New Nets coach Steve Nash revolutionized NBA offense as a point guard with the Suns, earning every accolade except a championship while playing under Mike D’Antoni. Now, Nash is looking to finally win that title, with his former mentor now his assistant.
Hiring D’Antoni to be a team’s head coach would normally be considered a success, but adding one of just nine men to win multiple NBA Coach of the Year awards as an assistant coach is a coup. It also implies Nash is doubling down on the Seven Seconds Or Less style he and D’Antoni created in Phoenix from 2004-08.
Six Seconds Or Less, anyone?
“He’ll do what he needs to do, and he’ll figure it out. He’ll work hard. He works as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen in basketball to get ready every day,” D’Antoni said the day of Nash’s hiring. “Even when he broke his leg in L.A. [in 2012 while playing with the Lakers], no one outworked him, and he’ll do the same as a coach. And he knows basketball, so it’s a pretty good formula for success.
“Yeah, I’m excited for him. I’m excited that he’ll open the game up, and he’ll run, I’m sure. He’s going to work hard, and he’ll surround himself with smart people.”
D’Antoni is one of those smart people.
While some questioned the hiring of Nash because he never had served even as an assistant coach, the rookie coach wisely picked a familiar face to lean on and a brilliant basketball brain to pick.
The 69-year-old D’Antoni’s ushered in the era of pace and space, with heavy emphasis on 3-point shooting. Nash was a huge part of all that during a Hall of Fame playing career.
When the two were together in Phoenix, Nash won a pair of MVPs. They teamed again for a more muted sequel with the Lakers from 2012-14.
D’Antoni had a stellar 253-136 run with the Suns, creating a frenetic, open style of play that was ahead of its time, but has become the model for the modern NBA.
After Phoenix, D’Antoni also coached the Knicks, but was unceremoniously dumped in an acrimonious exit. He coached most recently in Houston, where he adjusted his style to the more ball-dominant, iso-oriented James Harden. His impressive 217-102 mark in four seasons with the Rockets was the best record in the Western Conference over that span (.682), and second overall in the NBA behind the Raptors.
“People talk about the Phoenix teams I played on and this sort of revolutionary tone of how it impacted the game. But truth be told, Mike D’Antoni’s brilliance in much of that was he allowed it to evolve instead of getting in the way,” Nash said recently of D’Antoni’s collaborative style.
Nash has cagily avoided specifics, but he acknowledged in Tuesday’s virtual town hall with season-ticket holders that he has every intention of running a wide-open, up-tempo offense akin to the one he, D’Antoni and Amar’e Stoudemire — also just hired as a Nets assistant — made famous in Phoenix.
“I want us to play fast. I want us to space the floor,” Nash said. “I want us to create opportunities to get downhill with our ball handlers and make plays for one another, attack closeouts. A lot of high-level philosophical thoughts, and of course we’ll design and have offensive sets and things that we think fit our group.”
Another overlooked piece of assistance D’Antoni can bring is his handling of stars. He has worked with the Nets’ Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on Team USA, and has prior experience handling big names.
D’Antoni guided Nash and Harden to a combined three MVP trophies. He also coached Stoudemire, Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard. In short, he can help not only with tactics, but also with temperaments — something Nash will need to win that elusive title.