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NetsDaily Off-Season Report - No. 2

Every weekend, we’ll be updating the Nets’ off-season with bits and pieces of information, gossip, etc. to help fans get ready for ... whatever.

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At 9:42 on Thursday morning, every Nets fan’s cell phone exploded. Buzz, buzz, buzz followed by triple takes, then variations of “Holy Sh*t,” “What the ...” or your expletive of choice. The Nets, who pundits and fans believed were weighing an offer to Gregg Popovich or Tyronn Lue or Jacque Vaughn, had instead selected Steve Nash, the Hall of Fame point guard with no coaching experience but a ton of connections, as their head coach.

The news was so shocking that it was hard to credit any writer with the big beat. Marc Stein beat Adrian Wojnarowski by seconds with the news, which in turn came seconds before the Nets official announcement.

The Nets have in the past been able to keep a secret on lesser deals, even Kenny Aktinson’s departure, but this was different. There was a lot of focus paid to the Nets coaching search by both local and national writers ... and there no speculation about Nash. You can search the web, social media, your own memory and not find a single suggestion that Nash would be named Brooklyn head coach. Hell, even the Clean Sweep wasn’t as big a surprise!

A lot has been written, spoken since Thursday, about Nash’s lack of experience, about whether his getting the job amounted to “white privilege” (more on that in next couple of days), and whether the choice was directed by Kevin Durant who worked with him and knew him before then, or by Sean Marks who played two seasons with him in Phoenix and says the two and their families have socialized for years. But bottom line, Nash, it seems, was always the leading contender.

As Pooch wrote after the announcement, the discussion to hire Nash began not long after Atkinson departed —and the league went on hiatus— within days of each back in March. There were, Marks avows, “meetings” with “highly accomplished coaching candidates from diverse backgrounds,” among them Vaughn who was interviewed by —and “impressed”— ownership only days prior to the Nash announcement.

We’re likely to get some insight on the process on how it worked before (or at) Wednesday’s virtual press conference to introduce Nash. Some things are known.

Marks said it was Nash who approached the Nets. “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 in the interview with Woj. “We started talking, it moved very quickly.”

Kevin Durant, who Marks said back in July has a “very loud voice” on the coaching search and other future moves, was crucial. He and Nash have mutual respect and a relationship from when KD and Nash were part of three Warriors teams, Durant as MVP and Nash as player development consultant. KD has said, in fact, that Nash was the last person he spoke to before making his decision to join the Warriors back in 2016.

—Again, Nets assistant coach and director of player development Adam Harrington played a role. KD’s shooting coach at Oklahoma City, he is the unsung hero of the Nets success with his player development work and making connections that matter. He was the guy who 1) first introduced KD to Nash years ago; 2) set up the 2017 California workout for Caris LeVert with Nash and KD, opening up that relationship; and 3) was critical in persuading Durant to join the Nets. Never underestimate Harrington’s role in ALL of this.

We don’t know where Joe (and Clara Wu) Tsai played in the selection but there were reports that the owner wanted a broad search beyond the usual suspects and also wanted someone who could relate to his superstars. He certainly got that. (It should be noted as well that Nash and Tsai share Canadian citizenship. Nash was born in South Africa and became a Canadian citizen. Tsai was born in Taiwan and became a Canadian citizen. He’s now the richest Canadian, according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index even if he splits time between Hong Kong and San Diego.)

Next up is who’s staying first among assistant coaches. Vaughn of course will be the lead assistant and Woj says the highest paid assistant in the NBA, meaning a salary likely in seven figures. Some of the other assistants will likely to stay on, too, starting with Harrington. Another likely holdover is Bret Brielmaier, who was Vaughn’s lead assistant in Orlando. Same with Tiago Splitter, Marks former teammate in San Antonio.

Who might join Nash on the bench? Jared Dudley was asked by Sam Amick of The Athletic, perhaps tongue-in-cheek whether he’d be interested in a Nets coaching gig. “So how long until you’re a member of the Nets coaching staff, huh?” Amick asked. Dudley took it seriously. He wouldn’t directly answer the question, but said “I’m pretty sure he’s going to have a good staff around him to help him out throughout” and yes, he and Nash have spoken.

“I did talk to him. I talked to him today, congratulated him,” Dudley told Amick. “He said he couldn’t say anything a week ago while it was going on, and I said, ‘Man, listen, you don’t have to say sorry to me at all, man.’ It’s just interesting.”

Will Nash’s addition mean a change for the Nets thinking in the off-season? Marks told Woj...

“We have a lot of pieces here and probably pieces still to go, we’ll see how we build this out. But as Joe Tsai had mentioned before, and I love this quote ‘we need a conductor.’ That’s exactly what we need here and Steve’s the right guy ... His basketball IQ is off the charts.”

And Nash?

