Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash has yet to coach an NBA game, and his star players — Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving — have yet to play a game together. But that didn’t stop him from embracing the team’s sky-high expectations during a virtual town hall with season-ticket holders Tuesday afternoon.
“We’re playing for a championship,” Nash said during the event, which aired on the YES Network. “I don’t want to say that anything less than a championship is not a success because you never know what happens in life, you never know the way the ball bounces. Fortune is a big part of winning an NBA championship.
“But we are playing for a championship and we’re going to build accordingly. We’re going to frame everything we do in the lens of, ‘Is this a championship characteristic?’ or ‘Is this worth championship quality?'”
While last season was always seen as a consolidation year while Durant recovered from a torn Achilles tendon — and later officially became one when Irving missed most of the season with shoulder issues — that won’t be the case next season, when both are expected to be healthy. Accordingly, the Nets are expected to be active in trying to upgrade the roster around them.
That puts a lot of pressure on Nash, who was a surprise hire by the Nets last month after never having publicly signaled an interest in coaching previously. And, as he and the Nets learn about each other on the job, he laid out a few things he will be checking to see how things are going.
“Are we growing?” Nash asked. “Are we striving? Are we pressure-tested? Are we continually asking of each other and ourselves that individual collective growth every day and creating an environment that is fun but challenging and collaborative?
“If those tenets are being met, there’s a lot of success and reward in that. But we are playing for a championship.”
Part of that learning process will be Nash adjusting to what his two superstars are looking for from their coach. Durant and Irving recently discussed that topic on Durant’s podcast, “The Etcs.”
“I don’t really see us having a head coach,” Irving said. “KD could be a head coach, I could be a head coach [some days].
“Steve is great, and I have a relationship with him that’s going to build over time, bro,” Irving added later in the podcast. “Steve don’t know me from anything he heard or he’s heard someone else. We’ve worked out one time in 2014, but it’s grown as just a respectful relationship from afar. I saw him at the Hall of Fame two years ago, gave him a big hug and now he’s the head coach. And I think it’s also going to change the way we see coaches.
“I want somebody that’s gonna understand that I am a human being first, I serve my community first, and then basketball is something I do every day because I love. We always heard and saw how great Nash was as a player, but also when you get to know him as a person, you understand why he can coexist with us. We don’t need someone to come in with their coaching philosophy and change everything we’re doing.”
When Nash was asked about his coaching philosophy during the town hall, he went out of his way to echo the language Irving used — specifically saying that he wants players to be able to collaborate with the coaches on what the team is going to be doing.
Nash credited his longtime coach with the Phoenix Suns, Mike D’Antoni, for having a similar approach with him as a player.
“It’s all sort of to be determined, and I definitely don’t wanna come in with too many hard-and-fast concepts and designs,” Nash said. “I’d much rather come in with principles with ideas that allow our players to collaborate with us and allow their personalities and the dynamic between them and the chemistry to have a role in how it evolves. People talk about the Phoenix teams I played on, and this sort of revolutionary tone of how it impacted the game, but the truth be told, Mike D’Antoni’s brilliance in much of that was he allowed it to evolve instead of getting in the way.
“I feel like a lot of coaches feel the need to design every aspect of something, and I feel you leave too much on the table that can be found through the personalities, the connectivity, the dynamic on the floor and in the room. I want us to play fast; I want us to space the floor. I want us to create opportunities to get downhill with our ball handlers and make plays for one another. Attack closeouts. A lot of high-level philosophical thoughts, and of course we’ll design and have offensive sets and things that we think fit our group, but we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves with the offense. We want it to stay pretty high-level right now.
“It’s frankly been all on defense. We’ve spent all of our time over the last few weeks building that.”