The NBA world received a shakeup this morning when news broke from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that Steve Nash — Hall of Fame point guard who retired in 2015 — just signed a contract with the Brooklyn Nets to become the next head coach of the team.
Everyone collectively lost their minds. This hire came out of nowhere. Nash was always known as one of the greatest point guards to have ever played the game. He was a two time MVP, eight time NBA All Star, three time NBA First Team, and five time NBA assists leader. He is often touted as one of the most brilliant minds in basketball. He served as a player development consultant for the Golden State Warriors during their championship years. So the man knows the game of basketball and nobody should ever question his knowledge of the game.
However, it is understandable that people would question his credentials as whether or not he is “fit” to be an NBA head coach.
Nash has never coached an NBA game before. He may have been a successful floor general but there is a difference between commanding plays on the court than coaching on the sidelines. There is a steep learning curve and unless a first time NBA head coach is lucky enough to have exceptional talent like Steve Kerr did when he first coached the Golden State Warriors then expect them to struggle in their first year. Luckily for Nash, he has Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant — two top tier superstars in the NBA who are looking to bring a championship to the Brooklyn Nets. Not to mention, the Nets are already a solid playoff caliber team despite not having the full arsenal to make them title contenders. If Nash can do what Kerr did for Golden State, then there should be a chance for the Nets to make some noise next season.
But one can’t help but feel conflicted about the hiring of Nash.
As plenty of people have alluded to since the announcement, it is telling that a former player who is white is somehow getting a job before a Black person in the NBA. Nash has no prior experience being a head coach but he easily gets the job as opposed to more qualified Black candidates.
ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith pointed this out this morning on his show First Take.
“This is white privilege. This does not happen for a Black man,” Smith said on his show. “No experience on any level as a coach and you get the Brooklyn Nets job?”
To some extent, he is right. The perception of getting a job in the world of sports is about “paying your dues.” You must work your way to get an established position. If you are recognized for your efforts, you are rewarded with an executive position. Whether it is a head coaching job, an assistant general manager, general manager, or even team president you have to be able to convince the owners that you can handle the job by working lower title jobs before you are granted the position.
Everybody goes through the steps so it should be no problem right? Well that’s the tricky part. It isn’t as simple as that. Factors such as nepotism and close connections can lead one person to get the job before a Black person and this is where Smith’s comments ring true: Black people still get overlooked in terms of receiving positions they are qualified for. There were plenty of coaches who had far more experience and success at the job than Steve Nash so they should not have been overlooked for the job. Individuals like Tyronn Lue, Alvin Gentry, Nate McMillan, or even the Nets own interim coach in Jacque Vaughn were more qualified for the position than Nash. You would think that with the rise of awareness for Black Lives Matter that the Nets would be in the forefront of supporting that movement by bringing in a Black head coach. Unfortunately, Nash gets the job and the aforementioned Black coaches will have to wait another day before they get their chance.
However, it is important to note that the Steve Nash hiring has nothing to do with race. It has everything to do with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
As mentioned before, Nash has a personal history with Durant. He helped him become a better player during his time with the Golden State Warriors. Durant likely convinced Nash to come coach for the team and also had to convince his buddy Irving that Nash is best fit for the job more so than Irving’s Tyronn Lue whom he won a championship with when they were on the Cleveland Cavaliers. Nets general manager Sean Marks is doing everything he can to ensure that his two superstars are happy and comfortable in Brooklyn. He signed them so he doesn’t want to make a decision that will upset them. When Irving and Durant decided to come to the Nets, they wanted their friend DeAndre Jordan to come as well and receive a starting job and a guaranteed contract despite the fact that the team’s own Jarrett Allen is a better player than Jordan in the center position. When Irving and Durant expressed their dislike for Kenny Atkinson’s coaching, he was dismissed from the team and Vaughn took over as the interim while they courted people like Nash and Lue to coach the team. People nowadays are also hearing that the Nets are looking to add a third star in the likes of Bradley Beal or a player of his caliber to the team so you can expect the Nets own Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, or both gone in a trade deal that will net (pun intended) that third star and it wouldn’t be a shocker if Irving and Durant were influencing this pursuit. They are the star players and have say over the franchise’s direction. The team will go as far as they can take them.
This could spell trouble for the Nets if success doesn’t come their way.
This year has proven that the NBA athletes have a lot more power and say over the direction of the league than the owners. That’s both a blessing and a curse. In the Nets case, their future success hinges on these two star players to deliver a championship in New York. The New York Knicks have not won a championship since 1973. They have not been back to the NBA Finals since 1999. Hell, they haven’t been back to the playoffs since 2013. The Nets have a chance to overtake the city and claim supremacy over the basketball world if Durant and Irving can deliver. The path won’t be easy. The Eastern Conference is no longer a cakewalk. Teams like the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks, and Miami Heat are legit contenders for the title and if the playoffs in the NBA Bubble have shown us is that they are not pushovers. The same applies for the Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers. They may not be title contenders but they are not middling average teams either. They can bully a team to achieve success if given the chance. Plus you have young teams like the Orlando Magic on the rise and looking for ways to improve. The Nets may have Durant and Irving but both players have been marred by injuries so the team will need depth to fill in the shoes so that the two stars don’t always become reliant. Not to mention they both play isolation-heavy basketball and Nash was a former point guard who thrived under ball movement. He will need to ensure that Durant and Irving play the way he wants them to play and not their way.
With these moves, the pressure isn’t necessarily on Sean Marks or Steve Nash to deliver but on Durant and Irving. If they don’t bring a championship to New York, then their tenure is a failed one. This team has aspirations to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Just going to the NBA Finals is not enough to qualify as a success.
The Steve Nash hiring is a complex one. It is arguably the most intriguing head coaching sign done by any team this year. No one knows if Nash will succeed but he has the credentials of being arguably one of the greatest players in NBA history. So we have no choice but to wait and see what he does with the Nets.
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