors’ coaching staff in 2015 and began working with Durant when he joined the team the following year.
During their time together, Nash helped improve the free-throw shooting of the two-time NBA Finals MVP, who nicknamed him “Yoda” after the “Star Wars” character. But it was only recently that Nash gave any indication of his head-coaching ambition.
“We’ve had conversations dating back years and years now because we are close friends,” Marks said. “We’ve picked each other’s brains on a lot of different scenarios. We always do get together from time to time with the families, and this one felt natural.
“There was a different tone with Steve that I’ve seen over the last week or two [regarding his commitment to being a head coach]. He’s giving this his best shot. He has a lot at stake. We all do. He said, ‘Look, I want to throw my hat in the ring here, I want to give this a shot. I know what’s at stake. I know there will be naysayers.’ But he’s got our utmost support.”
Nets owner Joe Tsai also welcomed Nash and said they “look forward to a successful and meaningful partnership. Steve shares our vision for the future of this franchise, and his character exemplifies the core principles of our organization in working to serve our communities. I can’t wait for Steve to get started.”
Nash thanked the Nets’ organization in the formal statement, but he offered more pertinent comments about the relationship he anticipates with Durant and point guard Kyrie Irving in an interview with Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated.
Regarding Durant, Nash said, “He’s one of the greatest players I’ve ever seen, and to have his confidence is really important.”
Nash will be working with Irving for the first time, and he said, “There is a respect and admiration there for me . . . I’m thrilled I get the opportunity to know him better and to understand him, how he plays and what he sees and to be here to help him refine his gifts.”
When he was with the Suns, Nash played under current Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni and helped him develop the high-tempo, small-ball style that has become increasingly popular. After practice Thursday, D’Antoni expressed surprise at the hiring and said Nash gave him no clue in advance.
“It was pretty hush-hush,” D’Antoni said. “But it’s interesting. I just texted him. He’s jumping from the frying pan to the fire. Good luck to him, and I’m happy for him and I hope things work out.”
Although Marks said the final decision belonged to himself and Tsai, he acknowledged consulting Durant and Irving regarding what they wanted in a coach.
“Both expressed high character, they wanted a great communicator and they wanted somebody they would respect,” Marks said. “I think we have hit the nail on the head with a hire like Steve.”