Ian Eagle got a phone call last Wednesday night that he now admits he should have taken more seriously.
“Let me take you back to Wednesday night,” he told WFAN’s Sal Licata. “Around 10 pm, I got a call from somebody who’s in the league. They told me, ‘Keep any eye on Steve Nash for the Nets.’ And I chuckled. I laughed out loud initially. ‘Yeah, great.’ That was it. I moved on with my night.
“Next day, I wake up, I’m doing some things around the house and my phone starts blowing up on Thursday morning. And I checked my messages and what did we find out, it was indeed real that Steve Nash is the next head coach of the Nets. “
For the long-time (26 years) voice of the Nets, the shock was followed by all the same questions fans have had. But he like broadcasters who cover the Nets and the NBA believe hiring the Hall-of-Famer was a smart move. Nothing is guaranteed, but to a man they think the Nets made the right call.
“Anyone who’s been in Nash’s company has basically said, when the time’s right, if this guy wants to be a head coach in the NBA, his people skills, his basketball IQ, his organization, his professionalism, his general demeanor s all of those ingredients will make for an excellent head coach,” said Eagle. “Now, you never know. This is a new position...
“I think the Nets feel very comfortable based on their meetings with Steve and based on not just Durant but Kyrie Irving and their feelings this is a really good fit.”
Chris Carrino, the Nets radio voice, agreed. In a Twitter video feed, he and Tim Capstraw discussed the move and although they too were surprised, ultimately they felt good about it.
“It’s like watching a movie where you find out what happened at the end and you didn’t see it coming but when you do, [it’s] ‘Wow, that makes perfect sense. I don’t know if this Steve Nash hiring makes perfect sense for the Knicks or the Bulls, but it just seems like what the Nets need, it makes perfect sense.”
Capstraw said he too was stunned initially, but admitted that other than Gregg Popovich, he wasn’t crazy about any of the other candidates begin floated around.
“As my wife said, there’s something about it that’s so cool, so relatable, and unique, I think it’s as good a hire as you could and I’ll be honest with ya. I wasn’t that all that thrilled about everybody else in the pool! I’ll be honest with ya, there weren’t that many fits! One guy with the nickname, ‘Pop’ that I would’ve been excited about, but I don’t know about everybody else.
“So you hear, ‘they’re taking a chance here.’ They’d be taking a chance with everybody!”
ESPN’s Mike Breen, speaking with Sports Illustrated, said that yes, indeed, the Nets are taking a chance but in discussing the move with his colleagues Mark Jackson and Jeff VanGundy (both of whom were rumored as possibilities for the job), he argued it’s not that big of a risk because it’s Steve Nash.
“Sometimes risks are the decisions that turn out the best, and we’ve seen a number of coaches in the past who were hired without coaching experience and did a phenomenal job,” said Breen who also calls Knicks games on MSG. “My partner Mark Jackson is one of them, as is Doc Rivers and Steve Kerr. There is a whole list of people that have shown it’s worth taking the risk because you’re getting a brilliant basketball mind, and I think Steve Nash has a brilliant basketball mind.”
“When we say ‘inexperienced,’ we’re doing a disservice to how valuable playing careers are,” echoed Van Gundy. “And when you look at it that way, I look at Steve Nash the way I looked at Steve Kerr or Mark Jackson or Derek Fisher, and many others. Secondly, a lot of coaching, particularly at the pro level, you learn your competence. You’re not ready to be a head coach until you’re a coach.”
Then, there’s the connection factor. Nash has a lot of them, with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, with Sean Marks and even with Caris LeVert who he’s worked out with and Joe Harris, who invested in one of Nash’s companies.
“Look, we’re not naive,” noted Eagle. “We understand how these things work. Your stars players certainly will be asked their opinions on things and I do think Kevin Durant and Steve Nash bonded in San Francisco in Oakland, in the bay area, at Golden State. And you can look it up, Sean Marks was a former teammate of Steve Nash’s in Phoenix. So there’s a relationship there.”
His partner, Richard Jefferson, said the hire left him slack-jawed as well.
“I didn’t even know Steve wanted to coach. Steve is one of the smartest basketball minds around, is beloved by everyone he’s ever played with,” said RJ. “I look forward to this. I trust Sean Marks. I believe Steve wouldn’t have ever been hired as a first-time head coach if Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving didn’t also believe in the hire. I think you do that when you have great players. You see what kind of the room is and I wish Steve Nash the best of luck and I look forward to it.”
