That was the shriek you could hear echoing from the bowels of downtown Brooklyn at approximately 1:03 pm EST after the Nets ousted head coach Steve Nash seven games into the regular season. Nash spent two years putting his head down, remaining above the fray, and massaging Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant’s chaotic ids only for the Nets to kick him to the curb on a chilly Tuesday afternoon in October. It’s a tough business. Adrian Wojnarowski’s report described Nash’s departure as a mutual agreement, but that’s a load of manure. At 2-5, Brooklyn is beginning to decompose at the bottom of the East. The Nets need to take chances and if reports are accurate, they may have that in disgraced Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka.
Hiring Nash in the summer of 2020 to be the ringleader of Brooklyn’s KD-Kyrie circus, was a risky move considering the mercurial nature of their stars, along with the former point guard’s coaching inexperience. A Ken doll could have done Nash’s job leading the PR response anytime one of the Terrible Twos, Kyrie or KD, stuck a finger in an electric socket. It would be disingenuous to say that Nash’s message grew stale because his superstars never actually took to his coaching. Nash was simply the caretaker who rode the fluctuations in Irving and Durant’s moods. He rarely spoke up and challenging his superstars was out of the question. If Durant and Irving had their way, they’d be player-coach and player-GM.
Nash’s system had whittled down to letting his two stars dribble the air out of the ball while they created shots, while any teammates sharing the floor looked on as observers. To his credit, Nash was the stabilizing force culture-wise in the Nets’ melodramatic locker room.
However, Udoka’s imminent hiring gave the Nets’ sideshow another plot twist. Reportedly, front office brass is closing in on an agreement with the Boston Celtics to name Udoka as their next head coach while he serves a one-year suspension from Boston for his part in an affair with an employee of the Celtics. Udoka hopping between Eastern Conference contender to pretender is a fascinating turn of events for several reasons. Udoka’s scandal appeared to poison the market for his services. Fortunately for Udoka, his suspension was issued internally by the Celtics, not the NBA’s league office — and Brooklyn is desperate.
Interestingly, he may be just the coach Brooklyn needed — two years ago. Before Udoka disgraced himself in Boston and fumbled his relationship with Nia Long, he was praised as a sideline leader who brought accountability to the Celtics. In leading Boston to the NBA Finals, Udoka’s coaching acumen was defined by the discipline and accountability he instilled in the C’s stars.
Throughout the season, Udoka emphasized that superstars could catch hot grease from him just as easily as reserves. We’ll see how that tough love coaching philosophy mixes with two knuckleheads who have been allergic to coaching throughout their careers.
Udoka will have his work cut out for himself getting Durant and Irving to buy in offensively and defensively where they rank last in defensive efficiency through the first two weeks of the season. He’ll have to do all while also rebuilding Ben Simmons’ confidence. During his first and only season in Boston, Udoka also convinced Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown through a more critical brand of coaching than his predecessor’s softer touch.
“The point I wanted to get across was I am not one of those coaches who won’t say anything to the superstars, but will get on the young guys and role players,” Udoka said in a profile by The Athletic’s Jason Quick back in April. “That’s how you lose credibility. We’ve all been there, where coaches have done that and the whole team is looking at the coach like, ‘OK, but the main guy is doing it and you aren’t saying anything?’ So my approach is equal opportunity as far as holding them accountable, if not more for Jayson and Jaylen, because they have more required of them.”
Udoka’s thoughts on accountability hit differently now than they did back in June. However, unlike Nash, Udoka was a reserve who spent his career grinding for jobs overseas and as the 12th man on NBA rosters. His stance on coaching superstars likely hasn’t changed. How he meshes with Brooklyn’s temperamental trio will be fascinating to witness.
Conversely, Durant was especially critical of the motion offense that Warriors head coach Steve Kerr employed in Golden State — where he won four titles, including two with Durant — and believed coaches should get out of the way and let him get buckets. In the postseason, Udoka’s Celtics defense exposed the fallacy in Durant’s iso-heavy approach by harassing him throughout their four-game sweep.
Durant got his wish with Nash’s ouster. It’s clear, however, that the Nets have decided they‘re no longer in the business of placating their two knuckleheads. This isn’t the first exchange program the Nets and Celtics have discussed. Earlier this offseason, the Nets demanded Tatum in a trade for Durant. Ultimately, it may be too little too late. James Harden is long gone, replaced by a version of Ben Simmons who plays like he’s tired of professional basketball. Udoka will face uncomfortable questions all season, Durant is 34 and Irving is a locker room arsonist entering free agency this offseason. The Udoka-KD-Kyrie-Simmons Nets are four damaged commodities that’ll need to rely on each other to rebuild their brands.
The Celtics will face the Nets in Brooklyn on Dec. 4 and Jan. 12 before hosting the Nets in Boston for the first time on Feb. 1, meaning Udoka will in fact coach on the sidelines of TD Gardens this season. Welcome to the new-and-improved Brooklyn circus, now with a new attraction.