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An Exhaustive Look at the Steve Nash Nets

Steve Nash was relieved of his duties as the Head Coach of the Brooklyn Nets earlier this week and I can’t not take this opportunity to discuss his tenure in Brooklyn.

Known for a stellar playing career with the Mavericks and Suns, Nash was hired to be the Nets Head Coach in September of 2020. It was assumed Nash would bring a fast-paced offensive game-style to a team loaded with talent, including Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and take the franchise to new heights. However, just over two years later, Nash finds himself removed from the equation as the team seek greener pastures.

Personally, I find this decision astonishing.

Now, I’m not going to wax lyrical about Nash’s credentials as a Coach or how great I think he is – I actually believe he is probably no better than simply a good NBA Head Coach. Not elite, not great, but just good. Throughout his tenure, I doubt anybody would argue he is a great X’s and O’s guy, that he can motivate players to play hard on defence or even that he is a player’s Coach and fosters extraordinary relationships. Nash, however, has been dealt one of the harshest hands the League has seen in a long time in my opinion.

Eight games into the new season, the Nets and Nash parted ways, but people forget how things started so well for the partnership way back in the 2020-2021 season, despite Nash facing tasks a rookie Head Coach could reasonably be expected to struggle with.

Eight games into the 2022-2023 season, the Brooklyn Nets relieves Steve Nash of his Head Coaching duties. Credit: The Spun

A mere 13 games into his first stint in charge, the Nets gutted their entire roster (and future) to acquire James Harden from the Houston Rockets. The deal sent away Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince and put even more pressure on Nash to deliver in the immediate future. Not only did Nash accept this challenge, re-tooling on the fly to cover the losses of his role-players and work a third ball-heavy superstar into the team, but he excelled in the process.

The Nets forged on to have the NBA’s best offensive rating of 118.3 points per-100 possessions come the end of the season, and finished second in the Eastern Conference. This is an astonishing achievement given a reduced training camp schedule due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the fact Nash had to adjust to a new roster dynamic on the fly.

Come the Playoffs, the Nets were able to breeze past the Boston Celtics 4-1 in the first round. They did it by holding the Celtics to 112.2ppg while scoring 123.4ppg themselves. During the regular season, the Nets held a +4.5 net rating, but in the first round against Boston, this exploded to in excess of + 11 – highlighting that Nash could motivate his squad to bring a higher level of attention and execution to the game when it mattered most.

In the second round, they faced the Milwaukee. In their first two games, the Nets were flawless, easily accounting for the Bucks and showing their ruthlessness in a 125-86 demolition in Game 2. The series went back and forth with Game 7 on Brooklyn’s floor to be the deciding match-up.

Without Kyrie Irving and James Harden through injury concerns, the Nets were able to execute well enough to give Kevin Durant a chance to win the game with 6 seconds left. History will show us that his toe was on the three point line, meaning his field goal was judged to be worth two points instead of three, and that remains a sliding doors moment in the history of this team.

The Bucks went on to win the Championship that season, so it’s not unreasonable to think Nash, as a rookie Head Coach with a healthy squad, could’ve achieved the same fate if only Durant wore a smaller shoe. Nonetheless, against all odds, with minimal continuity with the roster and two of his three best players missing, Nash had the team within inches (literally) of potentially going on to win the NBA Championship.

During Nash's first season in charge of the Nets, despite injuries to Irving and Harden in the second round of the Playoffs, it was ultimately Kevin Durant's toe that stood between them and, potentially, a title run. Credit: For The Win - USA Today.

Fast forward through the summer and to the start of the 2021/2022 season, and the Nets were viewed as favourites to take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy with Irving and Harden reportedly healthy. Enter Kyrie Irving’s decision to rebel against New York State’s vaccine mandates, putting him at odds with the team and the League at large. The decision meant that months after he took them potentially within inches of a Championship, Nash was forced to adjust on the fly through no fault of his own. Irving would eventually return, but only recorded 29 games for the team for the entire season.

Fast forward to February, 2022, and rumours James Harden was un-settled in Brooklyn began to circulate. Just 13 months after changing the entire roster to bring him in, Harden wanted a trade. On February 11th, Harden was traded to Philadelphia for Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond as the team hoped they could still push towards a title with Irving coming back as vaccine mandates were removed from New York State. Instead, Simmons, the prize return piece, didn’t suit up at all that season, with Curry and Drummond having minimal impact as the Nets crashed and burned in the Playoffs at the hands of Boston – the team they had cruised passed a season earlier.

