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The very odd relationship between Kevin Durant and Steve Nash

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2022 NBA Playoffs - Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The news that Kevin Durant wants Steve Nash to be fired along with Sean Marks is on its face, odd. While KD did not push for the Nets to hire Nash — that was Marks decision — he did reportedly endorse it. But more to the point, Durant praised Nash effusively in April, defending him even after the Nets were swept by the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs.

Back on April 8, Durant said this of his head coach.

“I think he’s done a great job. The last two years, he’s been dealt a wild hand: injuries, trades, disgruntled players, guys in and out of the lineup, and stuff that he can’t control,” said KD, his “disgruntled” player comment apparently referring to James Harden. “I felt like he’s handled it the best as he could.”

Specifically, Durant was asked by Ian Begley of SNY how he believes Nash has handled the job in his second year in the head chair.

“I think it’s on us as players to make his job easier, so guys have been doing a good job of just listening and responding well to Steve. We all know this whole thing is that everybody’s developing every single day. It’s his first real opportunity as a coach. I think he’s handling it all perfectly, to be honest.”

Then minutes after the Nets season ended ignominiously in a sweep by the Celtics on April 25, Durant emphasized the point.

“I mean, come on now, yeah,” Durant said. “Steve’s been dealt a crazy hand the last two years. He’s had to deal with so much stuff as a head coach, a first-time coach: trades, injuries, COVID, it’s just a lot of stuff he’s had to deal with, and I’m proud of how he’s focused and his passion for us. We all continue to keep developing over the summer and see what happens.”

As Alex Schiffer wrote Tuesday, Durant didn’t have to say what he said.

If Durant wanted Nash out but didn’t feel like putting him on blast to the media 10 minutes after the season ended, he could have discussed Nash’s future with an “I don’t know” or “Now’s not the time for that.” But he didn’t.

Did something change between April and June when Durant made his trade request to Joe Tsai? Does he blame Nash for the departure of Adam Harrington, his long time friend and assistant coach? Did he simply lump Nash in with Joe Tsai and Sean Marks as part of the “other side,” as Schiffer wrote? No one is saying but the two former MVPs had a relationship long before Nash was given the job of coaching the Nets. They both worked for Steve Kerr in Golden State, Durant as a player, Nash as a consultant. They both have championship rings from that time.

And in putting together his staff of assistant coaches, Nash (and Marks) chose personnel with long ties to Durant. Again, as Schiffer notes...

Until recently, Nash’s coaching staff largely comprised assistants with ties to Durant. The Nets plucked Royal Ivey, another Texas Longhorn, from the New York Knicks in a player development role. Ivey and Durant played together in Oklahoma City, and Durant is the godfather to Ivey’s son. Brian Keefe was with Durant for years with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and David Vanterpool, a native of Durant’s Prince George’s County, Md., joined the bench too. Adam Harrington, Durant’s personal trainer who was a longtime Nets assistant originally hired by Kenny Atkinson and played with Nash in Dallas, further connected Nash and Durant toward the end of Nash’s career and stayed on his former teammate’s staff.

Can the relationship be salvaged enough to permit the two to work together should no trade evolve and Durant return to the Nets in the fall? It is a business, of course, but on the other hand, if things are to work, there has to be some personal relationship between head coach and superstar.

As Schiffer also notes, it appears that the Nets and Kyrie Irving have reconstructed some sort of relationship, pointing to Tsai’s retweet of a video in which New York street legends said of all the NBA players, Irving would best survive the playground culture they grew up in. The Nets also covered Irving’s “More than a run” at Kean University last Thursday night, posting stills and video on their official team site as well as on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and even Weibo, the big social media platform in China. At least five of his teammates also showed up for the event. On Tuesday, they posted a video of Irving’s ball-handling skills.

Can they do the same with Durant? At this point, that doesn’t look likely but at the same time, nothing this off-season seems certain.