Steve Nash embraces pressure in Brooklyn: ‘We’re playing for a championship’

Mar 31, 2018; San Antonio, TX, USA; Former basketball player Steve Nash speaks during the NBA Hall of Fame press conference at the Alamodome. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

The only thing missing in Steve Nash‘s resume as an NBA player was a championship.

Now, he’ll be chasing that ring once again as he embarks on a coaching career with the Brooklyn Nets.

“I’m here to help this group fulfill its potential,” Nash said during his virtual Town Hall on YES network on Tuesday. “That’s really my biggest goal by a long shot. I’m definitely not here to raise my profile, I’m not here to get credit for anything. I really want to work with these guys and put them in a position to be their best individually and collectively.”

It’s that kind of personality and temperament that made the Nets management believed that he’s the right guy to lead their team oozing with talent but has also become combustible with too many big personalities in the locker room.

With a healthy Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the Nets will be entering next season with championship expectations.

Nash acknowledged that. It’s the challenge that gravitated him towards the bench.

“We’re playing for a championship,” Nash said. “I don’t want to say that anything less than a championship is not a success because you never know what happens in life, you never know the way the ball bounces. Fortune is a big part of winning an NBA championship.”

“But we are playing for a championship and we’re going to build accordingly. We’re going to frame everything we do in the lens of, ‘Is this a championship characteristic?’ or ‘Is this worth championship quality?'”

Nash’s teams, when he was still a player, were always fun to watch, but when pitted against the better defensive teams in the playoffs, they were always outmatched.

Now that he’s switched from directing plays from the court to the sidelines, Nash wants to inject his offensive brilliance to this loaded Nets team. But he also wants to push the envelope and focus on what really matters.

“I will say that defense is our No. 1 priority,” Nash said. “Protecting the paint and guarding the basket is going to be the bedrock of our defense.

“We realize to win a championship we’ve got to be a very strong defensive team, great cohesion, clear understanding of our principles and be able to execute them with variation every night because every team we play is going to be different.”

The Nets have undergone radical transformations since Nash’s former Phoenix Suns’ teammate Sean Marks became the team’s general manager.

Marks has done a remarkable job pulling the Nets out of the rabbit hole along with the help of player development guru Kenny Atkinson. Together, they slowly built a culture that captivated Durant and Irving.

From a fringe playoff contender, the Nets became a championship contender overnight.

But the arrival of the two superstars who “have been there, done that” created a friction with Atkinson, who’s never won.

With the weight of championship expecation hanging over their heads, the Nets’ margin for error have become too small. But the locker room has become too big for Atkinson to manage.

The well-respected Nash comes into the picture with the expectation that he can diffuse the situation and make calibration that they hope would fulfill their championship aspiration.

Nash have played with different characters and personalities when he was still a player. And in the last few years as a consultant, he’s seen up close how Steve Kerr managed the egos of multiple superstars including Durant at the height of the Golden State Warriors dynasty.

Irving and Durant recently discussed publicly how they look forward to their first season together on court in Brooklyn.

“I don’t really see us having a head coach,” Irving said on Durant’s Podcast. “KD could be a head coach, I could be a head coach some days.

Nash has no ego when he was a superstar in the league. He still carries the same temperament as he tries to navigate the delicate nature of his new job.

Nash, technically a newbie, says his coaching philosophy is still under construction. It will come with experience. But while the complexities and nuances are yet to be defined, the foundation is simple: it is based on player relationship and collaborative approach that Durant and Irving have sought.

“It’s all sort of to be determined, and I definitely don’t wanna come in with too many hard-and-fast concepts and designs,” Nash said. “I’d much rather come in with principles with ideas that allow our players to collaborate with us and allow their personalities and the dynamic between them and the chemistry to have a role in how it evolves.”

What Nash lacks in coaching experience, he compensates it with the sensibilities of being a former superstar in the league.

He said he owe it to his former coach Mike D’Antoni, who could join him in his staff next season.

“People talk about the Phoenix teams I played on, and this sort of revolutionary tone of how it impacted the game, but the truth be told, Mike D’Antoni’s brilliance in much of that was he allowed it to evolve instead of getting in the way,” Nash explained.

“I feel like a lot of coaches feel the need to design every aspect of something, and I feel you leave too much on the table that can be found through the personalities, the connectivity, the dynamic on the floor and in the room.”

With the NBA evolving into a superstar-driven league, Nash knows what it takes to cater to them.

Nash’s freedom in D’Antoni’s system made him a back-to-back league MVP but never a champion. Now he has the opportunity to change some things from his vantage point as a coach and imprint his signature that he hopes would finally lead to the elusive ring.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo