At long last, Kevin Durant will make his Nets debut when the NBA season opens on Dec. 22. According to all reports, he has responded well to nearly 18 months off to recover from Achilles tendon surgery, so it’s fair to expect he will play to his All-Star form and benefit from teaming with point guard Kyrie Irving, who has recovered from shoulder surgery.
The real mystery revolves around first-time NBA head coach Steve Nash. His surprise hiring by general manager Sean Marks, who is close friends with Nash, was an out-of-the-box move that carries some risk. Will Hall of Famer Nash succeed as well as Golden State’s Steve Kerr did as a first-time coach, guiding that team to three titles and five NBA Finals in his first five years? That’s asking a lot, but Kerr won two of those titles with Durant leading the way as Finals MVP.
Nash has surrounded himself with plenty of coaching talent on which to lean, including his former Suns coach, Mike D’Antoni, who directed the Rockets the past four seasons. Nash also can call upon Jacque Vaughn, who has head-coaching experience with the Magic and performed well as the Nets’ interim coach after the firing of Kenny Atkinson. The Nets also added Ime Udoka, an experienced assistant who specializes in defense and is a leading future head-coaching candidate.
"I think it’s going to be great," Marks said recently. "Right off the bat, Steve acknowledged, ‘Hey, I’m going to need experience on my bench.’ That’s what he was looking for, and he’s not too proud to say it out loud. Mike and Steve have a long relationship dating back over a couple decades. They know each other very well. They can have candid conversations. There’s a trust that’s already there.
"Then you add the other staff that we have with Jacque and Ime on the front of the bench. That’s a heck of a group right there.
"Again, it goes back to Steve knowing, ‘Hey, look here, I’ve got some holes.’ I obviously can cover up a lot of it with just what Steve brings to the table. But again, he can also say, ‘Look, I know I’m going to need some help here.’ By bringing that group in that have been head coaches at a variety of different levels or have lived through some really important programs, it has been great."
Although training camp opens Tuesday, the Nets won’t hold their first practice until Sunday. It’s expected that Nash will install a high-tempo offense based on the one he played under D’Antoni with the Suns and the one D’Antoni used with the Rockets and James Harden.
Although Nash said defense will be the No. 1 priority, the excitement factor surrounds how well Durant and Irving will mesh and with a supporting cast that currently includes guards Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie, perimeter shooters in Joe Harris and Landry Shamet and a center tandem of DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen.
There were reports in mid-November that Harden hopes to force a trade to the Nets so he can rejoin Durant, a former teammate with the Thunder, but those rumors are on the back burner as training camp begins.
"We’re obviously excited to get the team that we have out on the floor," Marks recently told YES Network. "Not only Kevin and Ky and Caris and Jarrett Allen, you know, you work your way through the roster.
"Hopefully now, maybe we can take another step forward . . . There’s going to be a level of sacrifice, and there’s a level of excitement. I think it’s important that we own what the goals are at the end of this, and that’s what we all signed up for."