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Lupica: Steve Nash the right guy to coach Nets, deal with Kyrie Irving, etc.

Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Steve Nash may not be Coach of the Year. Taylor Jenkins in Memphis, Billy Donovan in Chicago and J.B. Bickerstaff in Cleveland all seem to have a better shot. But he is a candidate for sainthood!

Mike Lupica, in his second recent column on the Nets — the first called Kevin Durant the best hooper to ever play in the city, writes about how Nash’s maturity, experience and oh yes, patience make him the right coach at the right time for this Nets’ team.

We do not talk enough about the job the coach is doing, especially in light of the challenges he has faced this season, and not just because of Kyrie (I, Me) Irving.

Lupica argues that whatever fans see as the problem in rounding the Nets into championship form, it’s not Nash. He can coach talent, communicate with talent and although Lupica doesn’t mention it, develop talent.

So Nash incorporates Irving as best he can, the Nets coach does. He mixes and matches and tries different lineups and different rotations. Durant is everything he has ever been. So is Irving, when he is out there. Harden got off to a slow start himself, and didn’t look like himself, but keeps playing his way into the season, and is back to averaging 22 points a game. Steve Nash continues to show that he can coach talent, not always the easiest thing in the world to do. There is still half a season to go. We saw the possibilities for his team the other night in Chicago against the best record in the conference.

So many questions around this team yet to be answered. No longer any questions about the coach.

Lupica is not shy about detailing what he sees as the Nets — and Nash’s — problem: Irving.

[T]here is Irving, still a streak of light when he has the ball in his hands, still one of the most talented guards in the league at 6-2, only allowed to play road games because he continues to refuse to be vaccinated. So these are extraordinary circumstances for everyone involved, starting with Irving’s coach, who now coaches one Nets team at home and another on the road, all because of the stubbornness and self-absorption of his star. Irving is lucky he hasn’t been booted the way Australia is trying to boot Djokovic.

Nash, of course, is also dealing with COVID and the placement of players in health and safety protocols. No team had more players in protocols than the Nets (10) and yet they have survived. And through it all, as Lupica writes, Nash keeps things on an even keel, explaining but not making excuses.

“Guys were gassed. I thought we had some good stretches, but overall I don’t think we had the juice to follow through and finish the job enough. You know, I don’t know if anyone has had a 6 hours flight between games. I know our guys were tired after yesterday’s overtime game. So to get on a 6-hour flight here. It felt evident to me that they didn’t have the pop, the juice to get the stops.”

Nash, as Lupica notes, has also been respectful of Irving, defending and welcoming him back.

As of Saturday morning, the Nets are 26-15 and Nash has the best coaching record of any wise old hand who’s sat on the Brooklyn — or New Jersey — bench. And if the Nets, with Kyrie playing a LOT of road games, keep winning, he could be in Cleveland coaching Team Durant next month at the All-Star Game. Whoever is coaching each conference’s top team two weeks before the February 20 All-Star Game gets the coaching nod and works with the big conference vote-getter, assuredly KD. The Nets are now one and a half games behind the Bulls for the East lead. As a player, Nash was an All-Star eight times.