NEW YORK — It’s easy to get lost in the sea of personalities, storylines and All-Star talents employed by the Brooklyn Nets, so Steve Nash can naturally operate on the periphery if he chooses.
It’s often said one locker room can’t hold but so much personality, there must be a special mix and a steady conductor to bring it all together — particularly in today’s NBA.
Nash doesn’t have a commanding, domineering presence or booming voice that can stop people in their tracks. His gift, in becoming one of the defining players in his era, was his efficiency and subtle toughness.
That should help him in coaching the Nets, keeping them on course throughout the nine-month grind. But they need force, applied pressure and some discomfort that isn’t surrounded by nonsense.
Nash doesn’t have a signature trait as a coach, something that would work if one played a game of word association. That steely eyed approach, wiping his hair back or constantly licking his fingers before running plays, belied his grit and a motor that never stopped probing for answers against some of the NBA’s toughest defenses.
That same look he possesses on the sideline gives the appearance of a bewildered and often overmatched coach, almost like a substitute teacher in a room full of rambunctious and hormonal teenagers wading through high school.
So fleeting was his impact on the Nets, Kevin Durant requested Nash be fired as coach during his “trade me” saga over the summer, along with Durant wanting Sean Marks removed as team architect.
Nash downplayed the reporting, saying on the first day of training camp, “I never thought that was 100 percent. It’s not black and white like that. There’s a lot of factors, a lot of things behind the scenes.”
Was it 90 percent true Durant wanted him gone? Or 85 percent? It’s hard to say, considering Nash can be slick at times in the name of preservation. He issued daily denials on James Harden’s trade availability in the days leading to last season’s deadline, even though it was clear there was smoke between the Nets and Philadelphia 76ers.
There was no sweet spot, no pocket pass to Amare Stoudemire for a flying dunk, that Nash could’ve taken in either instance that would satisfy the public. In some ways, he’s a product of circumstance and factors he has very little control in, so full transparency isn’t likely.
However, it continues the notion of things happening around Nash as opposed to him being a catalyst. As talented as Durant is, as much as he’s a generational talent and still the baddest man walking, he’s not an anchor.
And we all know it’s not Kyrie Irving or Ben Simmons.
Durant isn’t as wobbly as portrayed, but it’s clear the Nets franchise needs someone stable and vocal, someone who speaks with authority and clarity. Someone who commands respect and trust — but to be fair, it’s hard to point out a soul Irving has trusted fully and consistently on the sidelines.
It’s even hard to evaluate Nash on the basis of a roster because so much of the focus is on culture as opposed to actual basketball strategy. Can Irving be a winning player in this setup? Can Simmons — if he plays — alleviate playmaking responsibilities from both to maximize them as scorers?
Do the Nets have enough size at the rim, or even girth?
On one hand, the Nets were atop the East before Durant’s MCL injury around the first of the year, even with all the issues circling the team. Did Nash have a steady hand then, his guidance rocked by circumstances that would’ve rocked the best coaches in the game?
It didn’t look like it, when Harden acted up to get out, Irving was apparently staging practices after Nash ran his and the season ended in a four-game thud, the Nets the only team swept in the first round.
Unfortunately in sports, the results dictate the effectiveness of one’s approach. So Nash’s approach, while appearing prudent in his mind, wasn’t the right one.
And there’s no playbook in dealing with the main characters in the Nets locker room, so Nash could have an impossible task on a good day.
Marks can play cute with the words and say he isn’t Durant’s boss, that they’re in a partnership — backed up by the Nets issuing a statement weeks ago declaring Durant was rescinding his trade demand and returning to the Nets, with Durant’s business venture logo emblazoned at the bottom of the page.
But Nash doesn’t have that luxury, especially when he must deliver the daily gospel of the Nets. Responding to the latest chapter in the book of Kyrie or deciphering Durant’s moods and wants is Nash’s responsibility, not Marks’.
It’s Nash’s first coaching job, but he’s in his third year in this particular ecosystem. On media day, he poignantly stated he “knows” Durant, dating back to Nash’s time in Golden State when he was a consultant.
His Hall of Fame career gives him the knowledge that craziness is often a requisite in the NBA, so much of it unreported even when it’s detected through surges and slumps. So he can be believed and trusted when he appears not to take any of this personally.
But that doesn’t mean he mustn’t put his stamp on a team that desperately needs one. It’s actually his job.
He’s probably learned more about coaching and his own demeanor in these first two treacherous seasons that have allowed Marks to add personnel to cover those blind spots — if one chooses to be so optimistic.
At no point through Nash’s tenure has he challenged his players in such a way to make them feel uncomfortable, perhaps because he knows he isn’t as experienced as others coaching contenders.
Perhaps being a little uncomfortable himself is what’s necessary for growth and evolution, and finding his coaching voice will help the Nets find an identity that isn’t tied to drama, inactivity or immature, ill-informed social media posts.
All we know is nothing’s worked so far and the clock is ticking for Durant and Marks, for Irving and Simmons.
And for the understated Steve Nash, too.