NEW YORK – Let's start with the obvious: nobody knows whether Steve Nash will be a good head coach.
He was a great player, a cerebral player, but that doesn't always translate to success on the sideline (see Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas). So this is a risk. And the thing about risks is they can go two ways.
Which brings us to the second obvious point: Nash will only be as good as the respect he commands from Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving (and as good as their health).
That was always the case, no matter who the Nets hired before settling on their shocking choice. Kenny Atkinson, who resurrected the franchise from the floor and was in the midst of a second straight season worthy of Coach of the Year consideration, was fired because he couldn't connect with the Nets stars. The reasons for the divide still aren't very clear, and the ordeal underscored how much sway stars can have over their new team even while injured. Atkinson was a holdover from the pre-KD era, whereas Nash was hired Thursday with the backing of Durant and Irving.
It's an important difference.
There were safer choices like Tyronn Lue, who has already demonstrated the ability to coach stars (including Irving), to a title. Nets owner Joe Tsai, according to sources, had designs of prying Gregg Popovich out of San Antonio but obviously couldn't get the legend on board.
So Tsai went with the neophyte and the risk. Nash now has a two-year window to win a championship.
"Coaching is something I knew I wanted to pursue when the time was right, and I am humbled to be able to work with the outstanding group of players and staff we have here in Brooklyn," Nash said in a statement.
It's all reminiscent of a sexy and snazzy Brooklyn move seven years ago, when former owner Mikhail Prokhorov gave Jason Kidd the job of guiding a purported title contender despite zero coaching experience. It brought headlines and attention but ultimately fizzled. The Nets disappointed, and Kidd maneuvered his way out after one season.
The questions we asked about Kidd back then are the same we're asking about Nash today: Why hire a coach who'll need time to grow for a job that affords no time to grow? Will Nash put in the necessary time and work, understanding this is an overtime, round-the-clock job, not just 48 minutes in a suit? How will he handle disappointment and criticism? What about the inevitable losing streaks and confrontations? Can Nash separate himself from the players in a way he's not accustomed to doing?
The Nets will pretend to know all the answers but can't possibly speak definitively about a head coach with no coaching experience. Phil Jackson thought he checked the boxes when he plucked Derek Fisher straight out of retirement. His first instincts were better when he tried to hire Steve Kerr. Again, it's a risk.
We do know that Nash, a Hall of Fame player, has the appropriate even-keeled temperament for the job. He comes across as humble and will be a polished/willing spokesman for the franchise. That last part is key because, to date, Durant and Irving have shown little interest in doing the promotional work and media events for the Nets. That's fine because their sole focus with Brooklyn should be winning a title in the next two years. As great and personable as Atkinson and Jacque Vaughn were in media sessions, the public will care a lot more about what a two-time league MVP has to say.
The coach is the public voice of a franchise.
Nash, unlike Kidd in 2014, has had a few years after retirement to survey the landscape and appreciate the opportunity. He dabbled in TV as a soccer analyst for TNT and Bleacher Report. More importantly, he worked as a development consultant with the Warriors, enhancing his relationship with Durant in the process.
For the purposes of coaching the Nets, it's the most important connection Nash brings to the job. If Durant fully recovers from his Achilles tear and is an MVP candidate who is happy with his coach, Nash's job is a lot easier. The risk of inexperience is mitigated.
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