It’s over for Steve Nash. The issues faced by the Brooklyn Nets are not.
The New Jersey Nets took one look at the three-ring circus that frequently serves as a stand-in for an NBA franchise and chose to get rid of the individual who would be the least difficult to dismiss on Tuesday when they made the decision to “part ways” with their troubled head coach.
There is no straightforward approach to determining whether or whether Steve Nash, a popular Hall of Fame player who had exactly zero coaching experience prior to his appointment in 2020, is capable of performing well in the role of head coach. Everything about him and this squad has vanished behind the typical eclipse that can be seen when one is surrounded by enormous stars, including his excellence as well as his weaknesses. His tenure has masked both of these aspects.
However, throughout Steve Nash’s term in office, an all-time high level of dysfunction, arrogance, and nastiness pervaded the organization. Because of all of these factors coming together, evaluating Steve Nash as a coach has become extremely challenging. When coaching a player of that stature, there will be less praise (ask Frank Vogel or Erik Spoelstra) or increased blame (ask Frank Vogel), and in the end, whether it is fair or not, the axe falls to you first. It is comparable to teaching LeBron James.
The fact that Steve Nash’s time in Brooklyn was doomed to be unsuccessful is the one thing that can be said with absolute certainty about it. What occurred on Tuesday was not a result of the coaching that he provided. It was a direct result of the choices that general manager Sean Marks made few years ago when he made the decision to surrender a young, up-and-coming, high-culture-no-star group in exchange for this failed experiment with the Nets.
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Ben Simmons is, or was, a tremendously great player, and he shares that distinction with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden. But the Durant-Irving-Harden trident, which was supplanted at least on paper by a Durant-Irving-Simmons version last year, was never less troublesome and fragile than the power it appeared to have on paper.
Irving’s long list of behavior that destroys team cohesion struck an ugly, non-basketball low this week, but he has always been extremely challenging to coach successfully, or perhaps he is just extremely unlikely to be successful in coaching. With the exception of making that shot in Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors in 2016, the reward has never been worth the effort. The Celts found out the hard way how true that statement was. So, now, have the Brooklyn Nets, what with the no-shows at work, the flat-earthism, the COVID-19 vaccine debacle, the statement that the Nets had no head coach even before Steve Nash had arrived, the jabs at LeBron, and so on and so forth.
As with Irving, Durant is an all-time great player with enormous potential, but he chafed under some aspects of sharing the spotlight on an NBA championship team and discovered that life away from it was not as simple as he had anticipated it would be. Despite the fact that he was a brilliant basketball player, his personal baggage culminated in the offseason when he asked to be traded unless the owner of the Nets, Joe Tsai, fired both Steve Nash and Paul Marks.
To make such a demand so soon after entering into a brand-new, long-term agreement requires a particular kind of cavalier attitude. A move like that has never been considered by Steph Curry. Neither King James nor LeBron. Leadership is notoriously challenging in many situations.
Tasi didn’t complete the first criteria for Durant until the following Tuesday, but by that moment, the poison was already well established in the bloodstream.
Once a star calls for your job, that job is in peril, and the possibility of team problems and toxicity is high. Once a star calls for your job, that job is in jeopardy. It wasn’t because of the Nets’ start of 2-5 that Steve Nash was let go. It was an extension of the culture’s brokenness and the stars’ baggage who had shaped it.
Harden knew. He looked at K.D. and Kyrie and saw the skill rather than the difficulties that would define life with the Nets, so he fought his way out of a dumpster fire last year shortly after making the same error that Steve Nash had made. He left the Nets shortly after making this mistake.
And then there’s Simmons, the walking punchline, a player so degraded from his formerly superb though imperfect form that he might be an avatar for this Nets organization.
They are a complete and utter disarray. They lack any true leadership within their organization. Their most prominent spokesperson parrots antisemitic nonsense, displays an inability to acknowledge when they are in the wrong, and is a fantastic basketball player whose team’s returns on investment have consistently been negative when LeBron James has not been on the court with them.
Their most important voice may have been one shoe size away from making it to the NBA Finals, but he’s also tread so heavily on Steve Nash, Marks, and anybody else who dared question him that his amazing game and often insightful and intriguing views have frequently been obscured by his pettiness. It is plain to see that this is a dynamic on the team that was modeled after him.
It’s possible that Steve Nash is an outstanding trainer. It’s possible that he’s a truly terrible person. It’s possible that he fits neither extreme. The developments that occurred on Tuesday, however, do not constitute a decision about any of those issues.
The news that Steve Nash is leaving Brooklyn merely serves to validate what should have been immediately apparent from the beginning. This franchise is a shambles, and the problem begins — or stops — with its dysfunctional, lackluster, and disappointing superstars.
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