Nets’ head coach pick Steve Nash admits he ‘skipped the line’
Nash 'coming in humbly' after surprise hiring
Those brutally honest admissions aside, however, the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player and Hall of Fame point guard also believes he has what it takes to lead the Nets into the most important season in franchise history.
“Well, I did skip the line, frankly,” Nash confessed during his introductory press conference at the team’s HSS Training Center in Sunset Park Wednesday afternoon.
“At the same time, I think leading an NBA team for two decades is pretty unique. I was never far from it,” he added. “To lead a team is such a unique position, to bring people together, to collaborate with a coach and a coaching staff. It’s not like I was in a vacuum.”
He certainly wasn’t.
The 46-year-old native of South Africa, who grew up in Canada, spent 18 seasons with the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers, establishing himself as one of the most innovative and exciting floor leaders the game has ever seen.
An eight-time NBA All-Star, back-to-back MVP in 2005 and 2006 and Naismith Hall of Fame inductee in 2017, Nash spent the past five seasons as a player-development consultant for the Golden State Warriors, where he developed a relationship with Nets superstar Kevin Durant.
But after long-established and championship-winning head coaches like Gregg Popovich and Tyronn Lue were reportedly candidates for the coveted opening, Nets general manager Sean Marks pulled a stunning move by hiring Nash, who has never served on any NBA coaching staff in any capacity.
“I haven’t grinded it out like an assistant coach,” Nash noted.
“I definitely realize that I’m going to need support from a collaborative staff that has a lot of experience. This doesn’t begin and end with me. I’m coming humbly into this position and I want to grow as a person … and build a basketball team to contend.”
That’s something Nash will have to do right away.
The Nets, who were bounced from the league’s bubble site in Orlando, Florida last month via a four-game sweep at the hands of the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors, will enter the 2020-21 campaign with the highest of expectations.
After taking a makeshift roster, decimated by injuries and positive tests for COVID-19, to Orlando, the Nets should have one of the league’s most formidable corps of players for Nash to work with next season.
Durant will be back at full strength after sitting out all of last year due to an Achilles injury and fellow All-Star Kyrie Irving should also be raring and ready to go after playing in only 20 games in 2019-20 due to a shoulder impingement which required season-ending surgery.
Spencer Dinwiddie, the team’s leader in scoring and assists last year, Caris LeVert, Brooklyn’s top player in the bubble, and veteran center DeAndre Jordan will also be back in the fold, as could sharpshooter Joe Harris, if Marks brings him back via free agency.
Blossoming center Jarrett Allen and supporting cast regulars like Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Chris Chiozza and Taurean Prince will only serve to enhance the Nets’ best team on paper since they went to back-to-back NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003.
That’s a lot of talent to hand over to someone who will coach his first-ever NBA game on Opening Night this winter, be it at Downtown’s Barclays Center or back in the bubble.
“It’s a unique opportunity and an incredible roster,” Nash said. “There is a family feel and fabric that makes it very exciting to walk into [this situation].
“I love to compete, I love to lead and be a part of a team,” he added. “It’s a perfect fit. Though I haven’t stated publicly a desire to coach, privately it’s always been in me.”
And no one would know that better than Marks, who has talked basketball with Nash for the past two decades in anticipation of this moment.
“We were looking not only for a connector, but for a conductor,” Marks said of hiring Nash. “[Steve is a] cultural driver. His Hall of Fame resume, his experience both on and off the court and character are second to none. [Nets owner] Joe [Tsai] and I were in lockstep throughout this process.”
“This has been a 20-year relationship,” Nash added. “I reached out to Sean at some point in the summer and asked if this was the right time for me to throw my hat in the ring for this opportunity. This is a conversation that has been going on for a long, long time.”
And now the conversation will turn to Nash’s ability to fulfill the Nets’ ultimate goal: winning an NBA title for the first time in franchise history and delivering Brooklyn’s first major pro sports championship since the Dodgers won the World Series here in 1955.
While his credentials on the court are undeniable — Nash ranked third all-time with 10,335 career assists, was named to the league’s First Team on three occasions and led the league in helpers five times — Marks’ close friend and confidant still has plenty to prove here in Brooklyn.
Fortunately, he won’t have to do it alone.
Marks made sure to keep former interim head coach Jacque Vaughn, who led the team to a 7-7 mark following Kenny Atkinson’s dismissal in March, alongside Nash to help with the learning curve.
“I’m extremely close to JV,” Marks said of Nash’s top assistant.
“We grew closer and closer during that time [in the bubble] I think it’s a credit to JV as a man that he wanted to stay here. He’s valued by Steve and Steve and JV have had multiple conversations. I’m really looking forward to not only JV and Steve working together, but once the entire staff is in place, a truly collaborative effort.”
Bypassing the likes of Vaughn, Lue and other notable Black nominees for the Nets’ coaching post became a talking point following Marks’ surprise hire of Nash.
And the new head coach didn’t shy away from addressing that topic Wednesday.
“I have benefited from white privilege,” he said. “Our society has a lot of ground to make up. As white people, we have to understand the privilege and the benefit [we receive] based on the color of our skin.
“I’m very sensitive to the cause and the goal, I’m not sure [my hiring] is an example. But we need more diversity and opportunity for African-American coaches throughout the NBA community. I accept it and I want to be a part of the conversation and I want to be a part of change [in that regard].”
Nash spoke both humbly and honestly at his introductory presser.
But now he’ll have to contend with the New York media and a championship-starved fan base on a daily basis as the new leader of the Nets.
That’s something he’s both relishing and looking forward to.
At least for now.
“This is an incredible moment for me and my family,” he said. “We are thrilled to be in Brooklyn.”
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