Steve Nash knows his strength as a rookie coach is relationships: ‘I wasn’t hired to come in and be a tactical wizard’

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NEW YORK — Not even Steve Nash expects himself to be a tactical expert on the sideline. As the head coaching job has evolved in the NBA over the years — from essentially strict principal to guidance counselor — Nash said he’s focusing on his strengths of relationships and culture, which was why the Nets hired him for a championship run despite zero coaching experience.

“I wasn’t hired to come in and be a tactical wizard,” Nash said on JJ Redick’s “The Old Man and the Three” podcast. “I think they understand that my acumen for the game is strong and I can catch up on any of the tactical aspects. I think they hired me because of my experience, the personality to work with these guys and help them grow and reach their potential and bring it all together. I can’t lose sight of that.

“I can’t come in and start being Mr. X’s and O’s, and lose sight of the fact that of course I want to be strong in all departments, but I have to lead with my understanding of group dynamics, leading, having gone through the experience that these guys have gone through. I’ve been there … I got to lead with why I was brought here and what they saw in me and catch up in other departments.”

Nash’s understanding of his job, which became a trend in this era of player empowerment, resembles the definition provided by Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who told Forbes, “It’s like 80 percent psychologist, 10 percent temperament, 10 percent X’s and O’s. It’s mostly about managing the egos.”

“I think he’s right,” Nash said. “Who knows what those numbers and breakdowns are? But the job is about connectivity, creating relationships. Whatever the personalities in that room add up to and how the puzzle fits. And gaining that trust. Especially in this generation. When I first came into the league it was more of an authoritarian position being a coach, and this is how we’re doing it. Those days are long gone. The world has changed, guys who play in the league now, it’s a different generation that has had different experiences. So I think it’s really important to double down on those relationships and build culture. Culture is a system of behavior.”

Examples throughout the league make it hard to determine whether it’s the smart approach to downplay tactics for culture. Locally, the Knicks hired a player-friendly coach (David Fizdale) who failed miserably, then pivoted to a demanding leader (Tom Thibodeau). The Nets fired Kenny Atkinson because he didn’t connect with the stars. Coaches renowned for their tactics (Brad Stevens, Mike Budenholzer) have succeeded to a point, while Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich — two coaches known for managing egos, among other great things (especially Popovich) — won a combined eight titles.

Erik Spoelstra and Nick Nurse won titles without playing careers; Doc Rivers and Tyronn Lue, both former NBA guards, elevated star-studded teams to championships. It’s a mixed bag.

Nash already has a strong connection with Kevin Durant after serving as a player development consultant at Golden State. He also worked out Kyrie Irving several years ago in New York City, but acknowledged their relationship, like Nash’s understanding of X’s and O’s, is more of a work in progress.

“It’s something I’m looking to develop,” Nash said. “Obviously I have a much more developed and longer history with Kevin, but with Ky, I’m excited. He’s one of my favorite players. He’s kind of a savant with the basketball. But also to get to know him off the court.”


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