Following a tumultuous offseason in the organization, the Brooklyn Nets and head coach Steve Nash "have agreed to part ways" seven games into their 2022-23 NBA campaign, the team announced on Tuesday.
The Nets have underperformed since hiring Nash as a first-time coach in 2020, even if the Hall of Fame point guard does not bear full responsibility for the drama surrounding his team over the last three seasons. Armed with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and fluctuating third stars, the 48-year-old Nash won nearly 60% of his regular-season games but registered a 7-9 playoff record, including a sweeping first-round loss in April.
The Nets said they anticipate a decision on Nash's replacement "in the near future." Jacque Vaughn is expected to serve as the interim replacement, starting with Tuesday's game against the Chicago Bulls.
According to multiple reports, the Nets are expected to name suspended Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka as Nash's full-time replacement in the coming days. The Celtics suspended Udoka shortly before training camp for multiple violations of team policy. An independent investigation uncovered allegations that Udoka sent inappropriate text messages to and carried on an affair with a female underling, per reports.
The Nets have recently "been vetting" Udoka, Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix reported. Udoka served as an assistant under Nash during the 2020-21 season, before leading the Celtics to the 2022 NBA Finals. He remains under contract with the Celtics, who would have to release their rights to Udoka or trade them.
Durant reportedly issued an ultimatum to team owner Joe Tsai in August: Either grant his trade request or fire both Nash and general manager Sean Marks. Three weeks later, they all met in Los Angeles and issued this cease fire of a statement: "We have agreed to move forward with our partnership."
Durant danced around his ultimatum on media day in September, suggesting he had come to terms with some of his issues with the organization, including the team's lack of fight in his injury absence last season.
"You see what happened with our season, guys in and out of the lineup, injuries, just a lot of uncertainty, which built some doubt in my mind about the next four years in my career,” he said at the start of training camp. "I'm getting older, and I want to be in a place that's stable and trying to build a championship culture, so I had some doubts about that. I voiced them to Joe, and we moved forward from there."
Nash also brushed off media day questions about any lingering animus from Durant's reported ultimatum, saying, "Ever since we've talked, it's been like nothing's changed," and downplaying coverage of their feud.
"A lot of things that are reported are not 100% accurate," Nash said in late September, when he first addressed the alleged feud. "A lot of things that are reported are not 100% accurate. You got fragmented bits of truth. You got things that are flat-out not true. It happens. It's the nature of the media nowadays."
Nash's statement on Tuesday was equally bland and full of appreciation for everyone in the organization.
"Thank you, Brooklyn
"A very heartfelt thanks to Joe and Clara Tsai along with Sean Marks for giving me the opportunity to coach the Brooklyn Nets. It was an amazing experience with many challenges that I'm incredibly grateful for.
"It was a pleasure to work with the players, performance team and front office everyday. I'm especially grateful to my coaching staff and video room who are a talented group with so much character and professionalism.
"Lastly, thanks to Brooklyn and the passionate fans who support this team. Family first and my family has found a home here and LOVES being a part of this beautiful community. I wish the Nets all the success in the world and the Nash's will be rooting for our team as they turn this season around."
The news of Nash's exit also comes in the immediate aftermath of the latest controversy surrounding Irving. In recent weeks, Irving has used his social media influence to tacitly endorse conspiracy theories spread by Alex Jones and antisemitic themes that are featured in an Amazon Prime documentary. Irving doubled down on his support of both Jones and "Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America" on Saturday, despite statements from both Tsai and the NBA condemning his dissemination of "hate speech."
"I just hope we all go through this together," Nash told reporters on Saturday, prior to a fourth straight loss. "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 communicate through this and try to all come out in a better position and [discover] both more understanding and more empathy for every side of this debate and situation."
The New York Post cited an anonymous Nets source who said Irving supported Durant's ultimatum. "Kyrie Irving hates these guys," the paper reported in August. "He feels that Nash is terrible and Marks is bad."
Nash coached the Nets within a toe length of the 2021 Eastern Conference finals, where they lost to the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in overtime of a Game 7 without Irving and with a severely limited James Harden. Brooklyn entered last season as title favorites, but Irving's anti-vaccination stance kept him from joining the team until January, and Harden effectively demanded a trade in that window of uncertainty.
Durant, Irving and Harden played 16 games together over the calendar year that they were teammates on the Nets. Brooklyn replaced one-time MVP Harden with one-time All-NBA selection Ben Simmons, who has played six games with Durant and Irving. Nash has juggled arguably the four most mercurial players in the entire NBA, and the Nets have laid the blame for their failure amid a whirlwind of controversy at the coach's feet, only to embolden their players and embrace more controversy with the imminent hiring of Udoka.
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