A shocking hire at the time, Steve Nash has guided Nets through rough waters

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Steve Nash yelling in black zip-up
Steve Nash yelling in black zip-up

Two years ago, the Nets shocked the NBA when they hired Steve Nash as head coach.

He had no head coaching experience. And he was taking over a team with title expectations.

Nash and the Nets haven’t met those title expectations yet. As the seventh seed in the 2022 playoffs, they’ll face significant hurdles getting there this spring.

But it isn’t a reflection on Nash’s performance.

Just ask Kevin Durant.

“I think he’s done a great job. The last two years, he’s been dealt a wild hand,” Durant said last week. “Injuries, trades, disgruntled players, guys in and out of the lineup, stuff that he can’t control. I felt like he’s handled it as best he could (and) I think it’s on us as players to make his job easier.

“…. This is his first real opportunity as a coach so I think he’s handled it all perfectly to be honest with you. It’s a tough hand he was dealt when he got here.”

In Nash’s first season, the Nets traded for James Harden and Irving left the team without advanced notice. Due to various injuries, the trio of Irving, Durant and Harden played just 13 games together in 2020-21.

They played only three games together in 2021-22 before the Nets traded a disgruntled Harden to Philadelphia. Ben Simmons, the top player they received in the trade, still hasn’t stepped on the court.

Nash has also had to navigate Irving being away from the team earlier in the season due to his COVID vaccine status and local regulations. He then dealt with Irving returning to the club for road games and, more recently, home games.

The disruptions may have been a challenge for Nash privately. But he hasn’t shown much frustration publicly.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash talks to forward Kevin Durant (7) during the second quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Barclays Center.
Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash talks to forward Kevin Durant (7) during the second quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Barclays Center.

“I kind of expected a certain amount of adversity and challenges. I think it’s been unfortunate that we’ve had so many. I don’t think anyone would have predicted the amount of injuries, or COVID or changes that have happened in our group continually in the last 16 months,” he said last week. “I could have never predicted having 40-something starting lineups this year and 37 last year. That type of stuff, I don’t think anyone would come into a job predicting that … I’ve enjoyed the challenge.”

People who know Nash say that he isn’t easily shaken by challenging circumstances. “He’s great at looking at situations and finding a way forward,” one of his former teammates said recently.

“You can see it watching him work,” one former NBA coach said. “His demeanor (in games) and (with the media) has been steady. That can’t be easy.”

In that sense, Nash has been the perfect fit for this Nets team.

If he’s been worn out by the past two seasons, you can’t see it publicly. Nash has been seen riding a Citi Bike from the Nets facility after practices, presumably headed to his home in Brooklyn. For NBA head coaches, that counts as a healthy work-life balance.

Has Nash been flawless? Of course not.

You can second-guess plenty of his coaching moves over the past two seasons.

But I’ll leave it up to NBA fans on Twitter like @Naismith1981 and @Auerbach9ringz to debate Nash’s substitution patterns and ATOs.

The fact that he’s still on the sidelines amid all of the challenges, changes and turmoil of the past two seasons tells you that he knows a thing or two about coaching in the NBA.