January 20, 2023

Revisionist history or not, a narrative has gripped both NBA pundits and Nets fandom: The Nets should have dumped Steve Nash after leading the Nets to a 48-24 record in his freshman year. and hired then-Nets defensive coordinator Ime Udoka as Brooklyn’s head coach.

This reflects both Udoka’s playoff success, his Celtics leading 1-0 over favorites Warriors and Nash’s disappointing regular season (44-28) and first-round sweep by Boston.

The Post’s Ian O’Connor is the latest columnist to suggest the Nets would be better off with Udoka over Nash:

Once again with emotion, Nets general manager Sean Marks and owner Joe Tsai either didn’t know Udoka was special, or knew he was special, but didn’t have the guts to do everything he did. took to replace head coach Steve Nash with his assistant before said assistant jumped to division rival Celtics, who now stand three wins away from an NBA title.

Neither explanation is good.

Udoka may have even teased Marks and Nash after his Game 1 win.

“We see ourselves as a unit,” Udoka said. “A complete team. We look at the other teams, Brooklyn with Durant, the Bucks with [Giannis] Antetokounmpo, Miami with [Jimmy] Butler. We are proud to be a team that plays together.

That’s of course a big part of the narrative, that Marks and Nash let the players go wild, lead the team while Udoka is in charge in Beantown. This sub-narrative, of course, ignores certain realities.

It seems highly unlikely that even if Marks was thinking of a change (and there is no evidence or suggestion of this), he would swap one rookie coach for another while trying to win a title. And Nash, despite a steep learning curve that first year, finished with a .667 winning percentage in his freshman year, giving him the highest winning percentage of any Nets coach… ever. And yes, it’s hard to believe that Kevin Durant, the biggest Nash supporter on the roster, would go along with a dramatic move.

KD has repeatedly pointed out all the issues Nash has faced this season, especially endorsing him to continue.

“Come on man. Yeah,” Durant told reporters at the end of the season when asked if Nash should continue. as head coach for the first time, COVID, trades. I’m proud of his passion for us.

Earlier in April, KD told reporters he thought Nash handled his job “perfectly.”

“I think he’s done a great job. Over the last two years he’s been kicked around: injuries, trades, unhappy players, players in and out of lineup and everything he can’t control” , said KD. “I feel like he handled the situation the best he could.”

As any Nets fan can relate, that litany of issues includes Kyrie Irving’s refusal to get vaccinated, limiting him to 29 games; James Harden’s displeasure and his ultimate trade with Philly; Ben Simmons being unable to play after said trade; Joe Harris has missed all but 14 games and has had two surgeries on the same ankle. Not to mention COVID health and safety protocols and a Ferris wheel of players jumping on and off the roster.

Should Durant have such an important role? Sure. He is arguably the best player in the world and we signed an extension with Brooklyn until 2026.

Meanwhile, as Brian Lewis reports, Udoka said his year in Brooklyn and his previous season in Philadelphia helped him develop as a head coach after seven years as Gregg Popovich’s assistant.

“I’ve said many times how great it was to leave San Antonio and come back to the real NBA,” Udoka joked this week. “Seven years in San Antonio and the foundation and the basis of who I am as a coach and who I was as a player was beneficial. But leaving for those two years was probably just as, if not more, invaluable. for my preparation to become a head coach, for many reasons.

“Certain situations, obviously in Philadelphia with a win on the line and getting fired after that; Brooklyn, an intense situation with a winning mentality and superstar players. … everything bodes well for me in the future. San Antonio is a bit of a fairy tale, the scouts, and (they) do whatever you ask. I needed to get back to the real side of the NBA I was on as a player. It helped me navigate some of the stuff earlier this year.

He meant the early days of this season when, like Nash last season, he was slow to develop as a head coach. (And it should be noted that Daryl Morey receives no criticism for firing Udoka when he dumped Brett Brown and his team after the 2019-20 season.)

Whether Udoka is a better coach than Nash is less of a question than whether a change a year ago would have made sense, given a number of circumstances. Again, O’Connor notes that similar circumstances prevented the New York Giants from promoting assistants named Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry and Bill Belichick, who each went on to Hall of Fame careers as head coaches. elsewhere in the NFL.