All Eyes Are On Steve Nash In Brooklyn
The Brooklyn Nets just completed one of NBA history’s most consequential trades. By bringing in former-MVP James Harden, Brooklyn might have formed the league’s most potent offense - perhaps ever.
In doing so, the Nets increased their odds of winning this season’s championship from two to fifteen percent. It’s a trade you make ninety-nine times out of one hundred, and a move that has changed the entire NBA landscape.
All that said, though, massaging Harden into the fold - on and off the court - won’t be easy. And who knows what’s going on with Kyrie Irving.
The man tasked with captaining this ship is a rookie head coach. From here on out, all eyes are on Steve Nash.
Let’s start where things should be easiest for Nash and the Nets, the offense. Kevin Durant might be the smoothest scoring machine in NBA history, while James Harden might be the most analytically efficient. Kyrie Irving isn’t exactly chopped liver here. This offense is about to exert a scorched earth policy on the rest of the league.
Nash himself deserves a spot in NBA history for changing how offenses look. As the point guard for Phoenix’s “Seven Seconds or Less” offense in the mid-2000s, Nash in many ways helped usher in this new era of offensive prowess we know and love today. It’s fitting that the Suns’ old coach, the Cat himself Mr. Mike D’Antoni, is now part of Nash’s staff. Hell, even Amar’e Stoudemire is in the mix.
Any fool off the street could probably get this offense to hum. But under Nash, there’s reason to believe that the Nets are sitting on something unprecedented. Having Kyrie Irving as your third option is offensive nirvana, like something out of 2K or an All-Star game.
With this weaponry and coaching pedigree, expect the Nets to get out and run. Like the Warriors of old, Brooklyn has the chance to simply bury teams if and when they decide to put the foot on the gas.
Staggering these players’ minutes will be critical, though. Durant, Harden, and Irving need their touches to stay happy, as do players like Joe Harris. Harden in particular has a poor track record as a supplemental scoring piece. As powerful as this offense can be, COVID protocols, injury history, and player expectations dictate that Nash will also need to be quite methodical with his rotations.
Especially during the regular season, Nash would be wise to construct rotations that give each member of the new Big Three plenty of run as the focal point of the offense. This will prove devastating for opposing second units. As Miami, Boston, and Philly struggle to field serviceable benches, Nash can sit one of his stars for entire quarters while still possessing the offensive upper hand.
At the same time, the Nets aren’t alone in blowing the scoring barn doors off of opponents. Early in the season, for example, Brooklyn trails Milwaukee in points per game, FG and 3pt FG percent, and net rating. Harden will, of course, change the formula considerably, but Nash isn’t alone in helming a hyper-potent offense.
It’s on the opposite end of the court where things get tricky for Nash and the Nets. Milwaukee and Boston have the chops to finish in the top-10 in offense and in defense. Philly and Miami are right there, too. Brooklyn might be able to go supernova scoring the ball. But how is this team going to defend?
As individuals, Durant, Harden, and Irving each have checkered histories as focused, consistent on-ball defenders. Harden and Irving in particular can really get caught with their pants down sometimes, even (or especially) in the postseason.
Joe Harris doesn’t inspire on the defensive end, and how much gas DeAndre Jordan has left in the tank is unclear. Timothy Luwawu-Cabarrot and Landry Shamet are fine, if average on this side of the ball, too.
The Nets are going to corner the highlight market. But there’s a fundamental, fatal flaw for this team. Defense is criminally overlooked by average NBA teams, but not by champions
Kevin Durant might be the Nets best defender, and because of the team’s lack of depth down low, he might be charged with shoring up the front cout. When Brooklyn is scoring a thousand points a night, it’s probably a non-issue. But what about in the postseason, when the game really slows down? Or against an opposing point guard or coach who really knows how to dictate the terms of a game?
Perhaps Brooklyn can borrow from Toronto and Miami and utilize the zone in the postseason, but that demands the kind of cohesion and focus that comes from teams with great familiarity and chemistry.
Steve Nash isn’t just building this defense on the fly, though. He’s also been handed the keys to what could be the NBA’s most volatile locker room. And that’s where the battle will be won or lost for the Nets.
The locker room
In recent weeks, both James Harden and Kyrie Irving have been caught, on camera, abandoning team responsibilities to go and party. To make matters infinitely worse, they’ve been doing so indoors, maskless in the worst pandemic to hit the US in a century. To say these two have acted selfishly is a cataclysmic understatement.
Harden’s conditioning and focus are worth questioning. He’s been sluggish and distracted early on this season. And though a change of scenery can and will likely help, it takes weeks or months to play yourself into shape. Time that ought to be spent polishing the product.
The Beard hasn’t always gotten along with his previous head coaches, including the aforementioned D’Antoni. Getting Harden to buy-in after years of pampering in Houston is a tall task for a new, ringless head coach.
Kyrie Irving, meanwhile, is still AWOL. His conduct has also been somewhere between puzzling and alarming. Though it’s admirable he was spending his time fundraising for a political campaign, his lack of communication with the team, and specifically Nash, is patently unprofessional and unfair to his coaches, teammates, and fans.
Consider what Rockets center DeMarcus Cousins recently said of James Harden. The Nets players have every right to feel similarly about the Kyrie Irving situation. If your own co-worker left you out to dry for days on end, you probably might think twice about your relationship with that person.
Durant, Irving, and Harden each have a record of creating or amplifying locker room strife. Of course, winning fixes everything - there are many permutations where Brooklyn’s Big Three hits the ground running and never looks back, with or without Nash’s guidance.
At the same time, Nash is now charged with balancing the needs and egos of, frankly, some of the NBA’s biggest prima donnas. It takes a certain amount of swagger, patience, and luck to coach the best of the best. There simply isn’t a way to know if Nash has that sort of skill and poise.
Star players get coaches fired all the time, whether they deserve it or not. Go ask Kevin McHale, Brett Brown, or Mike Brown. If things go south in Brooklyn, Steve Nash will almost assuredly be collateral damage.
At the same time, Nash has an opportunity to preside over something truly great. This is a revolutionary new NBA powerhouse, one that quite literally could shatter offensive records.
In success, Nash will earn quiet praise as his stars bask in the spotlight; Failure could very well cost him his job.