“I’m fortunate to have this roster. We have a lot of talent. A lot of versatility,” Nash told Marc J. Spears in an exclusive interview Thursday. “Let’s be clear, I feel grateful for the roster I have.”

It appears that Jamal Crawford will be back. He played only five minutes in the seeding games due to a hamstring issue. In a story centered on his exclusive interview with Nash, Spears wrote, “The Nets are also expected to re-sign veteran free agent guard Jamal Crawford, a source told The Undefeated.”

One thing to expect regarding the roster. Nash is an innovator. Henry Abbott of True Hoop, in discussing critiques of Nash, pointed out that Nash was as big a part of the Suns’ “Seven Seconds or Less” as Mike D’antoni. D’Antonio has said that his offense had a lot to do with giving Nash the freedom to innovate in wide open system.

Specifically, Abbott pointed to Kyrie Irving and his possibilities in a more wide open modern offense.

He has exactly the right skillset to thrive in a fully modernized system; the last thing he needs is a regular coach, one who would get antsy if he tried stuff.

That’s where Nash comes in. He already has an entire playbook memorized to deploy creative-as-hell ball-handling sweet-shooting point guards. He has no coaching experience, but he has much experience pushing the stodgy limits of basketball.

Sounds like fun.

Expect the press conference Wednesday to be lively. Nash has always had great relationships with the media in his previous stops. He can handle New York. Remember, he has split his time in recent years between Manhattan Beach, California and the real Manhattan, running annual celebrity soccer tournaments in Central Park every summer.

In fact, expect the Nets to spotlight Nash’s personality across a number of initiatives including Joe and Clara Wu Tsai’s social justice initiative.

“As a human being, it’s hard to live with racial injustice,” Nash told Spears. “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.”

A bit of an update on KD

A bit lost in the Steve Nash news is what Nash told Marc J. Spears about Kevin Durant’s status.

“Kevin looks good and feels good from what I’m hearing,” Nash said. “There is still an adaptation process that he is going through where he is healthy enough to do just about anything. But you still have to have time to adapt and fortify that recovery. He is going through the process now to create that durability and staying power with his Achilles and withstand the demands of the NBA game and schedule.”

ICYMI, in a recent podcast with two WNBA players who suffered Achilles ruptures, KD spoke about the status of his rehab.

“I’ve been playing 3-on-3’s for like three months,” he told the two who like him have both suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon. “Four times a week. Next phase is to playing more 5-on-5. I was doing it before the pandemic but now it’s hard to get 10 guys on the court during COVID so I think that the next step is to get some good runs in the next couple of months, couple of weeks.”

And, he noted about next season, “whenever they come, you’ve got to be ready.”

Power Couple ... continued

Although the Nets official website doesn’t (yet) reflect it, it’s become part of every announcement, every official comment coming from the team’s PR machine: Clara Wu Tsai is the co-owner of the Nets. Wu Tsai, who attended more games in Brooklyn than her husband last season, was identified as a team owner in the recent official announcements of the Nets’ $50 million Social Justice Fund, the decision to free up Barclays Center for Election Day voting and even the hiring of Steve Nash.

“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 in the Nets official statement announcing his hire.

We don’t know how this works officially but Wu Tsai is listed as co-owner of the Liberty, suggesting she’s gone through the league ownership vetting process. Often described as a “philanthropic investor,” Wu Tsai is also a founding partner of Meek Mills’ REFORM Alliance whose aim is reform of the nation’s prison and parole systems.

If you want to known more about Wu Tsai, here’s her official biography from the Alliance...

Clara Wu Tsai is a commercial and philanthropic investor with a lifelong interest in improving economic mobility. She is an active supporter of community-oriented research projects, advocacy, and films promoting equality of opportunity and related issues, including criminal justice reform. Clara and her husband Joe are also co-owners of the Brooklyn Nets. Through her other philanthropic endeavors, Clara supports the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute at Stanford University and is on the Advisory Board of the Institute for Protein Design at the University of Washington. She is also a trustee of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and was an executive producer of Into the Okavango, a documentary that premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival. Previously, Clara was General Manager of the Hong Kong operations of Taobao, China’s largest online shopping website, and a Vice President at American Express in New York and Hong Kong. Clara holds an A.B. in International Relations and an A.M. in International Policy Studies from Stanford University, and an MBA from Harvard University.

Wu Tsai is a native of Kansas where her father taught at the University of Kansas.

Draft Sleeper of the Week - R.J. Hampton

Nets love that Pacific Rim. Joe Tsai has residences in Hong Kong and California. Sean Marks grew up in New Zealand and had a place in California. Steve Nash grew up in Canada’s British Columbia and has a place in California.

So why not reach down to Marks’ hometown and pluck 6’6” R.J. Hampton at No. 19 (assuming he’s available). Hampton, a Texas native, played for the New Zealand Breakers, located in Auckland, NZ, part of the Australian NBL, opting out of college. He had been a five-star recruit a year ago.

