Nash hired as coach of Brooklyn Nets

By Marc Stein

The Brooklyn Nets made a stunning move Thursday to fill their coaching vacancy by hiring Steve Nash, the Hall of Fame point guard and two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Award winner, despite Nash’s lack of coaching experience.

Nash will replace Jacque Vaughn, who will stay on as an assistant. Nets officials, led by general manager Sean Marks, decided to take a splashy gamble on Nash rather than retain Vaughn or hire a more experienced replacement, believing Nash is a coaching natural who will benefit greatly from his relationship with star forward Kevin Durant.

Nash’s name was not previously mentioned in connection with the job and Vaughn, according to a Tuesday report from The Athletic, is the only other known candidate to have formally interviewed for the post.

Vaughn had been the Nets’ interim coach since March 7, when the team, on course for a playoff berth, abruptly announced that it had mutually agreed to part ways with Kenny Atkinson. Despite missing most of his frontline players apart from Caris LeVert and Joe Harris, Vaughn coached the Nets to a 5-3 record in the eight seeding games at the NBA restart. The Nets were then swept in the first round by the Toronto Raptors, the reigning champions, but surprised many with a victory over Milwaukee and a 1-point loss to Portland that nearly prevented the Trail Blazers from reaching the playoffs.

Vaughn became the fourth head coach — and third Black head coach alongside New Orleans’ Alvin Gentry and Indiana’s Nate McMillan — to lose his job after his team returned home from the NBA bubble at Walt Disney World. Philadelphia also fired coach Brett Brown after a first-round sweep against Boston.

The Nets have maintained since March that Vaughn would be considered strongly for the full-time post. They were also widely expected to pursue Tyronn Lue, the Los Angeles Clippers’ in-demand assistant coach, among a number of other experienced candidates. Lue coached the Nets’ star guard Kyrie Irving to a championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016.

Yet Marks had quietly targeted Nash for some time, according to three people familiar with the search who were not authorized to discuss it publicly. Marks’ interest stemmed in part from Nash’s strong bond with Durant, which he built across Durant’s three seasons in Golden State while working as a part-time consultant for the Warriors in player development.

The more immediate challenge for Nash will be establishing a similar rapport with Irving, who played in only 20 games in an injury-riddled debut season in Brooklyn. Durant sat the season out entirely as he recovered from a torn right Achilles tendon he sustained during the 2019 NBA finals.

“He continues to be a very loud voice in terms of where we’re going in the future and what we’re doing and I involve him like the other players and staff and how we’ll continue to build this team and how we move forward,” Marks said of Durant in early July.

Nash, 46, arrived in Brooklyn this week, according to the people. An eight-time All-Star who led the league in assists five times, Nash had resisted all previous overtures to join an NBA coaching staff full time, even as an assistant, since retiring after the 2013-14 season, saying repeatedly that he intended to put his coaching and front office aspirations on hold until his five children were older.

The Phoenix Suns, with whom Nash won his back-to-back MVP awards in 2005 and 2006, gauged Nash’s interest in recent years in both coaching and front-office work. Marks, though, convinced Nash to move up his timetable and make an immediate leap to head coaching, similar to what the Nets’ previous regime did in June 2013 when they hired Jason Kidd, one of Nash’s playing contemporaries, just after Kidd had participated in the playoffs with the Knicks.

The hiring, beyond the questions sure to be raised about Nash’s lack of experience, will also bring renewed attention to the league’s dwindling number of Black head coaches. Vaughn’s reassignment has left the NBA with just five in a league in which the player pool is estimated to be roughly 80 percent Black. At the start of the 2012-13 season, there were 14 Black head coaches.

New Orleans and Indiana have yet to replace Gentry and McMillan. Philadelphia and Chicago are the NBA’s other two teams with a coaching vacancy. The other current Black coaches are Atlanta’s Lloyd Pierce, Cleveland’s J.B. Bickerstaff, Detroit’s Dwane Casey, Phoenix’s Monty Williams and the Los Angeles Clippers’ Doc Rivers. Charlotte’s James Borrego was the first Latino coach in NBA history, and Miami’s Erik Spoelstra, of Filipino descent, was the league’s first Asian American coach.

In retirement, Nash has worked with the men’s senior national basketball team in his native Canada — both as the program’s general manager and in an advisory role — while maintaining a significant presence in soccer as both a team owner and broadcaster. For the past two seasons, Nash was part of Turner Sports’ coverage of the Champions League. The various soccer jobs, Nash has said, allowed him to be home with his children in the Los Angeles area.

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