Steve Nash out as Nets pursue suspended Celtics coach Ime Udoka

Steve Nash out as Nets pursue suspended Celtics coach Ime Udoka


Mired in an uninspired start on the court and consumed by another round of off-court controversy, the Brooklyn Nets parted ways with coach Steve Nash on Tuesday just seven games into the NBA season.

Nash, 48, starts with a 94-67 (.584) record and a playoff win in his two-plus seasons in Brooklyn. Assistant Jacque Vaughn, who coached the Orlando Magic from 2012 to 2015, will step in as interim coach for Brooklyn’s Tuesday night game against the Chicago Bulls. Vaughn previously served as interim coach following the 2020 firing of Kenny Atkinson, Nash’s predecessor.

In a statement, Nets general manager Sean Marks said Nash had “faced a number of unprecedented challenges” and that the Nets were “sincerely grateful for his leadership, patience and humility throughout. of his mandate”.

At a press conference later Tuesday, Marks revealed Nash concluded the Nets were no longer responding to his coaching, saying the two men agreed it was “time to make a change.” Marks said he did not solicit any player input on the move.

“To be frank, the team wasn’t doing what they were supposed to do,” Marks said. “We had fallen from our goals. … We’ve seen games this year where, I’ll be honest, I don’t think we’ve brought it. I’m not going to water it down. There were times when a quarter was taken out, a half was taken out, a game was taken out and we didn’t compete.

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The Nets have begun pursuing exiled Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka as a full-time replacement for Nash, according to two people with knowledge of the situation. Marks said Tuesday that the Nets had “absolutely not” opted to replace Nash, adding that they would target a candidate who was “competitive, had a voice and could hold guys accountable” while possessing “the balance and the charisma”.

Udoka was suspended by the Celtics for the season in September for having an inappropriate relationship with a female staff member on the team. Udoka, 45, served as an assistant coach for USA Basketball at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where Nets forward Kevin Durant led a gold medal-winning effort, and as an assistant on Nash’s staff during the 2020-21 season. Boston, which replaced Udoka with interim assistant Joe Mazzulla, is unlikely to block Udoka if the Nets offer him the job.

After a turbulent summer in which Durant asked for a trade, Brooklyn started the season 2-5 and has the 29th defense in the NBA. The first two weeks of the season have been filled with warning signs: Ben Simmons lashed out at the referees after committing two fouls in his first three games, Nash earned the first sending off of his career last week for an angry confrontation with officials, and Kyrie Irving was caught on a pitchside microphone yelling at Simmons to kick the ball.

Meanwhile, Irving drew heavy criticism after posting an anti-Semitic film on social media last week. The NBA, National Basketball Players Association, Nets and owner Joe Tsai all rebuked Irving in separate statements, but the star guard refused to apologize in a heated postgame exchange with reporters on Saturday. . Irving, who eventually deleted his post on the film, has yet to be punished by the NBA or the Nets, although he was greeted by a row of fans seated courtside wearing “Fight” t-shirts. Against Anti-Semitism” in Monday’s win over the Indiana Pacers in Brooklyn. This latest saga follows a season-long ordeal over Irving’s refusal to get a coronavirus shot.

“I’m certainly not proud of the situation we’re in,” Marks said when asked about the backlash to Irving’s post. “I would like to come back to basketball. … There is no tolerance and no place for hate speech or anti-Semitic remarks in this organization.

Tsai and Marks spent the summer pledging to change Brooklyn’s dysfunctional culture after a humiliating first-round sweep against the Celtics. Tsai backed Nash in August following a report that Durant was seeking a coaching change, but the Hall of Fame point guard nonetheless entered the season in the hot seat due to Brooklyn’s unresolved culture issues. and the need to improve its internal accountability.

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Nash, known for his laid-back personality off the court, was hired in 2020 as a player-friendly alternative to Atkinson, who was considered a disciplinarian. Brooklyn imagined the two-time MVP overseeing a smooth offense that made the most of Durant and Irving’s skills. The plan came to fruition in his first season, as the Nets traded for James Harden, boasted the best offense in the NBA and reached the conference semifinals, in which they lost a game. 7 heartbreaking against the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks.

Along the way, Nash has shown himself willing to give up key training decisions, such as how many minutes his stars played in postseason games, even when injured. Last season, the Nets cemented their reputation for pandering to the whims of their stars by allowing Irving, who was ineligible to play in New York due to a local vaccination mandate, to return as a player. part time. The move forced Nash to constantly juggle his starting lineups, and Irving’s inconsistent presence contributed to Harden’s desire to seek a trade to the Philadelphia 76ers in February.

So Nash was left without his best point guard, and Harden’s replacement Simmons was a shell of himself after back surgery and a season-long absence of sanity. The Nets’ once-vaunted offense slipped to 16th this season, and lacked the pace and ball movement needed to make Brooklyn a top contender. With the Nets going down the same path as last year, or perhaps a worse one, they had every incentive to make Nash the first coach to be fired this season.

“I got to know Steve during his time in Brooklyn, and he’s not one to shy away from challenges,” Tsai said in a statement. “My admiration and respect for him grew over time as he brought hard work and a positive attitude to our organization every day, even in times of exceptional storm around the team.”

Nash retired after an 18-year playing career in 2014, doing player development work and football commentary before being hired by the Nets. His hiring drew criticism because he was given a plum gig — a big-market team with superstar talent — without paying his dues as an assistant coach. Nash acknowledged at the time that he had “jumped the line”, but argued that his playing experience would help him connect with players. Instead, his inexperience in managing a locker room contributed to his quick exit.

“It was an incredible experience with many challenges that I am incredibly grateful for,” Nash said in a statement. “I wish the Nets all the success in the world and the Nashes will support our team as they tour through this season.”

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