When the Nets announced the hiring of first-time head coach Steve Nash, it came as a bolt from the blue. His name never surfaced until the official announcement was made on Thursday.
ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith created a stir by describing the hiring as a case of “white privilege,” given that it came at a time when three African-American head coaches have been fired and racial injustice is at the forefront in the NBA, which has been more proactive on that issue than any other professional league on the court and in the front office.
True, Hall of Famer Nash, a two-time NBA MVP, has worked only as a developmental coach the past five years, but he’s very much in the mold of Golden State coach Steve Kerr, who won a title in his first season running a team. The fact that Nash worked with Kerr and with Nets superstar Kevin Durant when he was with Golden State means a lot.
Durant undoubtedly signed off on the hiring along with star point guard Kyrie Irving, and Nash is widely respected throughout the NBA not only for his resume but for the person he is.
Describing Nash’s readiness to step into a head job, Nets general manager Sean Marks said this in a podcast with Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN: “I think, when you’ve been around a championship-caliber team like Golden State . . . and being around a guy like Steve Kerr, who is an open communicator, high-character guy, Steve would certainly have picked up some of Steve Kerr’s traits and I’m sure they picked each other’s brain a lot.
“I think that’s led Steve to make this decision and want to jump in right now. Obviously, it never hurts when you’ve already got a rapport with some of our players, which Steve has. He’s got the respect of everybody in the league because of how he’s conducted himself over his career.”
Marks frankly acknowledged that Nash has been a close friend for about 20 years, including the two seasons they spent together on the Phoenix Suns. At the same time, he also made it clear that Durant and Irving were consulted about the hiring.
“We certainly involved multiple members of the team, but again, this was a decision that Joe Tsai and myself consulted a number of members of the team and decided Steve is the best person that we see fit for this job, and thankfully, our players agreed with us. They’re just as ecstatic as we are.”
Marks made it clear that even though Durant sat out the past season and Irving was limited to 20 games by injuries, he has developed a strong relationship with them and talks frequently to them. The general manager related his experience playing with Nash to Durant and Irving.
“I think he was one of the only players I’ve ever seen show that sort of team-first mentality and really live by it,” Marks said of Nash. “He was not interested in individual statistics. His ability to really bring that group together was amazing, and to be honest, that’s what we’re going to need.
“We have a lot of pieces here, and there’s probably some pieces still to go. We’ll see how we build this out. But as Joe Tsai mentioned before — and I loved his quote — he said, ‘We need a conductor.’ I think that’s exactly what we need here, and Steve’s the right guy.”
The roster changes that lie ahead should be fascinating as Marks and Nash try to build a title contender around their superstars. But one thing that won’t change is that interim head coach Jacque Vaughn has been retained as the lead assistant by Nash. How that came about is instructive.
“I love the continuity that we have with Jacque staying in place,” Marks said. “But I will say this: Not only was it important to me, but it was more important to Steve. This was one of Steve’s first requirements on the job. He said, ‘I have seen how Jacque coaches, I know the person, and I look forward to getting to know him better.’
“That was led just as much by Steve as it was by myself. When you’ve got a good group — and we know we’ve got a good tandem here — it’s going to be fun to watch those guys communicate and continue to grow as a team.”