Mike D’Antoni will serve as an assistant to new Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. D’Antoni famously coached Nash on the Phoenix Suns in the mid-2000s.
With Nash as his superstar point guard, D’Antoni popularized the seven-seconds-or-less offense that made the Suns a title contender and served as a precursor to the NBA’s pace-and-space era that followed. In their four seasons together in Phoenix, they won better than 70 percent of their games and reached the 2005 and 2006 Western Conference finals, when Nash won his back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards.
The Nets hired another member of those Suns teams, Amar’e Stoudemire, as an assistant last week.
Philadelphia 76ers assistant coach Ime Udoka, who worked in the same role under Gregg Popovich on the San Antonio Spurs from 2012-19, will also join Nash’s staff, according to Wojnarowski. Udoka has been a head coaching candidate for years and is well-regarded around the league, as is lead Nets assistant coach Jacque Vaughn, who served as the interim bridge between Kenny Atkinson’s firing and Nash’s hiring.
In less than two months, Nash has constructed one of the most respected coaching staffs in the NBA. D’Antoni is the most experienced of his assistants. The 69-year-old has won 692 games in his 16 seasons as a head coach. Among active coaches, only Popovich, Doc Rivers and Rick Carlisle have more wins.
D’Antoni also coached Nash for his final two injury-plagued seasons in a failed Los Angeles Lakers experiment that ended in 2014. The two are best known for their tenure together with the Suns, and Nash will have the man whose offense made him a Hall of Famer assist his first coaching experience. D’Antoni took small-ball to the extreme as coach of the Houston Rockets over the past four years, reaching another conference finals and winning nearly 70 percent of his games with James Harden as his star playmaker.
Nash’s staff will be tasked with meeting championship expectations. The Nets made a free-agent splash last year, adding perennial All-Stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to a roster that already featured the talented supporting cast of Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen and Joe Harris. Durant missed all of last season with an Achilles injury, and Irving underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in March. They will return to the court with one of the most innovative offensive minds in NBA history as an assistant.
“I think people talk about the Phoenix teams I played on and this sort of revolutionary tone of how we impacted the game,” Nash told YES Network’s Ian Eagle last month. “But, truth be told, Mike D’Antoni’s brilliance in much of that was that he allowed it to evolve instead of getting in the way. And I think a lot of coaches feel that they have to design every aspect of something. I think you leave stuff on the table that can be found through the personalities, the connectivity and the dynamic on the floor and in the room.”
And what personalities they are. Durant and Irving have been two of the NBA’s most eccentric stars of their era. They discussed their philosophical approach to Brooklyn’s coaching staff in a recent podcast together:
Irving: “I think it’s going to change the way we see coaches. I don’t really see us having a head coach. You know what I mean? KD could be a head coach. I could be a head coach.”
Durant: “Jacque Vaughn could do it one day. It's a collaborative effort.”
Add D’Antoni and Udoka to that mix, and there is much collaborating to be done in the coming months.
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