Steve Nash became a casualty of the Nets’ disastrous first month, as he and the organization mutually agreed to part ways Tuesday – a decision that came about because the team was no longer responding to its coach, according to general manager Sean Marks.
The move capped off a week in which star guard Kyrie Irving posted a link to an antisemitic movie, doubled down on his decision to tweet it, and got into a heated exchange during a news conference where Irving also said he supported a conspiracy theory about a totalitarian shadow government. The Nets have been criticized for their handling of the situation, but also for their play, which has been incohesive and defensively lax, leading to a 2-5 record going into Tuesday.
“He's aware of ‘they’re not responding to me right now’ or ‘that was not the performance I needed to see out there’ and, and so forth,” Marks said Tuesday. “Over the course of you know, the last week, 10 days, we've just been talking and talking, and I think it came to a head.”
Shortly after the personnel move, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said the Nets had already found their replacement in suspended Celtics coach Ime Udoka, though Marks firmly denied the report. Marks, though, did not deny that Udoka was in the running; the 2021 coach of the year finalist was suspended by the Celtics for an improper relationship with a female employee. The exact nature of the allegations against Udoka have not been disclosed, and because he was not suspended by the league, he’s an option.
Marks said players were not consulted in the Nash decision (Kevin Durant did ask for Nash to be relieved of his duties over the summer but reconsidered).
Durant said he found out "at 1:15" in the afternoon adding, "I woke up from my nap, turned on ESPN...I'm shocked." He said he didn't believe Nash had lost the ear of the team, "but I can't speak for Steve."
Assistant Jacque Vaughn was named interim coach for the second time in two years.
“He has certainly not had an even playing field over two years here,” Marks said of Nash. “I can list the distractions. I don't want to get in there, because I know how competitive Steve is and I think if I sat here and listed one-by-one all the things that he had to go through over his tenure here, I'd be doing him a disservice because he doesn't want excuses…I certainly feel some responsibility because this does not all fall on him.”
Owner Joe Tsai also touched on Nash’s challenges.
“I’ve gotten to know Steve during his time in Brooklyn, and he is not one to shy away from challenges,” he said in a statement. “My admiration and respect for him grew over time.”
Marks, though, denied the Irving situation contributed to the decision. Marks said the organization is still deciding on whether to discipline Irving, who took down the tweet, adding that Irving will not be speaking to the media in the immediate future because “we don’t want to cause more fuss right now.”
Of fans who may not want to root for the Nets anymore, “it's understandable,” said Marks, who said the team was working with the Anti-Defamation League but would not say if Irving is doing the same. “I'm completely empathetic to what's going on here. I'm certainly not proud of the situation we find ourselves in.”
The players association, of which Irving is an executive board member, released a statement Tuesday decrying antisemitism and saying it will work to help players “fully understand that certain words can lead to hateful ideologies.” Irving was not mentioned by name.
Nash’s challenges didn’t begin there, though: The Nets also played most of last season without Irving because of his refusal to get vaccinated, navigated significant injuries to Durant and Joe Harris, and dealt with an unhappy James Harden, who requested a trade midseason and got it.
“It was an amazing experience with many challenges that I’m incredibly grateful for,” Nash said in a statement. “I wish the Nets all the success in the world and the [Nashes] will be rooting for our team as they turn this season around.”
Nash, hired after Kenny Atkinson and the Nets parted ways in 2020, posted a 94-67 record as coach, though the Nets were considered underachievers because of the sheer magnitude of talent on their roster. The former two-time MVP was also brought on because of his ability to navigate that same set of larger-than-life superstars, though that appears to have been a bust.
Marks said the ideal coaching candidate will be “competitive and having a voice to hold guys accountable.” Asked directly about Udoka, who had a good relationship with Durant and Irving as Nets assistant in 2020, Marks would not elaborate.
“I really don't think it's up to me right now to give you a list of candidates we're talking to,” he said. “We do want this process to be a thorough one. We're not going to skip steps on that. And we'll do our due diligence.”
Udoka led the Celtics to their first NBA Finals appearance since 2010 last year, was suspended before this season, and subsequently issued a statement apologizing, adding, “I accept the team’s decision.”