Six years ago, the Golden State Warriors hired Steve Kerr as head coach despite his lack of coaching experience. Three rings later, he now represents the most successful zero-experience coach or manager in sports. And his coaching path offers a template for what the Nets hope they have in Steve Nash, a novice coach of their own.
The comparison makes sense. Both had accomplished careers as well-respected players — Nash, a two-time MVP, had more individual success; Kerr was a five-time NBA champion — and stayed close to the sport in their post-playing careers (Kerr as Suns GM and a TV analyst, Nash as a Warriors consultant).
Can Nash be another Kerr?
Yes, the two men are similar. The problem is the two franchises — the Warriors then and the Nets now — are not. And neither is the NBA itself.
Let’s look at the differences:
When Kerr took over the Warriors, their core (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green) already had played two seasons together, and Andre Iguodala had been there for one season. The Nets’ core literally has not played one second of gametime together, due to Kevin Durant’s torn Achilles that kept him sidelined for the entire 2019-20 season. Kerr was inheriting a group with experience playing together (and presumably the comfort/chemistry that comes from that). Nash is starting from scratch.
Curry and Thompson are seemingly two of the NBA’s most ego-less stars — and at the time Kerr got the job in 2014, they weren’t even stars yet (Curry was a one-time All-Star in five seasons, Thompson hadn’t made an All-Star team in three seasons). That’s not what Nash will have to manage in Brooklyn: Durant and Kyrie Irving are megastars who traffic heavily in drama and who require deft ego maintenance.
When Kerr took over, the Warriors were viewed as a solid playoff team that could perhaps elevate beyond that. Nash inherits a Nets team with far loftier expectations. They’re championship-or-bust, as they should be.
Kerr’s first season in Golden State was 2014-15, when the NBA landscape looked entirely different than it does now. The Warriors would win a whopping 67 games en route to the championship, but the second-best regular-season team that season was the Hawks, whose best players were Jeff Teague, Al Horford and Paul Millsap (not exactly Magic, Worthy and Kareem). Only three teams won more than 55 games. There just weren’t many championship contenders.
This season’s NBA is loaded with elite teams. There are 10 or 12 with legitimate championship aspirations, including the Lakers, Clippers, Nuggets, Trail Blazers and Jazz in the West (the Warriors dropped from this tier when Thompson tore his Achilles) and the Bucks, Heat, Raptors, Celtics, Nets and 76ers in the East.
Nash faces a different landscape and different challenges than Kerr faced with those Warriors six years ago — one more treacherous on the court and in the locker room. That doesn’t make the Nets’ decision to hire Nash bad. It does make it a complete mystery.