Post-Nash era begins with a thud for Nets
Brooklyn sags in fourth quarter of home loss to Chicago
The Brooklyn Nets saved their worst for last Tuesday night.
And that was at the end of a day that saw them fire head coach Steve Nash and continue to address controversy surrounding mercurial guard Kyrie Irving.
Zach LaVine scored 20 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter as the Chicago Bulls took advantage of a Brooklyn team in disarray, rallying for a 108-99 victory over the Nets in front of a sellout crowd of 17,732 at Downtown’s Barclays Center.
It was just past noon when the Nets (2-6) announced that they had agreed to “part ways” with Nash, who guided them to the playoffs in each of the previous two seasons but fell well short of the franchise’s championship goals since acquiring Irving and Kevin Durant in the summer of 2019.
Last year, Brooklyn was swept out of the opening round of the postseason by eventual Eastern Conference champion Boston.
Irving wasn’t inked to a long-term deal in the offseason, instead opting in for $36.5 million for this year, despite expressing his desire to stay in Brooklyn.
Durant, perhaps disgruntled by the team’s direction and the lack of organizational communication with Irving, asked that both general manager Sean Marks and Nash be fired before he recommitted to the Nets, who had already signed him to a four-year pact.
Team owner Joe Tsai held firm, insisting that Marks and Nash were safe.
Until high noon on Tuesday, that is.
“We want to thank Steve for everything he brought to our franchise over the past two-plus seasons,” said Marks. “Since becoming head coach, Steve was faced with a number of unprecedented challenges, and we are sincerely grateful for his leadership, patience and humility throughout his tenure.
“Personally, this was an immensely difficult decision; however, after much deliberation and evaluation of how the season has begun, we agreed that a change is necessary at this time,” Marks added. “We wish Steve, Lilla and their family all the best in the future.”
Interim head coach Jacque Vaughn took the helm and watched the Nets take an 80-77 lead into the final 12 minutes as they looked to complete their first back-to-back wins of the campaign.
Instead, LaVine caught fire, helping Chicago (4-4) outscore Brooklyn, 31-19, in the fourth en route to its first win in three contests.
“The message I told the guys after, no excuses,” Vaughn intimated. “Whether it’s back-to-backs, no excuses. Whether the change in scenery today, no excuses. This is what we do for a living. We signed up for it.”
Durant poured in 32 points and Royce O’Neale added 20, but Irving, still fighting off a torrent of criticism following an anti-semitic tweet, finished a dismal 2-of-12 from the floor for four points.
“It was a roller coaster last few years, but the core of the basketball is something we all love to do,” said Durant, who worked closely with Nash, who was a special advisor to the superstar during his three years with Golden State.
“Regardless of who is the coach, regardless the circumstances, you still got to come to work, and I enjoyed coming to work with Steve,” Durant added.
Irving’s tweet over the weekend was a link to a film based on a book that is filled with stereotypes and ill will toward the Jewish community. He was defiant about the instant reaction and took an even more controversial stand to defend the tweet.
“I’m not going to stand down on anything that I believe in,” Irving said.
The NBA Players’ Association responded Tuesday with a statement condemning anti-semitism.
“Anti-Semitism has no place in our society,” the union said. “The NBPA is focused on creating an environment where everyone is accepted.
“We are committed to helping players fully understand that certain words can lead to hateful ideologies being spread. We will continue to work on identifying and combating all hate speech wherever it arises.”
Irving has since deleted the tweet, but the matter remains unresolved as far as whether he will be fined or suspended by the league.
Vaughn, who served as interim head coach during the team’s short stint at the NBA’s bubble site in Florida during the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, will likely be replaced by suspended Boston coach Ime Udoka, who worked here as an assistant under Nash in 2020-21.
Udoka was sidelined by the Celtics after he used crude language toward a female subordinate. He is expected to be signed by the Nets as soon as this week.
Tsai, who stuck by his former head coach this summer, praised Nash in the aftermath of the mutual parting.
“I’ve gotten to know Steve during his time in Brooklyn, and he is not one to shy away from challenges,” Tsai noted. “My admiration and respect for himgrew over time as he brought hard work and positive attitude to our organization every day, even in periods of exceptional storm surrounding the team.”
This is certainly one of those periods for the Nets and the Brooklyn fan base.
NOTHING BUT NET: The Nets will kick off a three-game road trip Friday night in Washington, D.C., vs. the Wizards. … Seth Curry sat out for Brooklyn Tuesday with a sore left ankle that has kept him sidelined for all but one of the Nets’ games thus far.
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