When the Zoom conference call clicked on Steve Nash and Sean Marks were seated, safely distanced from each other in an empty gym, a far cry from the Nets news conference to announce a Hall of Fame-bound point guard as their coach seven years earlier.
Back then the Nets filled Barclays Center with posters and flashed a welcome home message on the scoreboard to Jason Kidd. The setting and the overflowing crowd of media and staff that filled the floor of the arena in 2013 was far different, but a lot was the same, too.
Kidd and Nash were each basketball savants as players, their intelligence on the court outweighing their considerable talents. Point guards in the truest sense of the term, they led their teams, uniting the cast of characters in almost every stop and serving as a conduit from the coach to the team on the floor. And it seemed natural for each to make the move one day to the sidelines to continue to lead.
But if there ever was a cautionary tale for the Nets they need only look at their own history to see how hard that path can be.
One month after his introduction the Nets engineered a massive trade, one that was made to provide instant credibility for the rookie coach who had just put away his sneakers and ended his playing career weeks before being named. It stocked the team with stars and in the end, sunk the franchise for years to follow, never able to get a sniff at the title hopes that they harbored in those optimistic gatherings.
“When you look at Jason though you’re talking about one of the great basketball minds that this game has probably ever seen,” Paul Pierce said in his introductory news conference as he, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry arrived in Brooklyn a month after Kidd. “You saw it on the court. You saw it with his leadership. there’s some guys in this league that you can say during their playing days, that you can point out and say he’s going to be an NBA head coach. Jason was one of those guys.”
Now fast forward to Nash’s subdued introduction Wednesday morning and the pieces are already in place, the arrival of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving last summer putting the Nets' championship aspirations on the clock. Like Kidd, without a day as an assistant coach, Nash is hoping - and with good reason - that his leadership skills and connections to the Nets’ stars will enable him to succeed now.
And like Kidd, who placed much of his trust in Deron Williams, Nash must find a way to forge a bond with Irving, his own enigmatic point guard. Nash brings a long relationship with general manager Marks. Nash already has a long friendship with Durant. It is Irving who he must embrace. A generational talent, Irving has also confounded coaches and in his short-lived tenure in Boston he left behind grumbling from the locker room that he was a divisive force.
Nash took the first step Wednesday.
"First of all, Kyrie’s one of my favorite players of all time,” Nash said. “He’s brilliant; skill level historically off the charts. Creative. Guts. Competitiveness. For me to get to coach him is really a pleasure. We have a relationship going back to when he was a rookie, playing against him. Got a chance to train with him for a couple days in New York City after I retired. Must have been five, six years ago. And I got a chance to speak to him since taking the job.
“I’m excited to develop that relationship, watching him continue to show greatness on the floor and to continue to get to know him in a really meaningful way because he’s an incredible person.”
From his seat in the empty gym Wednesday it was easy to imagine all will be smooth. Nash is not Kidd, despite their similarities as generational talents at the same position and neophytes in a suit on the bench guiding their teams. Kidd jumped ship when the franchise was headed down as the trade that brought the stars aboard went sour and started Giannis Antetokounmpo on his path forward during his time in Milwaukee, now serving as an assistant coach for the Lakers waiting for another chance as a head coach.
Nash is just starting, the optimism still in place even if it was without the fanfare of seven years ago.
“I don’t see myself as a yeller and screamer, but I haven’t actually been over there yet, so we’ll see what transpires,” Nash said. “But I think the reality is, I’m going to be myself, and if I’m anything other than myself, it’s not going to work. I can’t come in trying to conform to what I think a coach is supposed to be. I just have to be myself and build and support my team, put us in a position to have a lot of joy every day when we come into work, come together and build chemistry and belief and bond and a family.”