Just What The Hell Is Going On In Brooklyn?
2:39 PM EDT on November 1, 2022
The Brooklyn Nets, fresh off their second win of the season and set to play the second leg of a back-to-back this very evening, have fired head coach Steve Nash. Normally you would expect this kind of impulsive organizational lurch, just seven games into an 82-game regular season, to come as a surprise to the person being fired, but not in this case. General manager Sean Marks and owner Joe Tsai evidently sought input from an important third party before firing Nash: Nash himself.
Nash, who was in his second season as Brooklyn's head coach, barely survived the summer offseason. Kevin Durant—a stubborn, unaccountable, and deeply online-brained superstar who somehow manages to be only the team's third weirdest player—demanded a trade back in June, despite being under contract with the Nets for four years worth $164 million in salary. It was an ultimatum: Durant wanted Tsai to fire Marks—the man who engineered the delicate years-long sequence of maneuvers that culminated with Durant's 2019 trade from Golden State to Brooklyn—and Nash, who Durant and teammate Kyrie Irving all but handpicked for the job following the mid-season termination (also allegedly mutual) of Kenny Atkinson, in March 2020. Durant had no real leverage, except whatever weight comes with being one of the two or three most talented players in basketball. Tsai waited him out, Durant eventually shrugged and dropped it, and everyone involved pretended that everything was once again hunky-dory. Sean Marks announced in late August, just before the start of training camp, that he, Nash, and Durant would "move forward with our partnership," deploying the sort of awkward and performatively flattened language used by a Nets organizational hierarchy that is very much sorted by salary and visibility, for better and worse.
But it has not been possible for the Nets to become a functioning basketball team, in large part because it's not clear at all how interested several of their principals are in playing basketball. Ben Simmons, who the Nets acquired in February after he'd spent the season to that point refusing to play for the 76ers, famously hates and dreads the defining action of the sport, which is making the ball go into the basket. Brain genius point guard and co-superstar Kyrie Irving voluntarily missed 53 games last season to protest the intrusion of public health measures into the echoing mirrored chambers of his non-Euclidean mind palace, and this season has already dragged the Nets back into hell with a public endorsement of ugly, paranoid antisemitism. It can be challenging to coalesce as a functioning five-man offense, for example, when your third and second most talented players hate scoring and prioritize evangelizing The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, respectively.
Nash has not ever proven himself to be a particularly capable head coach, but the job, as currently constructed, is impossible. He spent part of his weekend giving infuriatingly incomplete and deeply embarrassing answers to questions about why, for example, the team's own fans feel the need to wear coordinated "Fight Antisemitism" t-shirts in courtside seats. "I just hope that we all go through this together," said Nash, in his final press conference as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets. "There's always an opportunity for us to grow and understand new perspectives. I think the organization is trying to take that stance where we can communicate through this. And try to all come out in a better position and both more understanding and more empathy for every side of this debate and situation."
Jacque Vaughn will reportedly take over for his second interim stint as Brooklyn's head coach in four seasons, while Marks and Tsai work to find Nash's permanent replacement. Fortunately, they've already started the due diligence on some noteworthy candidates:
Good organizational fundamentals are at work, here: When you're trying to stabilize a chaotic situation, the right person for a key leadership position is the one who is currently suspended from his job for engaging in inappropriate workplace behavior. The Nets' current sales pitch to their fans seems to be: Don't worry guys, we're bringing in a possible sex pest to get our antisemite, psychologically stricken reclamation project, and thin-skinned star who doesn't want to be here back on track. They have 75 more games to play.