Nash out as Nets coach after poor start, more controversy

Oct 31, 2022, 10:04 PM | Updated: Nov 1, 2022, 9:11 pm
Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash argues a call during the first half of an NBA basketball game W...

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash argues a call during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets refused to fire Steve Nash over the summer, no matter what Kevin Durant wanted.

But with the Nets off to a disappointing start amid more controversy surrounding Kyrie Irving, the team and coach both decided the change needed to happen now.

“We both felt this was time,” general manager Sean Marks said.

So the Nets parted ways with the Hall of Fame point guard Tuesday, hours before losing to Chicago to drop to 2-6.

Nash made it to this season after Durant said he wanted him out this summer, but not much longer. The Nets have been another mess, with bad play on the court and bad headlines off it.

The biggest — again — was created by Irving, who posted a link to an antisemitic work on his Twitter page last week, drawing criticism from Nets owner Joe Tsai.

Marks said he and Nash had been talking for a week, perhaps more, before arriving at the decision that it was time for change.

“It was certainly trending that way and to be quite frank the team was not doing what it was supposed to be doing,” Marks said. “We’ve fallen from our goals and of meeting our goals and it was time now because we still have lofty aspirations of where we need get to.”

Marks said players were not consulted, but Durant said there wouldn’t have been any need because everyone knew the situation the Nets were in.

“Let’s be real. We’re pros, we’re veterans,” Durant said. “We had a tough start. It was a rocky year last year, rocky summer. We knew that everybody was being evaluated. That’s just how it is in the league.”

The Nets may move quickly to replace Nash. A person with knowledge of the matter said the Nets were in discussions with suspended Boston coach Ime Udoka — a former Brooklyn assistant who is not with the Celtics this season because he was found to have violated team rules by having a relationship with a female staffer within the organization. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because those talks were not revealed publicly.

ESPN first reported the talks between Udoka and the Nets. The Nets said a decision on the team’s next coach would be made in the near future.

Marks denied that he had decided on a coach and wouldn’t give a list of candidates. He also wouldn’t discuss whether Udoka would be accepted in Brooklyn so soon after his troubles in Boston.

“But I would say I will reserve that for when those decisions are made and I couldn’t give you a timeline on that,” Marks said. “Obviously there’s a reason why we made this move when we did, because time is ticking. So we do want this process to be a thorough one, we’re not going to skip steps on that and then we’ll do our due diligence like in any way. When I was hired, when anybody was hired the organization does very, very thorough due diligence on anybody, and you arrive at the best possible outcome.”

Nash led the Nets to a 92-62 record and the playoffs in both full seasons, his first as an NBA coach. But they lost Irving and James Harden to injuries during their second-round loss to Milwaukee in 2021, then were a first-round flop last season after trading Harden during the middle of the season.

Much of the Nets’ problems during the latter season were caused by Irving being unavailable for most of their home games because he refused to get vaccinated for the coronavirus, as mandated at the time in New York City.

Nash handled it all as best as possible, but apparently not good enough for his best player. Durant said he wanted to be traded this summer if the Nets didn’t fire Marks and Nash, but Tsai stood by them and Durant eventually pulled back his request.

Nash downplayed that before this season began, saying he didn’t believe the reports were entirely true and that they had quickly talked through their issues.

But things started poorly this season and Nash gave some of his hardest criticism of the team during his tenure after their loss to Indiana on Saturday night, calling their defensive effort a “disaster” and saying he didn’t see desire or will.

“We have to look deep, deep inside ourselves and what we want to do, what we want to accomplish,” Nash said. “Do we want to give up on this because it’s been difficult early, or do we want to stay the course and start to build something?”

Much of that was ignored because the focus was on Irving’s combative news conference defending his tweet, and the Nets beat the Pacers in the rematch Monday to end a four-game skid.

But Nash’s tenure ended anyway a day later, hours before Brooklyn is set to host Chicago. Jacque Vaughn served as acting head coach against the Bulls.

Tsai alluded to the constant turbulence around the team in his statement thanking Nash.

“My admiration and respect for him grew over time as he brought hard work and positive attitude to our organization every day, even in periods of exceptional storm surrounding the team,” Tsai said.

Nash thanked the Tsai family and Marks for giving him the opportunity, calling the job “an amazing experience with many challenges that I’m incredibly grateful for.”

Marks chose his former teammate as coach in 2020 despite no experience in the job, citing Nash’s ability to be a connector of personalities as a player. Nash was a two-time MVP with the Phoenix Suns who ended his 18-year career third on the NBA’s list with 10,335 assists.

But his schemes were criticized as the Nets struggled defensively throughout his tenure and often didn’t show the ball-moving style of play on offense that his Suns teams did, instead relying on Durant, Irving or Harden to isolate.

Beyond the player changes, Nash also had to adapt to changes on his bench. Mike D’Antoni, the two-time NBA Coach of the Year, stepped down as his assistant after one season, and Udoka left to become coach of the Celtics.

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AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this story.

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Nash out as Nets coach after poor start, more controversy