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Rookie Nash eager to learn on the job

Nets' first-year head coach will welcome support in 2021

October 1, 2020 John Torenli
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Steve Nash can’t be accused of feeding the media the usual coach-speak.

If he even knows what that is yet.

Since officially accepting the post as the 23rd head coach in the history of the Brooklyn Nets last month, Nash admitted to “skipping the line” and benefiting from “white privilege.”

Now, the NBA Hall of Fame point guard and two-time league Most Valuable Player readily admits that he has a lot of “improving and growing and learning to do” in his first year on the bench in an official capacity.

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“I’m not in a position — nor do I want to be in a position — where I come in and say this is how we’re doing everything. I come in hat in hand in many respects,” Nash said this week on Adrian Wojnarowski’s ESPN podcast.

“How have you done it in the past? What do you think works? I think having a collaborative, confident, talented [group] and hopefully we round out the staff with a ton of experience.”

Experience is something Nash is admittedly short on. At least in this role.

The 18-year NBA veteran and eight-time All-Star was a stunning pick as the leader of a franchise entering its most important campaign since the New Jersey-based Nets went to back-to-back Finals in 2002 and 2003.

General Manager Sean Marks, who has maintained a close relationship with Nash over the years, bypassed the possibility of luring Spurs head coach and former mentor Gregg Popovich here.

He also chose Nash, who has never coached a single NBA game as either a head coach or assistant, over the likes of rumored candidates like NBA championship winning head coach Tyronn Lue and former Nets icon Jason Kidd.

“We were looking not only for a connector, but for a conductor,” Marks said of his decision.

“[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.”

Now, the rest of the Nets will have to get on board.

After playing surprisingly well at the NBA’s bubble site in Orlando, Florida, despite a makeshift roster due to injuries and positive tests for COVID-19, the Nets were swept out of the playoffs in the opening round by defending NBA champion Toronto.

But that was without superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, both of whom sat out the league’s restart while recovering from injuries.

The tandem will be on the floor together as Nets for the first time once the 2021 season begins, presumably by January, giving Nash arguably the best one-two punch in the sport outside of LeBron James and Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers.

But can Nash, who spent five years as a player-development consultant with the Golden State Warriors, find a way to get the most out of Durant and Irving while driving the Nets toward their first-ever NBA title?

He answered that question by simply stating that he won’t be the only one responsible for the team’s continued development after Brooklyn’s second straight postseason appearance.

“I’m excited to have people that want to build a team together,” said Nash, who will have former interim head coach Jacque Vaughn at his disposal as the team’s new top assistant.

“[I] want to have big voices no matter your level and help myself be surrounded by people who are really capable of adding and building this thing, and support me as they get up to their speed and get caught up in what it takes to be a coach,” he added.

What it will take for Nash to coach two of the game’s biggest stars and a team expected to challenge for the Eastern Conference title in his rookie year on the bench is anyone’s guess at this point.

Just don’t expect the 46-year-old native of South Africa and Canadian citizen to take a stab at it without proper counsel.

Nash, who will now have to deal with one of the largest media forces in the world on a daily basis, is willing to listen to anyone with an opinion and accept guidance from those who have coached for much longer.

“I’m wide open to the reality that I don’t have any head coaching experience. I do have lots of experience, but not in that seat,” he ceded.

“I think I have a high basketball acumen, but there’s no question that I’m in this position as much for the experiences I’ve had, the teams I’ve been on, being able to relate to players: Those are really my strong suits.”

Candor and humility can also be listed as positive traits Nash has displayed since getting the coveted job.

The Santa Clara University alum has been up front from the start about his neophyte status as a head coach.

But Nash is also not shy about revealing what he does have to offer these Nets, who hope to upgrade their status from playoff participants to title contenders during his first year at the helm.

“What I can do is offer the strengths and qualities I built my career on,” he said. “Part of that is being able to relate to players of all different levels. I started out as a first-round pick, had some really bad struggles at times and ended up near the top of the game.

“I offer a relatability to players all over the world. That helps my ability to connect and lead. I think frankly that’s a big reason I was afforded this position.”

As the eighth head coach of the franchise’s Brooklyn era, which began in 2012, Nash also has to know that his time on the bench will be short if Durant, Irving and the rest of the Nets don’t hit the ground running in 2021.

Nets, Liberty and Barclays Center owner Joe Tsai knows that getting fans back to Brooklyn games will be a slow process. Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP

Nothing But Net: Tsai, speaking on the Delivering Alpha conference presented by CNBC and Institutional Investor, revealed that Brooklyn fans might not be filling Barclays Center to its rafters in 2021. “The next season is going to be a little tricky because we don’t anticipate having a lot of fans or having a full … arena anytime soon,” Tsai said Wednesday. “But guess what? The following season, 2022, 2023, we look for a very nice rebound. Live sports is a rare commodity. You could tell just during the COVID period when there was no sports on TV, people were just craving for it. Once you put games back on, people have come back to watch sports enthusiastically.” The Nets haven’t played at Barclays since beating Chicago, 110-107, in their first game following the dismissal of former head coach Kenny Atkinson. The NBA shut down operations three days later and Brooklyn didn’t return to action until July 31 in Orlando.

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