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Kevin Durant weighs in on Nets’ hiring of Steve Nash

"Every time in the gym with him, I was like a sponge."

September 16, 2020 John Torenli
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Kevin Durant didn’t hand-pick Steve Nash as the Nets’ new head coach.

But Brooklyn’s superstar forward doubtlessly gave the nod to general manager Sean Marks and team owner Joe Tsai ahead of the former two-time NBA Most Valuable Player’s surprise hiring two weeks ago.

“I’m excited,” Durant said on J.J. Redick’s “The Old Man and the Three” podcast last week following Nash’s introductory press conference in Sunset Park.

“Any time a former player gets a job as a coach in this league, I’m excited,” Durant added. “Their level of knowledge for the game runs deep, especially experiencing it on the floor. [Nash’s] insight for the game, his communication, how he communicates the game of basketball, is definitely going to help me as a player develop and help the rest of our team.”

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Though Durant has yet to play a single game here in Brooklyn, there is no doubting the former league and two-time Finals MVP’s influence within the organization.

Inked to a four-year deal on July 6, 2019, Durant was brought here to help the Nets seriously compete for their first-ever NBA title after leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Finals in 2012 and winning back-to-back championships with Golden State in 2017 and 2018.

Arguably the best player in the world before suffering a gruesome Achilles tear during the 2019 Finals with the Warriors, Durant skipped all of his first full season in Brooklyn while recovering from the injury.

But come opening night of the 2020-21 campaign, be it here at Downtown’s Barclays Center or back in an NBA bubble site, Durant will be eager to re-establish himself as one of the league’s biggest difference-makers alongside fellow superstar Kyrie Irving and the rest of the Nets’ formidable roster.

And Nash, who has never even served as an assistant on an NBA coaching staff before being hired as the 23rd head coach in Nets’ history two weeks ago, will be charged with helping that process along.

“It’s a privilege to work with one of the greatest players to ever play the game,” said Nash of Durant, whom he worked closely with as a player-development consultant during his five years in the Warriors’ organization.

“[He’s] someone who is incredibly coachable, inquisitive, and that lends itself to the question of searching. I think what I meant was that Kevin’s always searching, he’s always curious, inquisitive, developing as a human being. So he’s a deep person who has a lot of goals.”

Those goals will include lifting a championship banner to the rafters of Downtown’s Barclays Center before his tenure in Brooklyn is done.

After rumors abounded regarding the potential hiring of Gregg Popovich, Tyronn Lue and Jason Kidd, Nash’s hiring took everyone by surprise.

But the 31-year-old Durant, who began watching the 46-year-old point guard on TV during his Hall of Fame career, had no gripes with the Nets’ brash and previously unforeseen move.

“Our relationship started from him playing and me admiring him as a player and playing against him and competing against him and finally getting a chance to work out with Steve,” Durant said of his relationship with Nash.

“I understood how his mind works for the game. Every time in the gym with him, I was like a sponge. I’m looking forward to this, man. I always feel like I’m a student of the game. Somebody who’s experienced so much and played in different eras, I’m looking forward to him teaching me some more things.”

And the feeling is mutual, according to Nash, who will face palpable pressure in trying to lead this franchise back to championship relevance for the first time since the Kidd-led teams went to back-to-back Finals in 2002 and 2003.

“A big part of [our relationship] is that Kevin is somebody that is never afraid to say, ‘help me with this’ ‘what do you think about that,’” Nash noted.

“So that’s the type of confidence and security it takes to be able to ask for help or know what they don’t know. And he has that along with an incredible drive, work ethic, toughness and historic talent.”

New Nets head coach Steve Nash has already worked closely with Kevin Durant as a player-development consultant with the Golden State Warriors. Photo: Jeff Chiu/AP

While the love fest between Durant and Nash has already begun, the team’s new leader will also have to forge a bond with Irving, who played in only 20 games for Brooklyn this past season before being shelved with a shoulder injury.

The mercurial point guard, who helped Cleveland win its only NBA title back in 2016, is joined at the hip with Durant after the dynamic duo decided to sign here the summer before last.

So getting the most out of Irving will ultimately be just as important as helping Durant return to form during Nash’s first season at the helm.

“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.”

Though Irving hasn’t spoken publicly about the hiring, Nash intimated that he had touched base with his new floor leader since assuming the post.

“I got a chance to speak to him since taking the job,” Nash revealed. “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.”

And Nash has been tasked with an incredible responsibility: getting the best out of two of the game’s top players while challenging for a championship during his first season as an NBA coach.

“I definitely realize that I’m going to need support from a collaborative staff that has a lot of experience,” admitted Nash.

“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.”

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