Hampton didn’t wow people with his numbers Down Under. Through 15 NBL games, Hampton averaged 8.8 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game, shooting 40.7 percent from the field. Not great numbers, but scouts know his talent and long-term potential from high school.

Here’s ESPN’s summary of his offense...

Quick, explosive athlete with nice size for a combo guard. Has grown three inches over the past few years and is far from a finished product physically. Plays above the rim with ease in space. Explosive first step with the ability to shift gears on a dime. Uses Eurosteps well in the open floor.

Versatile offensive game. Can play on or off the ball in a pinch. At his best putting pressure on the rim with his speed in transition and the half court. Streaky, yet developing shooter who can make a spot 3 or a midrange pull-up with nice elevation. Holds quite a bit of playmaking potential. Sound feel for the game. At his best in drive-and-kick situations.

One comparison (long term) is Zach LaVine.

There are issues, as there are with any draftee. Hampton needs a better 3-point shot and ESPN notes he doesn’t have one overwhelming skill. He’s also had some injuries, to his hip and foot but that could have something to do with his still developing body.

Here he is talking with ESPN’s Mike Schmitz about his transition from high school to pro ball. The two look at video of his season in Auckland. Hampton’s maturity and intelligence at 19 are as impressive as his highlights.

Drafting a combo guard of course would be drafting into your team’s strengths, with the current roster including Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert and Jamal Crawford.

But smart contenders always have someone on the roster they’re trying to develop. In the latest round-up of mock drafts, Hampton is linked to Brooklyn on more than one, although some mocks have Hampton as a lottery pick. ESPN has him going to the Nets.

The Kings of New York

Even Marc Berman of the Post, long time Knicks beat writer, had to concede that Steve Nash’s signing would have ramifications in the world of New York basketball...

Of course, the Nets are more than high profile when compared to their neighbors in Manhattan. They’ve been to the playoffs five times in their eight years in New York. The Knicks, just once in that same span. And the Nets have Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert and now Steve Nash.

Although the Nets marketing department have never taken on the Knicks directly (Mikhail Prokhorov did.) in a campaign, their season ticket ads launched just before the pandemic seemed a subtle move in that direction. The campaign is called, “Kings of New York” and features Kevin and Ky.

So as the off-season opens up and there’s more news on next season, look to see how the Nets use Nash in their marketing. We don’t know what to expect. We will note that John Abbamondi reportedly left Madison Square Garden under less-than-friendly circumstances.

One other thing on marketing. A month ago, we quoted Abbamondi as saying the Nets plan to go after the “next generation” of fans in New York.

Abbamondi described that “next generation” as fans who are as young as 8-to-10 year-olds, believing that if, as expected, the Nets have success in the coming years, it will translate to lifelong loyalty. He didn’t say what specific initiatives he’d institute to make that happen.

That fits with a Joe Tsai quote we found in a Wall Street Journal interview from last October. “I want the children of Knicks fans to be Nets fans.”

What will we see in terms of marketing to youngsters and in general? It will be interesting to watch. Publicly, Tsai and Abbamondi have said that it’d be a good thing for the Nets and Knicks to be good at the same time, helps build something that’s greater than the sum of its parts. The last time that happened was back in 2012-13 when the Nets moved into Brooklyn and won 49 games while the Knicks won 54.

Yes, it might be good for marketing if the Knicks are good. It’s never good for a Nets’ fan’s psyche.

Final Note

Hiring Steve Nash certainly is a risk, but he is a legend and a good part of that legend has to do with what makes a great leader, communications skills and innovation.

Over and over, we hear how the Nets wanted a “communicator” and many in the NBA who commented on the hiring cited that skill above all others. So was his role as an innovator in the “Seven Seconds or Less” Suns of the mid-2000’s.

Moreover, there are already so many connections to the Nets beyond Kevin and Ky, as Sean Marks calls them. The picture accompanying today’s Off-Season Report is from a September 2017 story about how Caris LeVert and Sean Kilpatrick trained for a week back then with Kevin Durant and Steve Nash. Joe Harris is an investor in a Nash company, etc. etc.

All those skills and connections will be needed once the ball is tipped somewhere down the line.

Being a head coach isn’t just about x’s and o’s. Far from it. It’s about dealing with players 1 through 15 or even 17; dealing with a GM who’ll construct your roster; dealing with an owner (or owners, see above) who wants results for financial and psychic reasons. There’s also the social justice aspect of being a leader of men, a face of the franchise. We’re all essentially on new ground here.

Then, there’s the pure pressure of the job. EVERYONE thinks the Nets will be a contender next season whenever it starts (and finishes.) Nash, of course, is not new to pressure. He spent 18 years playing in the NBA, twice being voted MVP. Still, it’s a new gig.

It sounds like fun. We wish him well.