Nets owner Joe Tsai, Nets general manager Sean Marks and then-Nets coach Kenny Atkinson knew it.
They realized the Nets need a special coach to handle the ego and dynamic of two mercurial players in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving when both signed with the Nets on July 4 last season. Atkinson was never going to be that guy to lead those two. He understood he was biding his time as head coach until Durant came back.
The Nets finally took Atkinson out of misery by firing him on March 7, and if Durant did not tear an Achilles’ tendon in the NBA Finals on his way to signing with the Nets, he likely would have not been a head coach from the start last season.
All signs pointed to Tom Thibodeau to coach the Nets, but he decided he wanted to oversee a rebuilding project in the New York Knicks. This loved the idea of bringing the Knicks back to relevance than coaching Durant and Irving. Remember he was Jeff Van Gundy’s assistant coach with the Knicks when the Knicks continued their heyday after Pat Riley left to operate the Miami Heat as coach and president of basketball operations. He understood what the Knicks meant to the city, and he realized he could be a conquering hero if he brings them back on track.
So it was on to another plan.
Marks thought about Steve Nash. Those two were teammates during the Suns’ glory years two decades ago. He understood Nash’s ability to lead and make others better. He appreciated Nash’s approach and preparation for the game. He felt this could work.
The Nets general manager certainly had Durant’s blessing since Nash served as a developmental coach at Golden State during the Nets star’s time there.
Durant trusts Nash from working together, and that explains why the Nets hired him to be the coach. They felt Nash can get Irving and Durant to work together.
This hire made sense because Nash brings credibility by knowing how to get his message across with players. He relates well with people, and he is still one of the players despite retiring a long time ago. Remember Durant and Irving played when Nash still was playing.
Yes, Nash comes off as an inexperienced head coach who has so much to learn. No matter. In the NBA, it’s not about the Xs and O’s. It’s about the Jimmys and Joes. In other words, it’s on Nash to keep Durant and Irving focus on the prize and making sure both have the same agenda of winning. He needs to control their egos and have them in the right place, especially when things start getting awry.
Durant approaches his vocation as a self-starter. He does not need to be coached. He knows what to do, but Nash needs to make sure he is engaged and that frustration does not get the best of him. Durant can be hard to work with since he tends to be surly. This is where Nash’s relationship with the Nets star matters, and why he got the head coaching job. Nash knows what makes him tick.
If there is a coach who can keep Irving engaged, it is Nash. The Nets head coach and the Nets point guard played the position, so both can relate. Irving can be such a sensitive, troubled soul, and he needs someone who can work with him and be a friend to him. This is where Nash plays a role.
On Tuesday night, Nash made his NBA coaching debut Tuesday night, and Durant made his Nets debut. It provided the first test right out the gate for the novice head coach.
Everything worked well. The Nets played with a purpose with strong ball movement and not letting up at any point of the game. Irving and Durant clicked so well to the tune of them combining to score 27 out of Nets’ 40 points in the first quarter. Caris LeVert came off the bench to score 20 points and dish out five assists. Overall, the Nets dished out 24 assists. All of this resulted in a 125-99 blowout victory over the Golden State Warriors at Barclays Center.
Nash’s coaching impact showed in this game with the way the Nets operated their offense and imposed their will. He had the Nets so prepared from the start.
The Nets bank on Nash to make the same impact throughout the season. Of course, the Nets will go through their downs like any other NBA team, but that’s where Nash’s value comes to play when it comes to bringing perspective in handling the rough times.
If there is a right coach to handle Irving and Durant, it’s Nash.
It takes a special person to do that, and Nash showed he can do from what we saw in the preseason.
Opening night told the story of Nash’s impact.