VanGundy, in fact, pointed out that the connections with KD and Irving will help Nash learn faster. He knows from personal experience.
“I think Steve will do a really good job,” said JVG. “It helps that he has prior history with Kevin Durant. This was my benefit. I was an interim coach and I was coaching Patrick Ewing in his prime.
“What great players do is they allow you to win while you make mistakes as a head coach. When you’re not with as talented a team and you make a mistake, you often pay the price as a coach with a loss. When you have a great player, like Ewing, he was able to bail me out of my own mistakes. The only person after the game that knew I made mistakes was me.”
Carrino noted as well that chemistry between Nash and team’s stars and superstars will help him early on.
“We talk a lot about x’s and o’s and systems, and sometimes I think when it comes to this Nets team next year, when you’re talking about Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, the biggest factor is going to be chemistry.
“And you almost need a coach that’s going to get out of the way. It’s just the way of a guy who’s there to be a sounding board, to be a guy who Durant and Irving can relate to and what he’s done in the NBA a guy who can get out of the way and do their thing. That’s going to be a vital thing for the next head coach.”
“You’re going to do more coaching off the court than you’ll do on. it’s the communications that really matter,” he said, adding. “Put 48 minutes on the clock and with this group, you might get 114 points without having a practice!”
And it won’t just be stars who’ll be helping Nash, it will be the whole organization, from Marks to the lead assistant Jacque Vaughn, to the staff to ownership.
“I feel really good about the fact that Jacque was kept on and rewarded,” said Eagle. “He’s the lead assistant, I believe he’s going to be the highest paid assistant in the NBA as well. And that is good for continuity, good for the rank-and-file within your team to see that they took care of one of their own...
“They’re going to have support for him. It’s not him on an island. The staff and whatever he needs will be provided for him. That’s the mentality from ownership. They’re trying to win this thing. ... the attitude is here and now.”
Jackson pointed out that Nash isn’t just a player who got a coaching gig. Being a great point guard matters.
“If you told me, right now, I could hire Chris Paul today as my lead assistant, I’m hiring Chris Paul. He’s the one making the decisions on the floor, he’s the one making the adjustments on the fly. As great a staff as that I’ve had in my coaching career, the best assistant coach I had was Steph Curry.”
Carrino and Capstraw spoke as well about the “cool” factor and how Nash is going to attract a lot of media attention beyond the Nets beat writers, that everyone is going to want to get up close to Nash and the 2020-21 Nets team.
“I think he’s going to do great with the New York media,” said Carrino. “The Nets media is not the same as all of New York media, but Steve Nash will bring that. There will be a lot of interest. You will have all the top guys in New York showing up to be at his press conferences just to talk to him.
“He’s kind of a guy who’s funny.and most Canadians are funny. in a low key subtle way. if you go on his YouTube station, he’s got some videos that are very funny.”
Both Carrino and Capstraw as well as Eagle suggested that the Nets roster may be a bit different whenever the Nets play again.
The two radio guys noted the priority of signing Joe Harris but also suggested that the Nets biggest need may be a 3-and-D wing, someone like David Nwaba who signed with the Rockets after he suffered a season-ending Achilles rupture early on.
“The potential for this team to be a good defensive team is there,” said Capstraw. “You need a Nwaba! You need a Nwaba!”
Carrino suggested another possibility: Andre Roberson, who’s recovering from his own injuries, but could be nice complement to the Nets, adding that Roberson’s sister, Arielle, is Spencer Dinwiddie’s long-time girlfriend and mother of his son. As for rumors that the Nets might go for a “third star” like Bradley Beal, Carrino added, “how many font men can you have?”
Eagle, in fact, warned fans that there could be roster changes as Nash and Marks look at what they got and what they need.
“How is this team going to look?” asked Eagle, who then answered, “That remains to be seen as well. We can’t just automatically assume what the current roster is is what we are going to see next season under Steve Nash. They are going to do whatever is within their power to make this team the right mix with Durant and Kyrie Irving.”
All that said, Eagle admits this is shaping up as a season to anticipate.
“This is the most excited I've been going into a season with the anticipation of what might be...”