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Mike D’Antoni to assist Nash with bench duties

Hall of Fame point guard's former coach joins Nets' staff

November 4, 2020 John Torenli
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Steve Nash never quite made it to the NBA Finals as a player.

But he’s enlisting the services of Mike D’Antoni, the man who nearly got him there during his Hall of Fame NBA career, to help the Brooklyn Nets capture their first-ever title.

Brooklyn’s neophyte head coach officially announced his staff for the Nets’ much-anticipated 2021 season on Friday, tabbing one of his former mentors as an assistant.

Joining D’Antoni on Nash’s first staff will be fellow assistant Jacque Vaughn, Nash’s former Suns teammate Amar’e Stoudemire, Ime Udoka, Adam Harrington, Jordan Ott, Tiago Splitter and Ryan Forehan-Kelly.

D’Antoni coached Nash during his halcyon years in Phoenix, where he spearheaded the Suns to back-to-back Western Conference finals appearances in 2005 and 2006 while capturing NBA Most Valuable Player honors in both of those campaigns.

The 69-year-old D’Antoni, best known for his “Seven Seconds or Less” offense, which Nash orchestrated to near perfection in Phoenix, is fresh off a four-year stint with the Houston Rockets, who he led to three straight Southwest Division titles and four consecutive postseason berths.

Nash mentioned during last week’s virtual Town Hall that he wanted to employ something similar, if not identical, to D’Antoni’s fast-paced, up-tempo style here in Brooklyn.

“I want us to play fast, I want us to space the floor,” he said.

“I want us to create opportunities to get downhill with our ballhandlers and make plays for one another. Attack closeouts. A lot of high-level philosophical thoughts, and of course we’ll design and have offensive sets and things that we think fit our group, but we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves with the offense. We want it to stay pretty high-level right now.”

Having a coach he flourished under as a player and one that has been working the sidelines in this league since 1999 should benefit Nash, who had never been a part of an NBA coaching staff before being named the 23rd head coach in Nets history on Sept. 3.

“We’ve assembled an experienced staff of high-character individuals with varied backgrounds, both on and off the court, that will help create a solid foundation for me and our players,” Nash said Friday.

Nash will need plenty of help if he is to live up to the expectations of Brooklyn basketball fanatics, who are looking forward to seeing superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the Barclays Center floor together for the first time next year.

Having a sage coaching veteran like D’Antoni by his side should make the adjustment from retired player to head coach in a pressure-cooker environment much easier for Nash, who admittedly “skipped the line” in obtaining the coveted position.

In 16 seasons as an NBA head coach with Denver, Phoenix, the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Houston, D’Antoni has amassed a sparkling .600 winning percentage (672-527) and was named NBA Coach of the Year twice, including in 2005 with Nash and the Suns.

After four years of coaching James Harden in Houston, Mike D’Antoni will try to help Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Nets win their first NBA title in 2021. Photo: Mark J. Terrill/AP

Vaughn, who has a familiarity with the roster after coaching the Nets to last year’s playoffs at the NBA’s bubble site in Orlando, Florida, as an interim, will also be a key figure on the bench beside Nash.

Stoudemire, who also enjoyed his best years as a player beside Nash and under D’Antoni, is coming to Brooklyn as a first-time NBA coaching staff member as well.

Udoka was in Philadelphia as an assistant last year and Harrington, Splitter and Forehan-Kelly are all returning members of a staff that is expected to guide this franchise toward our borough’s first major pro sports championship since 1955.

“When I set out to build this staff, I wanted to put together a committed group that would connect with our players and help put them in the best position to succeed as a team,” Nash explained.

“With coaching and playing experience at the highest level and a deep background in player development, I’m confident that we’ve put the right people in place to lead us forward.”

Ultimately, the Nets’ 2021 fate will be dictated by Durant, Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan and perhaps even Joe Harris, if the Nets manage to retain him via free agency.

Nash and his staff will be held accountable or receive credit based on the nightly results for a team that is already being hailed as a legitimate Eastern Conference contender.

D’Antoni isn’t on this staff to simply hold Nash’s hand next season.

But he can provide a helping hand when or if things begin to pile up on Nash, who might have more to prove this season than anyone else in the Brooklyn organization.

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