In a surprise move, the Brooklyn Nets have hired Hall of Fame point guard Steve Nash as their head coach, the team announced on Thursday morning. The New York Times’ Marc Stein first reported the news.
Nash signed a four-year deal, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarnowski. He has not been on a bench since retiring as a player in 2014, although he served as a player development consultant with the Golden State Warriors during their dynastic run, including the 2017 and 2018 championships — his first rings in any NBA capacity.
“Coaching is something I knew I wanted to pursue when the time was right, and I am humbled to be able to work with the outstanding group of players and staff we have here in Brooklyn,” Nash said in a prepared statement released on Thursday. “I am as excited about the prospects of the team on the court as I am about moving to Brooklyn with my family and becoming impactful members of this community.”
The Nash news came out of nowhere. Jacque Vaughn was the only other coach to formerly interview for the position, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, who also reported last week that Brooklyn had interest in luring legendary coach Gregg Popovich away from the San Antonio Spurs. ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy and current NBA assistants Ty Lue, Jason Kidd and Ime Udoka were among rumored candidates.
But not Nash, who had previously turned down opportunities to work full-time as a head coach, preferring instead to spend time with his five children, ages ranging from 1 to 15 years old, according to Stein. But the opportunity to coach Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on a potential championship contender was apparently too great. Nash developed a relationship with Durant during their time together in the Warriors organization.
"He’s one of the greatest players I’ve ever seen,” the 46-year-old Nash told ESPN’s Marc J. Spears of Durant, “and to have his confidence is really important. There is a respect and admiration there for me.”
Nash must now foster his relationship with Irving, whose clashes with coaches and front-office personnel in Cleveland, Boston and Brooklyn have been well documented. Nash won back-to-back MVPs as the point guard for a dynamic Phoenix Suns offense in the mid-2000s, reaching three Western Conference finals but falling short of a title as a player. He should command respect, but presumptions are trifles with Irving.
“For me and Ky, our relationship is important,” Nash told Spears of the 28-year-old six-time All-Star and 2016 champion. “He is the point guard, and I’m the coach, and I’m thrilled I get the opportunity to know him better and to understand him, how he plays and what he sees, and be here to help him refine his gifts.”
Vaughn, who led the Nets to a seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs as interim coach, will be Nash’s lead assistant. He is now the NBA’s highest-paid coach in that role, Wojnarowski reported.
“We are thrilled to retain Jacque as a leading member of our coaching staff,” Nets general manager Sean Marks said in Thursday’s press release. “Jacque has been an integral part of our program and a key contributor to the growth and development of our entire organization. His role in developing our players both on and off the court and his influence driving our culture have been invaluable. Our players will benefit from the continuity of Jacque’s presence, and we are extremely fortunate to keep him in our Nets family.”
Vaughn took over as interim coach in March, when the Nets fired Kenny Atkinson shortly before the NBA suspended its season. Vaughn led a Brooklyn team missing Durant, Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, Taurean Prince and Wilson Chandler to a surprising 5-3 record during the seeding schedule in the Orlando bubble. The Nets ultimately succumbed to the Toronto Raptors in a first-round playoff sweep.
Nash’s hiring over Vaughn further brings the NBA’s dwindling number of Black head coaches into the spotlight. In addition to Vaughn, veteran coaches Nate McMillan and Alvin Gentry were also relieved of their head coaching duties at season’s end, leaving just five Black head coaches remaining. The Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, New Orleans Pelicans and Philadelphia 76ers all currently have vacant coaching positions.
“After meeting with a number of highly accomplished coaching candidates from diverse backgrounds, we knew we had a difficult decision to make,” added Marks, who played two seasons alongside Nash on coach Mike D’Antoni’s Suns from 2006-08. “In Steve we see a leader, communicator and mentor who will garner the respect of our players. I have had the privilege to know Steve for many years. One of the great on-court leaders in our game, I have witnessed firsthand his basketball acumen and selfless approach to prioritize team success. His instincts for the game, combined with an inherent ability to communicate with and unite players towards a common goal, will prepare us to compete at the highest levels of the league.”
Nash’s hiring bears resemblance to Steve Kerr’s introduction to the Warriors. Both Nash and Marks played for the Suns when Kerr was the team’s general manager. While Nash has not worked as an NBA GM, he too will be tasked with leading a team with immediate title aspirations with no prior head coaching experience. Nash did serve as GM of the Canadian national basketball team from 2012-19. The Canadian co-owns a Major League Soccer team, the Vancouver Whitecaps, also serving as a basketball and soccer TV analyst.
Nash joins Kerr, Doc Rivers, Jason Kidd and Mark Jackson as recent hires of NBA guards with no prior coaching experience. Kerr won a title in his first year on the job. Rivers won a ring in his second stint as a head coach. Vaughn previously coached the Orlando Magic to three losing seasons from 2012-15.
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