The Brooklyn Nets took the NBA by surprise with the hiring of Steve Nash as head coach in September, with the iconic point guard boasting an impeccable playing resume and a matching reputation for his basketball IQ and leadership skills during his 18-year NBA career.
This is the first season for Nash as a head coach however, and Sunday made for his first official practice session in the job. He addressed the translation of that leadership role from player to coach afterwards.
“I guess there's some similarities, but it's different,” said Nash. “As a player you're over there in the locker room with the guys as a leader, you're trying to make sure everyone is excited for the opportunity at hand and excited to connect and to get off to a good start through your effort and energy, buying in and making this thing move forward in the right direction.
“You can do that from a players' perspective as a leader in the locker room and on the floor but from a coaching perspective you're obviously thinking about a lot of different things. You're thinking about the micro, the macro, you're thinking about individuals, you're thinking about the group, you're thinking about schedule, how to prepare this team, not only on the small details but the larger ones and that becomes a totally different task.”
Nash brings a resume from his playing career that only a few coaches in the history of the game can match. The Hall of Fame point guard is third in NBA history with 10,335 assists. He led the league in the category five times, was named to an All-NBA team seven times, and won two MVP Awards, in 2004-05 and 2005-06.
Since retiring after the 2013-14 season, Nash served as general manager of Team Canada, and worked with the Golden State Warriors as a player development consultant.
After the Nets began individual workouts last week and then gathered for their first full practice session under his direction on Sunday, Joe Harris and Landry Shamet offered first impressions of Nash in the coaching role.
“He played 20 years, and this idle time where he’s been removed from the game, thinking about coaching, I think has allowed him a lot of time to think about how he would want to coach guys that are in the NBA right now, and I think the way he handles everybody in this room, we couldn’t have asked for a better guy,” said Harris. “He does an unbelievable job though too of delegating. We have a great staff. You go down the list of guys, Jacque Vaughn, Ime Udoka, Adam Harrington, Jordan Ott, Mike D’Antoni, Tiago Splitter, Amar’e Stoudemire. We have one of the best staffs in the league, and we’re fortunate in that regard. But Steve is great, because he delegates to those guys as well.”
“He’s laid back, he's not fiery, going crazy like you know you might paint the picture of some coaches. But intense and pointed with, you know, the things that he does say,” said Shamet. “He’s not like quiet and timid and shy or whatever, but he's, he doesn't say a ton but he's, you know he says what he has to say and we listen. It's coming from the right place and he's just trying to coach us and lead us and guide us in the right direction. He made it a point early on, they're going to give us the framework and we have to paint inside of that framework; so a lot of freedom. I think a lot of him learning us and figuring out what's going to work with this unit this group. So he's learning us just like we're learning him and each other.”
The 46-year-old Nash is young enough — that’s the way DeAndre Jordan likes to look at it — that several Nets have played against him, with the start of their careers crossing over with the later stages of his. Count Jordan, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, and Kyrie Irving in that category. Jordan and other Nets described Nash’s impact and influence after individual workouts during Media Week this past week.
“Steve was great,” said Jordan. “Played against Steve for I don’t know how many years. Obviously when he was in Phoenix, and then with the Lakers. It kind of makes me feel a little old, but let’s just say that Steve’s young. But it’s great to have a great basketball mind like that now being at the helm along with other great coaches, former head coaches that we have along with (Jacque Vaughn) and Adam (Harrington) and Tiago (Splitter) from last year.”
More common is that for many of Brooklyn’s younger veterans aged in their mid-20s Nash was an integral part of the NBA landscape that they grew up watching.
“I watched him more so when he was with Phoenix as a young kid,” said Taurean Prince. “But it is crazy just to have somebody of that caliber of a player that you used to see and Hall of Fame point guard as your head coach. It's different. But it is something that has been working well. I feel like he is in the gym with us every day when we are getting out individual work in.”
Tyler Johnson grew up in the San Francisco Bay area in California, not far from where Nash played his college ball at Santa Clara University, twice helping lead the West Coast Conference school to NCAA Tournament upsets before being drafted in the first round of the 1996 NBA Draft. The Nash legend traveled further to reach Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, who grew up in France watching Nash team with France’s Boris Diaw on those high-powered Suns teams.
“He was with Boris Diaw another French guy that had a great career,” said Luwawu-Cabarrot. “So through that we’ve been able to follow his career. I actually had his jersey when I was a kid. I think the second jersey after Tony Parker was Steve Nash. He was a two-time MVP, went to play in the playoffs, so yeah, I’ve been able to watch that from far away of course, not being able to watch the games, but highlights and stuff like that. All-Star Game too.”
It wasn’t all love. For a diehard Lakers fan growing up in Los Angeles like Spencer Dinwiddie did, Nash was the enemy. That goes for his Suns teammate Amare’ Stoudemire, who has also joined the Brooklyn staff this season.
“I think there’s a difference between respect and like, right? Because he used to battle the Lakers so I hated him, but he was cold, though, so you respected him,” said Dinwiddie. “And then obviously as you grow, you understand. You see the nuances of the position that you’re playing, and how he does it at the highest level, obviously winning MVPs and what not. You watch him and you try to learn from him and take from him, so it’s actually a dream come true to have him as my coach.”