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Steve Nash embraces ‘collaborative coaching’ for 2020-21 season

D'Antoni to run offense and Vaughn will guide defense

December 2, 2020 John Torenli
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Steve Nash won’t shy away from the “collaborative coaching” effort that Nets superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving referenced back in October.

Instead, Brooklyn’s neophyte head coach is embracing it.

Nash revealed Tuesday during the team’s initial individual workout sessions at the HSS Training Center in Sunset Park that he would split offensive and defensive duties between his top two assistants, Mike D’Antoni and former Brooklyn interim head coach Jacque Vaughn.

“Jacque Vaughn will lead the defense and Mike D’Antoni will lead the offense, but you know we really want it to be very collaborative,” said Nash, who is entering his first season as an NBA coach in any capacity.

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It certainly appears as if everyone on the bench will have a voice come Dec. 22, when the 2020-21 season tips off.

“You know, fortunately for me I’m confident I have an incredible staff. They’re making me confident and comfortable we’re building something together, it’s very collaborative,” Nash admitted.

“I’ve been able to lean on not only my experience but also their practical experience as head coaches or assistant coaches. So, we have almost always a consensus, we listen to everybody’s opinions and try to build that consensus in a strategic way.”

Durant and Irving made a few headlines in October when they mentioned the collaborative approach on Durant’s podcast.

“I don’t really see us having a head coach,” Irving said. “KD could be a head coach, I could be a head coach [some days].”

But Nash, who was hired by general manager Sean Marks back in September after a five-year stint as a consultant for the Golden State Warriors, will have the final say on most coaching decisions, albeit with plenty of advice from his assistants and players.

D’Antoni coached Nash in Phoenix during the Hall of Fame point guard’s halcyon days, guiding the eight-time All-Star to back-to-back NBA Most Valuable Player awards and Western Conference finals appearances in 2005 and 2006.

The 69-year-old basketball sage also has more than two decades of head coaching experience in the league to share with Nash on the bench once Brooklyn begins the most anticipated season in franchise history.

Vaughn led Brooklyn to the playoffs last season at the league’s bubble site in Orlando, Florida after replacing former head coach Kenny Atkinson in March, just a few days ahead of the global shutdown for the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

More importantly, he helped the Nets finish 10th overall in defensive rating, something that caught Nash’s eye when he decided to split up duties between his assistants in the same fashion that most NFL head coaches dole out responsibilities.

“The defense last year changed in the bubble. Jacque started to put his imprints and adjustments into the defense and the performances in the bubble,” Nash noted.

“I think that many of them were similarly aligned with the way I see things. So, we’ve had a really enjoyable process of going through the film and looking around the league and figuring out what we think suits our team and the game the way it’s played nowadays.”

Though Nash will be responsible, and ultimately take the heat, for any decisions that are made on the hardwood, he has his ears wide open as he embarks on a campaign of great expectations for both him and the Nets.

“We want everyone to have input on both sides of the ball,” he ceded. “I think in some respects I’ve gone this direction more so because I’m a rookie coach and I want to be able to look to one person to say, ‘What are we doing here, what’s our adjustment, where are we in the context of our schemes.’

“So perhaps if I had been doing this for a bunch of years we may be completely flat and we all are collaborating, but I think we want the spirit of collaboration but [D’Antoni and Vaughn] are going to lead each side of the ball.”

With group workouts scheduled to begin Sunday and the preseason opener less than two weeks away at Downtown’s Barclays Center, Nash doesn’t have much time to adjust to his new role before the season begins.

But fortunately for him, the Nets are stacked and ready to make a run at their first NBA championship behind Durant and Irving, the tandem Marks brought here the summer before last to deliver our borough’s first major pro sports title since 1955.

“You look at Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, they’re not only incredible basketball players with huge skill levels but their IQ and acumen is incredible. They’re instinctively very intelligent on the court,” Nash gushed.

“They take the lead there.”

With Durant and Irving leading on the court and D’Antoni and Vaughn working both sides of the ball on the bench, Nash has clearly embraced the Nets’ collaborative coaching effort.

He simply has to orchestrate it all, which won’t be easy if this team struggles early or fails to live up to its grandiose expectations in 2021.

“I feel really fortunate we have an unselfish group,” Nash said. “I think we have guys that enjoy playing the right way. … We realize that we’re trying to compete for a championship.”

Jacque Vaughn’s brief stint as Nets interim head coach in Orlando last season earned him a spot as new head coach Steve Nash’s top defensive assistant this year. Photo: Kim Klement/AP

Nothing But Net: Durant, who missed all of last season with a gruesome Achilles injury, participated in his first individual training session Tuesday and spoke about his much-anticipated debut campaign in Brooklyn. “I always appreciate the game,” said Durant. “I always was grateful to play this game every single day, and I’m just looking forward to having some new energy, some fresh energy to play with on this team, especially the younger guys on this team. I’m looking forward to helping them any way that I can and telling them about the experiences that I went through in this league and hopefully it shapes and helps them go throughout this league, so I just look forward to stepping into this position and this role and I’m excited about taking it on.” The Nets completed their 20-man training camp roster on Tuesday, re-signing guard Chris Chiozza as well as adding guard Jordan Bowden and forward Nate Sestina.

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