Nash was left with a giant offensive hole to fill with Harden gone and his predicted replacement in Simmons unavailable. It meant no matter what he did as a Coach, there wasn’t enough fire power to compensate for the team’s defensive deficiencies, which had been apparent since Jarrett Allen was traded away by the front office obtain Harden in the first place. Nash had been left with little options after a calamity of events had dramatically changed his roster mid-season in consecutive seasons.

Again, the off-season came and Irving tried to leave the team, but there were no suitors for him given the hefty price tag he was chasing. After trying and failing to find greener pastures, Irving opted into his player option to come back to the team. Immediately after Irving made that decision, Kevin Durant announced he wanted a trade from the team. Weeks later, Durant would renege on this request, but not before news went public that he asked for both GM Sean Marks and Steve Nash to be fired.

In the midst of all of this, Nash remained professional and didn’t add fuel to the fire. He was the consummate team player, only making comments in an official capacity, keeping what comments he did make brief and doing his best to play down any tension. Despite this, the franchise opted to move forward with him as Head Coach, but ultimately fired him less than two weeks into the season after the team faltered to a 2-5 record.

In this time, it’s worth noting that Kyrie Irving had again drawn the ire of the League and fans after refusing to back down from anti-semitic comments and social media posts. He was given a minimum five-game suspension and the situation remains ongoing at the time of writing.

Kyrie Irving (left) has been a constant source of issues that Steve Nash (right) has had to deal with during his time in Brooklyn. Credit: Basketball News.

I document all of the happenings around the team to highlight that, particularly in the past 12 months, there appears to be a major culture problem. A player of Harden’s talent doesn’t ask to leave two Championship calibre players in their primes unless things are drastically wrong behind the scenes. Follow this up with a distinct lack of interest and investment in a playoff-run that fell apart before it began, as well as a host of players wanting out of the team this off-season, and it’s clear things are bleak in Brooklyn, culturally speaking. Which brings me to Sean Marks’ comments last week.

Marks went on record saying that Nash’s leadership, patience and humility were all appreciated during his tenure, which is an interesting choice of words. Leadership, as a Head Coach, you’d expect. Patience, however, isn’t. It indicates to me that there has been more turmoil behind the scenes than perhaps even the media world has seen and suspects.

“Since becoming head coach, Steve was faced with a number of unprecedented challenges, and we are sincerely grateful for his leadership, patience and humility throughout his tenure”.

- Nets GM Sean Marks following the decision to end Nash’s Head Coaching journey with Brooklyn.

Given there is an apparent culture issue in Brooklyn, the choice to move on from Nash isn’t exactly surprising. It’s one of the few moves an NBA team has at their disposal to make both short and long term change in a short space of time. It also temporarily relieves pressure on the front office to make other changes internally or dramatic changes to the roster. Reports Brooklyn were ready mere hours later to bring in suspended former Celtics Head Coach Ime Udoka to replace Nash however, suggest to me that culture is not top of their priorities.

Why look to sign a man who is currently suspended from coaching a team he took to the Finals last season due to moral and cultural issues, if your team’s biggest problem appears to be cultural? Udoka is arguably the best coach available right now (honourable mention to Quinn Snyder) and based on available evidence, he can certainly galvanise a playing group and get them to play hard on both ends of the floor – something few Nets players seem interested in doing. But to look towards Udoka to help fix culture within the team seems, in my opinion, foolish at best.

We await the final decision Brooklyn makes for their next Head Coach, but regardless of their direction, I will maintain that Nash was dealt one of the cruellest hands the league has seen in the past few decades.

The NBA, as with any professional sport, is a harsh industry. Coaches who enter the caper at the highest level know the only guarantee they truly have is that they will, at some point, be fired from the position they hold. Despite the most unprecedented of circumstances during Nash’s relatively short tenure, he was no exception to this tradition.

I’ll be shocked if a change on the bench is what the Nets need to truly excel again though, and the franchise might have to learn this the hard way.

So what do you think? Did I get it right? Did I mess it up?

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