Good luck, Steve Nash.
The Hall of Fame point guard and third-year Brooklyn Nets head coach is tasked with the NBA’s most difficult job, now that disgruntled superstar Kevin Durant has apparently opted to rescind his trade request.
It has been only two weeks since Durant demanded Nets owner Joe Tsai trade him or fire both Nash and general manager Sean Marks, but we are supposed to believe all is right in Brooklyn because the lot of them met in Los Angeles on Monday and decided, “We have agreed to move forward with our partnership.”
“We are focusing on basketball,” Marks said in a statement bearing the logos of the Nets and Durant’s company, “with one collective goal in mind: build a lasting franchise to bring a championship to Brooklyn.”
I guess we can also forget about that time when “a source close to the Nets” told the New York Post, “Kyrie Irving hates these guys. He feels that Nash is terrible and Marks is bad. KD came to the same conclusion.”
That was only two weeks ago, too. Irving’s agent and stepmother Shetellia Riley denied that report, telling the Post, “I am not sure where this narrative is coming from but Kyrie does not hate Steve nor Sean. That’s not a part of his being nor how he represents himself in the world. He’s about peace, love and acceptance.”
Keep in mind, when last we saw Irving playing basketball, he was fined $50,000 for repeatedly flashing his middle fingers to the Boston crowd. Bottom line: We don’t know how Nash interprets anonymous sourcing.
Durant’s trade request on the eve of free agency consumed so much of the NBA’s offseason discussion that we forget Irving also reportedly sought and received permission to orchestrate a sign-and-trade from the Nets in June. Turns out there isn’t a huge market outside the equally desperate Los Angeles Lakers for a guy who has spent the past six years espousing conspiracy theories and undermining three different organizations, culminating in his refusal to meet New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate last season.
It is unclear how robust the market was for Durant, but we know it was far less active than both he and the Nets would have liked. Discussions had grown rather dormant by this week, and it made too much sense for both sides in Brooklyn to remain in the relationship, so Durant is staying … for now. It doesn’t mean he is happy about it. Undoubtedly, this is a loss for Durant and a win for ownership against player empowerment.
People have likened Durant’s failed demand with Kobe Bryant’s request in 2007, but the comparisons end with the two superstars standing down. Bryant backed down from his public request on the same day he made it, telling local news outlets by night’s end, “I can only hope that they do something because I don’t want to go no place else. I don’t want to. I want to stay here. I hope they can do something.” In between, he spoke to then-Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, and they set the team on a path to two more championships.
“Phil is somebody that I listen to heavily,” Bryant said in the moment. “He assured me, ‘Things are going to be OK, things are going to be all right. Don’t go full-bore just yet. Just take a deep breath and let us work these things out and everything will be all right.’ Which is very encouraging for me to hear. Because I don’t want to go anyplace else. I don’t want to. I want to be a Laker. I want to be here for the rest of my career.”
Durant’s public stance festered for two months, escalating to his ultimatum against Brooklyn’s brass. Bryant was upset the Lakers could not field a competitive team around him, and the Memphis Grizzlies gifted him Pau Gasol a few months later. Durant is upset despite the Nets catering to his roster needs.
Nash is also no Jackson. He was overmatched in a first-round sweep opposite first-year coach Ime Udoka’s Boston Celtics. The league has changed dramatically over the past 15 years and not in a direction that makes it easier for an inexperienced coach to wield influence over the two most mercurial players of their generation, especially since Durant and Irving made it obvious they no longer want to play for him.
Irving undermined Nash’s authority before ever playing for him, declaring on Durant’s podcast in October 2020, “I don’t really see us having a head coach. KD could be a head coach, I could be a head coach.”
He walked those comments back two months later, not long before he began a two-week hiatus from the Nets without informing Nash. Mike D’Antoni left his post as Nash’s assistant in 2021 telling confidantes the Nets were “a s*** show,” league sources told Yahoo Sports. Amar’e Stoudemire was kinder in his public criticism of Irving when he announced live on ESPN his exit as a player development coach on Nash’s staff this past May, saying, “It made it difficult for us coaches to figure out who’s going to play in spite of Kyrie.”
If you want a closer comparison for Durant’s failed power play, look to Ben Simmons. The three-time All-Star demanded a trade from the Philadelphia 76ers last summer, and they left it hanging in the wind, airing out the difficulty in trading a player who couldn’t be content with his employment status long enough for the ink to dry on a long-term maximum contract. It wasn’t until James Harden grew frustrated with Irving’s unreliability, Durant’s unavailability and Nash’s coaching that the Sixers found some value for Simmons.
Did we mention that Simmons is on this Nets team?
The 26-year-old missed all of last season to the holdout, self-described mental health issues and a back injury that required surgery in May. By all accounts, he should be physically prepared to play this season. What that will look like remains in question. Simmons has not played since an on-court meltdown in the 2021 Eastern Conference semifinals, which drew open criticism from his former coach and teammates.
There are conflicting accounts about whether Simmons simply left a group chat when his Nets teammates asked him if he was joining them in Game 4 of their playoff series against Boston. Multiple reports indicate that his current teammates were, at the very least, “surprised and disappointed” by his “perceived lack of attempt to play” or join them in uniform on the bench. Former Sixers wing Danny Green went on the record to say Simmons and Seth Curry, who also now plays in Brooklyn, “weren’t on the most cordial terms.”
These issues don’t just solve themselves. Doc Rivers, the definition of a players’ coach, had a hard enough time bridging the divide between Simmons and some teammates he had known for most of his career. Nash must now manage Simmons’ reentry into the NBA, repair his relationship with Durant and Irving, and build their chemistry with teammates who aren’t sure any of the team’s top three players want to play with them.
Monday’s makeup might make for an amicable training camp, but problems that lead people to want out of relationships tend to reemerge when roads get rocky again, and Brooklyn has a mountain to climb. Tell me again how it worked out for the Orlando Magic when Dwight Howard demanded Stan Van Gundy be fired?
On paper, the Nets have all the makings of a championship contender: a pantheon player (Durant), a future Hall of Fame point guard (Irving), a complementary former No. 1 overall pick (Simmons), two of the league’s best marksmen (Curry and Joe Harris) and four more proven playoff rotation contributors (Patty Mills, Nic Claxton, TJ Warren and Royce O’Neale). That is theoretically better than the team that came within an inch of beating the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in Game 7 of the 2021 Eastern Conference semifinals.
In practice, Nash has an impossible job ahead of him. It’ll be a wonder if he’s still in Brooklyn come April.
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Source: Yahoo Sports