NEW YORK. It’s easy to get lost in the sea of personalities, storylines and stellar talent hired by the Brooklyn Nets, so Steve Nash can naturally operate on the fringes if he wants to.
It’s often said that one locker room can’t hold that much personality, that there has to be a special mix and constant conduit to bring it all together – especially in today’s NBA.
Nash doesn’t have a commanding presence or a booming voice that can stop people in their path. His gift for becoming one of the defining players of his era was his efficiency and subtle toughness.
That should help him coach the Nets, keep them on course for nine months of hard work. But they need strength, applied pressure and some kind of discomfort, not surrounded by nonsense.
Nash doesn’t have the characteristic of a coach that would work if one were to play the word association game. That steely stare as he wiped his hair back or constantly licked his fingers before a game belied his stamina and motor skills, which never stopped looking for answers against some of the NBA’s toughest defenses.
The same look he has on the touchline gives the impression of a confused and often superior coach, almost like a substitute teacher in a room full of rambunctious and hormonal teenagers making their way through high school.
His influence on the Nets was so fleeting that Kevin Durant asked to be fired from Nash as coach during his “trade me” saga over the summer, and Durant wanted to remove Sean Marks as the team’s architect.
Nash downplayed the report, saying on the first day of training camp, “I never thought it was 100%. It’s not black and white. There are many factors, many things behind the scenes.”
Was it 90 percent true that Duran wanted him to leave? Or 85 percent? It’s hard to tell, given that Nash can be sneaky at times in the name of conservation. He denied trading James Harden on a daily basis in the days leading up to last season’s deadline, even though it was clear there was smoke between the Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers.
There was no sweet spot, no pocket pass to Amara Stoudemire for a dunk throw that Nash could have done anyway to please the crowd. In a sense, he is a product of circumstances and factors over which he has very little control, so full transparency is hardly possible.
However, this continues the notion of what’s going on around Nash, not that he is the catalyst. As talented as Duran is, as talented as a generation and still the coolest person in the world, he is not an anchor.
And we all know it’s not Kyrie Irving or Ben Simmons.
Durant isn’t as shaky as he’s been portrayed, but it’s clear the Nets franchise needs someone stable and articulate, someone who speaks with authority and clarity. Someone who inspires respect and trust – but honestly, it’s hard to name a soul that Irving has completely and consistently trusted on the sidelines.
It’s even hard to rate Nash based on the roster because so much of the focus is on culture rather than actual basketball strategy. Can Irving become a winning player in this scenario? Can Simmons – if he’s playing – relieve both of them of being responsible for the draw in order to maximize their performance?
Does the Nets have enough rim or even girth size?
On the one hand, the Nets were at the top of the East before Durant suffered an MCL injury around the start of the year, even with all the problems surrounding the team. Did Nash then have a firm hand, his leadership faltering in circumstances that would have shocked the best coaches in the game?
It didn’t look like that when Harden acted to leave, Irving was apparently doing practice after Nash had his and the season ended with a four-game thump, the Nets were the only team to win in the first round.
Unfortunately, in sports, the results determine the effectiveness of the approach. Thus Nash’s approach, though prudent to him, was not correct.
And there’s no textbook in the Nets locker room with the main characters, so on a good day, Nash might have an impossible task.
Marks can play nicely and say that he is not Durant’s boss, that they are in partnership, as confirmed by a statement released by the Nets a few weeks ago saying that Durant is canceling his trade request and returning to the Nets. Durant business enterprise logo decorated at the bottom of the page.
But Nash doesn’t have that luxury, especially when he has to deliver the Nets’ daily gospel. Responding to the last chapter of Kyrie’s book or deciphering Durant’s moods and desires is Nash’s responsibility, not Marx’s.
This is Nash’s first coaching job, but he is in his third year in this ecosystem. On press day, he quipped that he “knew” Durant from Nash’s time at Golden State when he was a consultant.
His Hall of Fame career gives him the insight that craziness is often a prerequisite in the NBA, which is why it often goes unreported, even when it comes to light through ups and downs. So he can be trusted and trusted when he doesn’t seem to take any of it personally.
But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t leave his mark on a team that desperately needs him. Actually it is his job.
He probably learned more about coaching and his behavior in those first two treacherous seasons, which allowed Marks to add staff to cover up those blind spots – if anyone wants to be that optimistic.
Not once during Nash’s tenure has he challenged his players in a way that makes them uncomfortable, perhaps because he knows he’s not as experienced as other aspirant coaches.
Perhaps he needs to feel a little uncomfortable himself, and that is necessary for growth and development, and finding his coaching voice will help the Nets find an identity that is not about drama, inaction, or immature, uninformed social media posts.
All we know is that nothing has worked so far, and the clock is ticking for Durant and Marx, for Irving and Simmons.
And for the discreet Steve Nash, too.