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Steve Nash quit as Nets chase Ime Udoku

Steve Nash quit as Nets chase Ime Udoku

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Mired in an uninspiring start on the court and mired in yet another round of off-court controversy, the Brooklyn Nets parted ways with coach Steve Nash on Tuesday just seven games into the NBA season.

Nash, 48, leaves with a 94-67 (.584) record and one playoff series win in two-plus seasons in Brooklyn. Assistant Jacque Vaughn, who coached the Orlando Magic from 2012 to 2015, will step in as interim coach for Brooklyn’s game Tuesday night against the Chicago Bulls. Vaughn previously served as interim coach following the firing of Kenny Atkinson, Nash’s predecessor in 2020.

In a statement, Nets general manager Sean Marks said Nash “has faced many unprecedented challenges” and the Nets are “sincerely grateful for his leadership, patience and humility during his tenure.”

In a press conference later Tuesday, Marks revealed that Nash had decided the Nets were no longer the answer to his coach, saying the two agreed it was “time for a change.” Marks said he did not seek any input from the players on the move.

“To be honest, the team wasn’t doing what they were supposed to be doing,” Marks said. “We fell short of our goals. … We’ve seen games this year where, to be honest, I don’t think we’ve brought it. I won’t sugar coat it. There were times when a quarter was taken away, a half was taken away, the game was taken away, and we didn’t compete.”

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The Nets have begun looking to exiled Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoku as Nash’s permanent replacement, according to two people with knowledge of the situation. Marks said Tuesday that the Nets have “absolutely not” agreed on a replacement for Nash, adding that they will target a candidate who is “competitive, has a voice and can hold guys accountable” while also having “calmness and charisma.” .

Udoka was suspended by the Celtics for the season in September due to an inappropriate relationship with the team’s female staff. Udoka, 45, served as USA Basketball’s assistant coach at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where the Nets forward Kevin Durant led the effort to win the gold medal, and as an assistant on Nash’s staff during the 2020-21 season. Boston, who replaced Udoka with assistant Joe Mazzullo on an interim basis, is not expected to block Udoka if the Nets offer him a job.

After a turbulent summer in which Durant requested a trade, Brooklyn started the season 2-5 and owns the NBA’s 29th defense. The first two weeks of the season were filled with warning signs: Ben Simmons lashed out at officials after fouling out twice in his first three games, Nash earned his first career ejection last week for an angry confrontation with officials, and Kyrie Irving was caught on a courtside microphone yelling at Simmons to shoot the ball .

Meanwhile, Irving drew significant criticism after posting about the anti-Semitic film on social media last week. The NBA, the National Basketball Association, the Nets and owner Joe Tsai rebuked Irving in separate statements, but the All-Star guard refused to apologize in a heated exchange after the game with reporters on Saturday. Irving, who eventually deleted his post about the film, has yet to face punishment from the NBA or the Nets, though he was greeted by a line of fans sitting courtside they wear “Fight Anti-Semitism” T-shirts. during Monday’s win over the Indiana Pacers in Brooklyn. This latest saga follows a season of torture over Irving’s refusal to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

“I’m certainly not proud of the situation we’re in,” Marks said when asked about the reaction to Irving’s announcement. “I would like to return to basketball. … In this organization there is no tolerance and no space for any kind of hate speech or anti-Semitic remarks.”

Tsai and Marks spent the summer showing promise change the dysfunctional culture of Brooklyn after a humbling first-round series against the Celtics. Tsai endorsed Nash in August after reports of this Durant asked for a change of coachbut the Hall of Fame point guard still entered the season on the hot seat because of the unresolved issues of Brooklyn’s culture and the need to improve his internal accountability.

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Nash, known for his relaxed personality off the field, was hired in 2020 as an alternative to Atkinson, who was considered a disciplinarian. Brooklyn envisioned a two-time MVP overseeing a free-flowing offense that made the most of Durant and Irving’s skills. The plan came together in his first season, as The Nets traded for James Hardenboasted the best offense in the NBA and reached the conference semifinals, where they lost a heartbreaking Game 7 to the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks.

Along the way, Nash proved willing to cede key coaching decisions, such as how many minutes his stars played in postseason games, even when they were injured. Last season, the Nets cemented their reputation for bowing to the whims of their stars when they allowed Irving, who was ineligible to play in New York because of the local vaccine mandate, to he returned as a part-time player. That decision forced Nash to constantly juggle his starting lineups, and Irving’s inconsistent presence was a contributing factor to Harden’s desire to seek trade to the Philadelphia 76ers in February.

Nash was thus without his best playmaker, and Harden’s replacement, Simmons, was a shell of himself after back surgery and a season-long mental health layoff. The Nets’ once-vaunted offense fell to 16th this season, lacking the pace and ball movement necessary to make Brooklyn a top contender. With the Nets headed down the same path as last year, or possibly worse, they had every incentive to make Nash the first coach to be fired this season.

“I got to know Steve during his time in Brooklyn, and he’s not one to shy away from a challenge,” Tsai said in a statement. “My admiration and respect for him grew over time as he brought hard work and a positive attitude to our organization on a daily basis, even during periods of extraordinary storminess surrounding the team.”

Nash retired after an 18-year playing career in 2014, working in player development and football commentary before being hired by the Nets. His hiring drew criticism for landing a plum gig — a big-market team with superstar talent — without paying his dues as an assistant coach. Nash admitted at the time that he had “crossed a line” but claimed his playing experience would help him connect with the players. Instead, his inexperience in running the locker room contributed to his quick departure.

“It was an incredible experience with many challenges that I am incredibly grateful for,” Nash said in a statement. “I wish the Nets all the success in the world and the Nash’s will be rooting for our team as they turn this season around.”

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