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Nets coaching hires underrated part of off-season success

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Indiana Pacers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Yes, the Nets have already Kevin Durant, MVP of the Olympics, to an extension that will keep the best player in the world through 2026. And yes, they had the Co-MVP in the Summer League, a 27th pick who looks like a (if not the) steal of the Draft. Not to mention getting Patty Mills’s signature on the taxpayers’ MLE, an addition more than one pundit has called the best fit among off-season signings.

But the Nets have also reconstructed their coaching staff, adding two assistant coaches in David Vanterpool and Brian Keefe, a player development assistant coach in Kyle Korver and a coaching consultant in Steve Clifford.

Vanterpool left Minnesota for Brooklyn and Keefe last worked with the Thunder before the Nets. Brooklyn did lose Ime Udoka to Boston and Mike D’Antoni to New Orleans, but Vanterpool and Keefe are hardly consolation prizes. Both have great reputations with Vanterpool a likely head coach in the not-too-distant future. Before that, though, he’s going to be working with Brooklyn’s best. A week ago, in fact, he was spotted in Houston, training with James Harden and Nic Claxton.

As Alec Schiffer of The Athletic notes, the Nets got maybe the best assistant coach in the NBA to join their staff.

As Udoka had, Vanterpool has interviewed for multiple head positions in the past, but he’s still waiting to hear his name called for a top job.

Those who know him best believe a strong stint with the Nets can change that.

In his summary of off-season moves, Sam Vecenie, one of Schiffer’s colleagues on The Athletic, called the hire a solid “rebound” after losing Udoka and D’Antoni.

In the last several years, Vanterpool has been NBA’s ultimate coaching bridesmaid, being interviewed for head coaching gigs with the Nuggets, Magic, Cavaliers, Rockets, Pelicans and Bulls. He was considered but passed over for the head coaching job in Minnesota last February. The Timberwolves instead went outside the organization to hire Chris Finch, a Raptors assistant without talking to the 48-year-old . That angered a number of advocates for hiring black head coaches, including high profile players who had worked with him.

Schiffer talked to a number of people who know Vanterpool and he promises to bring a uniqueness to the Nets staff with his emphasis on developing players and defensive toughness. While with the Blazers, Vanterpool was credited with helping Portland’s Damian Lillard and C.J. McCallum become one of the NBA’s top backcourts. In fact, it was that success that first put him on Steve Nash’s radar.

Vanterpool’s work with Lillard and McCollum helped get him on Nash’s radar. (Blazer coach Jay) Triano was doubling as the head coach of the Canadian National Team, and he invited Vanterpool to work with the team over the summer. Nash was the team’s general manager and got his first up-close look at Vanterpool, whose work with the Canadian team became so lauded that McCollum wanted in.

“I know I’m not Canadian, but can I come up and work out with you guys?” McCollum asked Triano, who acquiesced and McCollum got to work with Vanterpool and Nash.

One thing Nash likes about Vanterpool, Schiffer notes, is that he isn’t afraid to express his opinion to superstars, which is big when your roster features Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.

Also, KD and Harden have a long-standing relationship with Vanterpool. He served in the Thunder front office (with Keefe on the coaching staff) when OKC was a Western Conference contender.

“He’s a hooper,” Nolan Smith, an assistant coach for Duke who played for Vanterpool in Portland, grew up with Durant and played with Irving in college, told Schiffer. “He loves to be in the gym, he loves to compete, loves to win, he’s going to give those players the creativity and the freedom to be Kyrie to be KD to be who they are, but he’s also going to challenge them intellectually, physically, emotionally, he’s going to make them better. And those guys want that challenge.”

Although Royal Ivey, the Nets assistant, isn’t a newcomer to the staff, he’ll have some new credentials when the Nets start training camp in San Diego on September 27.

Ivey is the new coach of the South Sudan national team. The country, the world’s youngest nation, is playing in FIBA’s AfroBasket for the first time. As of Wednesday, he was 3-1 in what has been termed a “fairy tale.”

‘These guys are great, they do all the right things and the biggest thing is the brotherhood - it is family,” Ivey told BBC Sport Africa.

“The way they care about each other is really love in that room. And I am so fortunate to be their head coach. They are teaching me day in, day out how to be a better coach and how to be a better person. So I want to thank them.”

On Thursday, he got South Sudan into the AfroBasket quarter-finals with a win over Uganda. They play defending champion Tunisia Tuesday morning.