Nets fire coach Steve Nash
By Sopan Deb and Scott Cacciola
The Brooklyn Nets fired coach Steve Nash earlier this week as the team struggled on the court and faced criticism for the off-court actions of star guard Kyrie Irving.
Nets general manager Sean Marks said the situation was particularly difficult because of his long relationship with Nash, a former teammate whom he hired to coach the team in September 2020.
“We both felt that this was time,” Marks said at a news conference before the Nets faced the Chicago Bulls at Barclays Center on Tuesday night. “It was certainly trending that way, and to be quite frank, the team was not doing what it was supposed to be doing. We’ve fallen from our goals.”
At 2-5, the Nets are among the worst teams in the NBA, despite starting the season with all three of their best players: Irving, Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons. Over the past week, the team has also been dealing with backlash after Irving promoted an antisemitic documentary on social media.
Marks said he had not sought any input from the players on his decision to make a coaching change.
“He has certainly not had an even playing field over two and a bit years here,” Marks said of Nash. “And for that, I certainly feel definitely some responsibility because this does not fall on him. I take a great deal of responsibility in creating the roster, hiring staff, bringing people in, whether that’s free agency or draft.”
Nash, 48, was hired before the 2020-21 season, despite never having coached professionally at any level, even as an assistant. The Nets were criticized for hiring Nash, who is white, over experienced Black coaches. Jacque Vaughn, a Nets assistant coach, was chosen to be acting head coach Tuesday against the Bulls. Vaughn, who is Black, was passed over when the Nets hired Nash.
Nash carried the pedigree of being one of the best point guards in NBA history, having won two MVP awards during a celebrated career from 1996 to 2014. He initially surrounded himself with experienced coaches such as Vaughn and Mike D’Antoni, who had coached him as a player in Phoenix.
Over a little more than two seasons, Nash led the Nets to a 94-67 record, a winning percentage of .584, but with only one playoff-series victory to show for it. Nash thanked the team Tuesday in a statement on Twitter.
“It was an amazing experience with many challenges that I’m incredibly grateful for,” he said, adding: “I wish the Nets all the success in the world and the Nash’s will be rooting for our team as they turn this season around.”
Nash faced problems from the start, including injuries (Durant; Simmons), trades (Simmons in; James Harden in, then out) and Irving’s refusal to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, which meant that he missed most of the 2021-22 season because of local rules.
Irving returned in time for the postseason after New York City changed the rules, but the Boston Celtics swept the Nets in the first round of the playoffs, closing out the series in front of thousands of despondent fans in Brooklyn.
“We had high expectations,” Durant said at the time. “Everybody had high expectations for us. But a lot of stuff happened throughout the season that derailed us.”
Durant went to the team’s front office over the summer to request a trade. According to a report by The Athletic, Durant demanded that the Nets owner, Joe Tsai, choose between him or Marks and Nash. Tsai released a statement that said the team’s front-office staff and coaches had his support.
Durant eventually relented and joined the team for training camp in late September. Hope blossomed anew: Durant, Irving and Simmons were expected to help form one of the more explosive starting lineups in the NBA.
But the Nets sputtered, particularly on defense, losing five of their first six games this season. Marks said he came away from games this season feeling as if the players had not “bought in,” and he was now hoping to find “a leader” whose message would resonate with them. He said that he had not made a decision on the team’s next coach and would thoroughly vet any candidates.
“We’re looking for somebody to have poise, charisma, accountability,” he said, adding: “We’re not playing up to our expectations of where we should be. So, you hope this new coach can come in here and put this group in the best possible place to succeed.”
But Nash’s firing does not resolve the issue with Irving.
At a testy news conference Saturday, Irving doubled down on his support of the antisemitic documentary. He has not apologized since then, but he deleted a tweet that linked to the documentary Sunday.
Irving did not address reporters after the Nets’ win over the Indiana Pacers on Monday, when several fans in T-shirts that said “fight antisemitism” sat in the front row. Marks said Irving would not be made available to answer questions Tuesday, adding that he wanted to let “cooler minds prevail.” He also said that the team had been in contact with the Anti-Defamation League for advice, but he would not say whether Irving had been part of those conversations.
“Just trying to weigh out exactly what the best course of action is here,” Marks said. “Part of it is going to be getting the sides together so they can understand where people are coming from. There’s an education piece for everybody here.”