Yogi Berra said baseball is 90 percent mental — the other half is physical. The Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie claims managing mindsets is almost as important to coach in the NBA — and that’s why Steve Nash can succeed with his Nets.
No, Nash didn’t spend a single second as an assistant before shockingly landing the Nets job last week. But his Hall of Fame career commands respect from stars like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. That will let him handle the biggest part of the job: Juggling egos.
“It was definitely out of left field,” Dinwiddie told Forbes. “I think overall, it makes sense from the relationship perspective.
“And to me coaching at this level, especially with the talent that we have, it’s like 80% psychologist, 10% temperament, 10% x’s and o’s,” Dinwiddie said. “It’s mostly about managing the egos. That’s why Phil Jackson was phenomenal. He knew how to speak to Kobe (Bryant). He knew how to speak to Michael (Jordan).”
The Nets parted ways with Kenny Atkinson after his voice stopped carrying weight in the locker room. In seeking a successor, Nets owner Joe Tsai and general manager Sean Marks sought somebody with enough gravitas to redress that situation.
“As we spread the net in our search for the next leader, the next connector, a communicator and a cultural driver, we look for these qualities,” said Marks, who referred to Nash’s Hall of Fame resume.
“Joe Tsai and I were in lockstep throughout this entire search process, and we were completely aligned in the intangibles we’d be looking for in the next Nets leader. And as Joe put it clearer than ever, we’d be looking not only as I mentioned before, for a connector, but we’d be looking for a conductor.”
We’ve seen stars’ egos derail contenders before. So keeping the Nets on track may be more about relationships than schemes and gameplans, for which Nash kept Jacque Vaughn to help. What matters most may be managing the egos of Durant, Irving, DeAndre Jordan and the like.
“It’s more like if we’re losing three, four games in a row and KD gets mad or Kyrie gets mad, how do we make sure that everybody stays together, make sure things are OK,” Dinwiddie said. “And OK, DJ hasn’t gotten a lob in seven plays, how do we get him a touch? It’s moreso that type of management than it is ‘call this play.’”
Nash’s long standing friendship with Durant is well-documented. But Caris LeVert also worked out with Durant and Nash two or three summers ago, and again with the latter last summer. And Irving worked out with Nash in New York a few years ago as well.
LeVert said Nash’s Hall of Fame cred will help him command instant respect in the locker room, and aid in his rookie coaching campaign.
“It means a lot,” LeVert said on the R2C2 podcast with Nets broadcaster Ryan Ruocco and CC Sabathia. “From a lot of players you hear “oh, well he didn’t really play when you’re talking about a coach. He didn’t play at the highest level.” That’s not the case for Steve.
“Steve was a two-time MVP, All-Star, Hall of Fame. He has all those things, so he knows what he’s talking about, he knows what he’s doing out there. … Personally, I can’t wait to soak up as much knowledge as I can from him.”
Assistants Phil Handy (Lakers) and Royal Ivey (Knicks) have been linked with spots on Nash’s staff. Handy is close with Irving, and Durant is godfather to Ivey’s child according to Scoop B. The Nets would need permission to talk to either.
“If any of our assistants have an opportunity to have an advancement opportunity, then we typically would grant permission. But it’d be case-by-case and I don’t know anything about [Nets interest in Handy],” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said.
“Phil Handy brings great experience to our team. He’s been in the Finals the last five years, and obviously has great experience and background working with LeBron [James], does a great job with our whole group in player development and has been an integral part of our success this year.”