The winningest coach in NBA history was thrilled to hear the news that Steve Nash had been hired as coach of the Brooklyn Nets.
And while predicting greatness is a dangerous thing, Don Nelson said that the former Mavericks’ point guard has a great advantage working in his favor.
“He’s got a good team,” Nelson said Friday from his home in Hawaii. “And that usually makes you a good coach.”
It won’t be that simple, of course. Nelson knows that firsthand. He was the coach for the Mavericks in the late ‘90s and early 2000s when Nash was just beginning his journey as an NBA player.
Nelson was coach/Gm in 1998 when the Mavericks traded for Nash. That was the same year they got Dirk Nowitzki to add to Michael Finley and the original Mavericks’ Big Three was born. The Mavericks rebuilt from a laughingstock to a perennial NBA contender with that threesome.
Now it’s more than 20 years later and Nash is beginning his coaching career.
Nelson has plenty of confidence that Nash knows more than enough to make up for a lack of experience as a coach. He’s never been an assistant coach, although he was on Golden State’s staff as a player development assistant in 2018 when the Warriors and Kevin Durant won the title.
It was during that season that Nash and Durant struck up a friendship.
Now, Nash will be coaching Durant.
“I’m not surprised,” Nelson said of Nash starting a career in coaching. “He’s always had the brain of a coach. The head coach was always full of confidence whenever he was on the floor running the team.”
As for how much success Nash ultimately will have with the Nets, Nelson would not hazard a guess. But he knows that the hall of famer Nash has the basketball IQ to learn quickly on the fly.
He displayed that same ability as a player.
“He had the ability to score and pass,” Nelson said of Nash as a player. “But he wanted to be like John Stockton. He wanted to average 10 points and 12 rebounds.
“But I needed him to be more aggressive. I had to convince him that we needed him to score more. I knew he could get us 25 (points) and 10 (assists) if we needed it. He needed a little tough love.
“I think that will help him in this job.”
Dealing with NBA players in this era is certainly different than it was when Nelson was leading the Mavericks. But one thing has not changed: talent, more than any other asset, still wins games.
“I haven’t paid that close attention to their (the Nets’) situation, but I know they have Durant,” Nelson said. “And anytime you hire a guy into that situation, expectations are going to be high. When you’re coming into a rebuilding team, you just have to get better or you get fired.
“In this situation, the expectations are going to be high, for sure.”
One thing Nash learned from Nelson was to always surround himself with quality assistant coaches. Nelson usually had somebody like veteran coach Del Harris or up-and-coming talent like Avery Johnson on his bench.
But no matter who Nash picks as his assistants, he will be seeing the game from a vantage point that helps any coach. Just like Jason Kidd, Johnson and others that came before him, Nash was a point guard who saw everything when he was on the court.
That usually translates well into coaching.
“He’s always been a coach on the floor,” Nelson said. “He knows the game. And he’ll learn the rest as he goes along.”