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Steve Nash: ‘We’re playing for a championship’

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Hall of Fame Press Conference Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Nash made it plain. No back-stopping, stepping back or backing down.

“We’re playing for a championship,” Nash said an hour-long “town hall” with Ian Eagle that aired on the YES Network. and streamed on the Nets website. “I don’t want to say that anything less than a championship is not a success because you never know what happens in life, you never know the way the ball bounces. Fortune is a big part of winning an NBA championship.

“But we are playing for a championship and we’re going to build accordingly. We’re going to frame everything we do in the lens of, ‘Is this a championship characteristic?’ or ‘Is this worth championship quality?’”

The event was wide-ranging with Eagle asking him about everything from his offense to his recent move to Brooklyn to boyhood heroes, a combination of the obvious, Michael Jordan, and the surprising, Darryl Strawberry.

It was Nash’s first exposure to fans —and he took questions from season ticket holders as well as Eagle As more than one person noted, Nash’s performance was polished and relaxed. There wasn’t much news but with new season with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving just eight weeks, any news is big news. Nash did confirm that Amar’e Stoudmire had been hired as an assistant.

Nash gave a bit of a hint of his offense. There was no surprise that like the offense he ran in Phoenix, it will be fast, open and hopefully creative.

“It’s all sort of to be determined,” Nash said, explaining he wants to be guided not by sets, but by “principles.” And in keeping with his superstars’ comments about a “collaborative” process, he said players will play a role.

“I’d much rather come in with principles, with ideas that allow our players to collaborate with us and allow their personalities and the dynamic between them and the chemistry to have a role in how it evolves,” he said.

“People talk about the Phoenix teams I played on, and this sort of revolutionary tone of how it impacted the game, but the truth be told, Mike D’Antoni’s brilliance in much of that was he allowed it to evolve instead of getting in the way...

“I want us to play fast; I want us to space the floor. I want us to create opportunities to get downhill with our ball handlers and make plays for one another. Attack closeouts. A lot of high-level philosophical thoughts, and of course we’ll design and have offensive sets and things that we think fit our group, but we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves with the offense. We want it to stay pretty high-level right now.

Overall, he discussed his philosophy in the context of where he’s been in his career, who he played for ... and his roster. Praising the work that Jacque Vaughn did during the “bubble” and the work Kenny Atkinson did in the three years prior to departing in March.

“There’s pieces for me to learn and build on from what they did, but then there’s also new players coming in here that are going to have a big impact, that are going to change the way we have to look at things in many ways and challenge us to create something unique that identifies with their skills and talents,” Nash said.

“It is a bit of all those things, and I’m going to definitely lean on the experiences this club has had in the past, the development of the individual players and collectively how this new group, considering Kevin hasn’t been in the mix, is going to best perform and how we can use him as a cornerstone for much of that we do.”

As for team defense, Nash said that end of the court has been the focus of team meetings the past several weeks.

A run for the Nets first NBA title is one goal, he noted. There will be others as the season wears on.

“Are we growing?” Nash asked. “Are we striving? Are we pressure-tested? Are we continually asking of each other and ourselves that individual collective growth every day and creating an environment that is fun but challenging and collaborative?

“If those tenets are being met, there’s a lot of success and reward in that. But we are playing for a championship.”

Although not addressing KD and Kyrie’s comments about collaboration —and Irving’s stated desire to be seen as more than a basketball player, Nash made it clear he appreciates his point guard’s personality and achievements, both on and off the court.

“First of all, it’s a thrill for me to get to coach Kyrie,” said Nash. “He has an incredible skill level, like off the charts. As skilled of a player as perhaps we’ve ever seen in this league. So that excites me first of all as someone who built his career off of skill and creativity, to be able to coach someone that has done the same thing and even is elevating those skills is incredible.

“I think having those common experiences, playing the position, playing in the best city in the world and the responsibility that comes with that is going to give us such a commonality, so I’m thrilled to be his coach but I’m also thrilled to get to know him even better. We have a great relationship.

“I’ve gotten to know him more and more as a guy who’s generous with his time, he’s brought in resources, he donated $1.5 million for WNBA players who were affected by the bubble and could go by all sorts of charitable endeavors during COVID or even pre-COVID. This is a guy that’s incredibly deep and has a good passion for helping others, so I get to coach him on the floor but also connect with him on all his passions off the floor, as well.”

He called Durant “historically unique” and noted how he understood that as their careers overlapped a decade ago and again when he was a consultant to the Warriors during KD’s three years in the Bay Area.

“He was a player entering his prime, and I was a player quickly exiting my prime,” said Nash. “I could share with him some of the experiences I had, and we developed a bond over the game, and that led to the Warriors situation a few years later where we continued to develop our relationship, and here we are working together again.

“He’s just a human being that I have a lot of love for and a lot of belief in in the type of person he is and character he is. And as far as a basketball player, he’s historically unique and impact and he’s one of the all-time greats already and he’s still got a chapter to build right here.”

He also offered effusive praise for the other Nets players he’s getting to know ... and indicated he paid a lot of attention to the Nets’ play in Orlando, particularly that of Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen.

“Caris and Jarrett both developing at an excellent rate,” said Nash. “Caris’ performance in the bubble, I think he made the all-bubble team, showing how prolific he can be scoring and playmaking. He’s a big guard who also can get into the ball defensively. He can improve a lot as well, which is exciting. He can continue to grow and improve.

“Jarrett, the same. I thought his performance in the bubble showed some big growth at both ends of the floor. He was more dynamic at the defensive end, expanding his game there, getting out and player farther out on the floor, covering guards, moving his feet for stretches that we hadn’t seen in the past, and then his rim protection I think has been his cornerstone,” said Nash.

“Offensively, I think he’s getting better in traffic. He’s getting a better feel, and he’s going to continue to grow there too. So, two very talented players who have youth and a lot of upside and are great pieces to put in the mix here for this team.”

Nash also noted that his journey to coaching, from player to consultant to head coach.

“I think I always realized I would like or enjoy coaching,” said Nash on Tuesday, speaking with YES Network’s Ian Eagle on a livestreamed Brooklyn Nets Town Hall. “I think it took me a while and a directive of trying to get away from the game and have some separation from being a player and having that be my identity and purpose for so many years. That transition needed to take place. I also love being a dad, I have five kids so that gave me the space to do that with everything that I had. And over the last few years I realized that there was an itch forming and that I was starting to gain some interest in taking that leap at some point.

“I started to take more notes, and study, and start to listen to what different people do and all different aspects of coaching and building and creating a culture, that dynamic of a winning environment. I think that collided with this incredible opportunity, this moment in time with this organization that’s just continued to grow and build. Such leaps and bounds, the roster and like I said all the departments are so mature that it’s an opportunity that was just too good to pass up.”

Nash also noted that he’s now living in Brooklyn ... and loving it.