Steve Nash
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Where’s the leadership?

The Brooklyn Nets find themselves in one of the best periods in franchise history.

A rarified air experienced only one other time during the early 2000s. With three superstars (2.5 if you consider the part-time nature of Kyrie Irving) and a veteran supporting cast Brooklyn, on paper, is exactly the type of team you want in today’s NBA.

However, tough times have recently befallen this team for a litany of reasons.

Injuries, COVID, questionable roster makeup and a part-time player have turned a regular season that was supposed to be a lazy river into a rushing rapid. And the man that’s supposed to lead the troops past the turmoil is right at the heart of it.

Remember before last season when everyone was in an uproar because Kyrie said he doesn’t really see the Nets as having a coach?


And that was quickly walked back after a few games. Steve Nash was gifted with arguably the greatest situation a coach could dream of.

Star coaching stars

Taking the reigns of a team with two elite superstars and then acquiring a third just a short while after. Nash took over for Kenny Atkinson, the man partially responsible for Brooklyn’s turnaround but ousted for not being a “superstar’s coach.”

In a sense, the former two-time MVP was taking over something that seems too big to fail. When you have the likes of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and eventually James Harden how could you possibly screw it up right?

Nash like every single first-time head coach had his growing pains in his first season. And Nets fans endured them right along with him. From questionable substitution patterns to infrequent timeouts to irresponsible uses of challenges, Nash was thrown into the proverbial deep end of the pool and told to swim.

It helps when you have three superstar players to serve as a life preserver. But even with the assistance of floaties, there were still times when Nash would find himself occasionally sinking.

Step up!

Again, struggles happen; things like that were to be expected with a new head coach. Credit also has to be given to his handling of the countless different lineups the Nets used last season due to the plethora of injuries to the team.

In total Nash has been asked to roll out over 34 different starting lineups, the most in the NBA.

The problem that befalls the Nets and their fans this season is that it doesn’t seem as if Nash has grown enough as a head coach to meet the standards of a championship-level team. Let me preface this by saying I’m not calling for Steve Nash’s job. I don’t have a magic crystal ball to tell me who is the right person for the job.

However, I do know that he has faltered in a few categories this season, and those faults need to be addressed.

In-game Adjustments

Billy Reinhardt of Nets Daily had a good tweet following the team’s recent loss to the Warriors. He mentioned the fact that Steve Nash doesn’t have an imprint on the game. Some have even likened Nash to an NPC (Non-playable character). And to be frank, at times it does feel that way. There is no shortage of handclaps and “good job guys just keep fighting” from him. But when it comes to the nuts and bolts of adjustments and play-calling, that aspect seems to be missing relative to last season.

Now, this isn’t to say Nash doesn’t make adjustments that lead to winning. One adjustment in particular that comes to mind is the one made in Brooklyn’s win over Indiana during Kyrie’s first game back. Nash decides to go small down the stretch with KD at the 5 but has Harden in the paint either guarding Domantas Sabonis or playing free safety.

It worked and the Nets were able to come back and pull away for the win. Granted the Nets shouldn’t have even been in that situation for Nash to have to make an adjustment, but one was made, nonetheless. The fact of the matter is however that these sorts of things are few and far between this year.

Obviously, there are a lot of moving parts and the combination of injuries plus personnel has limited Brooklyn’s offensive capabilities, but it’s apparent how much influence former assistant Mike D’Antoni had on Brooklyn’s offense.

A majority of the time this season the offense has looked like a Hodge Podge of iso ball from Durant and Harden (now Kyrie) or a Harden pick n roll/pop with the occasional Horns or Chicago actions thrown in. I think I even saw a Scissors action once against the Wizards.

That meme of Nash hugging KD after Game 5 against the Bucks perfectly encapsulates Brooklyn’s offense for the first quarter and a half of the season. The free-flowing nature of the offense has vanished which can also be attributed to just some horrid lineup combinations.

Lineup Lunacy

Lineups are another issue that has been puzzling, to say the least. For starters, there must be an acceptance that this roster was constructed with a heavy reliance on the Big 3. The Nets’ biggest flaw last season was that they didn’t play enough defense.

So, what did Sean Marks do?

He went and swapped out offense for defense. Aside from Patty Mills every other acquisition and signing was for a defensive-oriented player. I’m not even going to count Paul Millsap because that situation is a whole other can of worms.

Replacing scoring options such as Landry Shamet, Tyler Johnson, and Mike James with defensive-minded athletes like DeAndre’ Bembry, Jevon Carter, and James Johnson. Not to mention the loss of Jeff Green to free agency.

