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IN SHOCKER, STEVE NASH IS NETS NEW HEAD COACH

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

In an out-of-the-blue move that’s even more surprising than last year’s Clean Sweep, the Nets have named Hall of Famer Steve Nash as the 23rd head coach in the franchise’s NBA history.

Marc Stein first broke the news, followed seconds later by Adrian Wojnarowski, their tweets nearly simultaneous with the Nets official announcement.

Anthony Puccio tweeted that the decision was actually made months ago!

The team also announced that Jacque Vaughn, who replaced Kenny Atkinson as head coach in early March, will be retained as lead assistant. He’ll likely be the NBA’s highest paid assistant coach. Nash, a native of South Africa who grew up in Canada and played 18 NBA seasons, has no head or assistant coaching experience.

Nash joins the Nets following five seasons as a player development consultant with the Golden State Warriors, where he contributed to two NBA Championship teams and made four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals. In that capacity, he worked with Kevin Durant, one of the Nets two superstars. In fact, KD has said that Nash, already with the Warriors, was one of the last people he spoke to before joining Golden State back in 2016.

“After meeting with a number of highly accomplished coaching candidates from diverse backgrounds, we knew we had a difficult decision to make,” said Sean Marks, who played with Nash on the Suns between 2006 and 2008.

“In Steve we see a leader, communicator and mentor who will garner the respect of our players. I have had the privilege to know Steve for many years,” Marks continued. “One of the great on-court leaders in our game, I have witnessed firsthand his basketball acumen and selfless approach to prioritize team success. His instincts for the game, combined with an inherent ability to communicate with and unite players towards a common goal, will prepare us to compete at the highest levels of the league. We are excited to welcome Steve, Lilla, Lola, Bella, Matteo, Luca and Ruby to Brooklyn.”

Marks, in a later interview with Woj, reported that it was Nash who made the initial move.

“Steve searched me out when he knew the job was open, said look, I want to put my hat in the ring here,” said Marks. “We started talking, it moved very quickly. But obviously excited to have a guy his caliber, his stature to be coming in here to lead this organization forward.”

Marks also praised Vaughn, who many had seen as a front runner for the head coaching job after the Nets went 5-3 in the “bubble” seeding games before being swept by the Raptors.

“We are thrilled to retain Jacque as a leading member of our coaching staff,” he said. “Jacque has been an integral part of our program and a key contributor to the growth and development of our entire organization. His role in developing our players both on and off the court and his influence driving our culture have been invaluable. Our players will benefit from the continuity of Jacque’s presence, and we are extremely fortunate to keep him in our Nets family.”

Nash, who’s long had a place in Manhattan’s SOHO neighborhood and run charity soccer matches in Central Park, expressed his thanks to the organization.

“I am honored to have this opportunity with such a first-class organization and would like to thank Sean, Joe and his wife, Clara, for having faith in my ability to lead this team forward,” said Nash. “Coaching is something I knew I wanted to pursue when the time was right, and I am humbled to be able to work with the outstanding group of players and staff we have here in Brooklyn. I am as excited about the prospects of the team on the court as I am about moving to Brooklyn with my family and becoming impactful members of this community.”

Separately, he told Marc J. Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated, that he hopes to continue the fight for social justice as Nets coach.

“As a human being, it’s hard to live with racial injustice,” Nash told The Undefeated in a phone interview on Thursday. “It’s important for white people to take a deep look at what is occurring in our communities and what has been occurring for 400 years. A component of this conversation needs to be that white people need to not be offensive about white privilege or inequality. They just need to be honest, have those conversations and ask ourselves how we would feel if we had endured this 400-plus-year history.

“So, for me, it’s hurtful and it’s wrong. That’s why I have expressed my opinion on the matters because some of us are hurting and it’s not fair.”

Joe Tsai welcomed Nash to Brooklyn.

“We are excited to welcome Steve to the Nets family and look forward to a successful and meaningful partnership,” said Tsai. “Steve shares our vision for the future of this franchise and his character exemplifies the core principles of our organization in working to serve our communities. I can’t wait for Steve to get started.”

Nash becomes the latest point guard to go directly from retirement to head coach. As Woj noted, the list includes Doc Rivers (Magic), Isiah Thomas (Pacers), Mark Jackson (Warriors) Steve Kerr (Warriors), Derek Fisher (Knicks) and Jason Kidd (Nets).

But still the news came as a complete shock to virtually everyone, as Richard Jefferson’s face showed in an ESPN interview.

Nash’s connection to Durant no doubt played a large role in the hire. Marks said in June that KD had a “very loud voice” in team decisions. The two have been friends for years and in fact, Nash played a role in KD’s decision to join the Warriors.

“As I was making the decision to come here,” Durant told Tim Kawakami, then of the San Jose Mercery-News, back in 2016. “I asked Nash for some advice.”

“I asked him about Steph (Curry) and Klay (Thompson) and Draymond (Green) and the type of people they are day to day,” Durant said of the talk with Nash. “Obviously I didn’t know much about that, how they approached their jobs, how they approach working.

“And he had great things to say, just like everybody else I asked. I trust his judgment.”

Steve Kerr who was GM in Phoenix, then coach of Golden State, said Durant and Nash have a long standing friendship.

“There was an existing relationship before we even signed Kevin,” Kerr told Kawakami now of The Athletic on Thursday. “And you can even look online, I wouldn’t call it a documentary, but some kind of TV show where he interviewed Kevin and you could tell they really hit it off in this interview. I think Kevin has great respect for Steve because he watched him growing up and then played against him late in Steve’s career. There’s an inherent respect. Mutual respect.”

Jay Williams who works with KD at his Thirty-Five Ventures, told ESPN Thursday morning that trust was a big part of the process hiring Nash.

“Kevin and Steve have an incredible relationship. Look: The reality comes down to who ultimately will Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving trust? They had to put their stamp on this relationship,” said Williams.

Nash also reached out to another old friend, Dirk Nowitzki, to ask if he wanted to join the Nets as an assistant coach. The recently retired Nowitzki, who played with Nash in Dallas, declined, Marc Stein reported.

Nash played with the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers. He won back-to-back MVP awards in 2005 and 2006 while playing for the Suns, becoming just the 10th player in NBA history to win the award in consecutive seasons. Nash was named to All-NBA teams seven times throughout his career, earning first-team honors three times (2005-07), while twice being named to the second (2008, 2010) and third teams (2002, 2003).

A five-time assist champion, Nash currently ranks third in NBA history with 10,335 career assists. The culmination of his brilliant playing career came in 2018 when Nash was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

The Nets plan to introduce Nash at a virtual press conference next Wednesday, September 9.