Earlier this season Nash said that he would be experimenting with the lineups which is fine. Most coaches use the first month or so to tinker with different rotations. But the problem here is that the same experiments keep being administered.

If something doesn’t work, he’s more likely to stick with it hoping it ends up working as opposed to when he does find something that works and then goes completely away from it.

For example, if the pairing of Blake Griffin, Bruce Brown, and Bembry isn’t providing adequate net ratings and splits while on the floor together why keep rolling with it? Look nobody expected Griffin’s shooting to fall off a cliff the way it has this season but if we at home can see Blake can’t be used as a floor spacer anymore, why can’t Nash?

It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to tell you a lineup consisting of three or more non-shooters in today’s NBA is offensive suicide. Especially considering those non-shooters aren’t exactly Kawhi Leonard and Gary Payton on defense either.

Spacing the floor is key and when the defense doesn’t have to respect the shooting abilities of the guys out there, they can cheat and pack the paint more or be more inclined to help off their man making it harder for the offense to make them pay.

Playing guys like Bembry, Brown, Johnson, Claxton, etc together doesn’t make much sense when the only floor spacers out there are one of the Big 3 and Patty Mills. It’s not the most ideal situation but rookies Cam Thomas and Kessler Edwards provide you with the spacing you desperately need.

If we’re still in the experimentation period, then experiment with the guys that aren’t necessarily proven commodities yet but give you something positive when they’re out there. They certainly can’t be worse than what’s being trotted out already.

The Challenge with Challenges

Of the many gripes about Nash so far this season, the use of challenges might be the biggest. Last season the issue was Nash wasn’t making proper use of them.

This season, however, Nash seems to not be using them at all.

His biggest folly so far came this past Saturday when missed two opportunities late in the game to challenge a foul call on his team which could have completely swung the tide of the game.

The first of which was a Kessler Edwards committing a foul on Stephen Curry which was later deemed by the NBA’s L2M (Last Two Minute Report) as an incorrect call. Curry wound up getting free throws because of it.

The second opportunity was one that had the entire NBA world scratching their heads. With the Nets within a single possession with less than 10 seconds remaining, Nash failed to challenge a foul called on Kyrie Irving when it appeared he and Klay Thompson had just tangled feet.

During his postgame presser, he explained that “a little bird” told him not to challenge and to instead preserve the timeout. Now I understand listening to your assistants/advisors what have you but at the same time, you are the head coach.

Sometimes you just have to make the call on your own.

Even if you may lose that timeout you need to show your team that you’re fighting right alongside them. To blame it on the “little bird” is particularly weak in my opinion. But then again, my opinion doesn’t mean jack diddly.

Hard Pill to Swallow

It’s rare that we ever see a midseason coaching change for a championship-caliber team. The last time this happened was back in 2016 when the Cavaliers fired David Blatt in January replacing him with then-assistant coach Ty Lue who eventually led the Cavs to a championship.

Nash isn’t perfect. No coach is. But at some point, even the staunch Nash supporters have to ask themselves what exactly does Steve Nash do well? Yes, he is one of the best at ATO plays but what about the rest of the game?

You can say “oh well he’s dealing with a lot of roster turmoil”. Well yeah but so are a lot of teams and they’re getting by. Take a look at what Taylor Jenkins was able to accomplish in Memphis when Ja Morant went down.

The job Billy Donovan did in navigating Chicago’s cataclysmic bouts with COVID and key injuries. If you say “well he was brought on to manage the stars and egos” then you’re saying the Nets have the basketball equivalent of Aaron Boone and just ask Yankees fans how that experience is going.

I know it’s an apple to oranges sort of comparison but you get my drift. Nash isn’t the sole problem with the Nets, but he certainly doesn’t instill confidence right now.

Contrary to how things may look Brooklyn when healthy is still the team to beat in the East. Although they’re only a few games outside of play-in territory they’re also still within striking distance of first-place in a jam-packed Eastern Conference.

Moves may be made at or before the trade deadline to bolster the roster but as long as that three-headed monster of Durant, Irving, and Harden along with Joe Harris are playing they have as good a shot as any at winning the title.

The only question will be, will Steve Nash be one of the reasons this team lifts a Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the postseason, or will they win in spite of him?

Or even yet, will they win with someone else at the reigns?

Justin Thomas is a graduate of Temple University. While there, he was an on-air sports talk host for W.H.I.P as well as sports reporter for the Temple yearbook. Over the past few years, Justin has written for a few publications including Sports Illustrated. On top of writing for ESNY, Justin is also a Senior Writer for NetsRepublic.com and has had work featured on Bleacher Report.