Kristian Winfield: Steve Nash says he'll give Nets the creative freedom they need to succeed on the court

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NEW YORK — Steve Nash was quizzed about what his team’s offense will look like this season during a virtual town hall meeting on Tuesday.

“It’s all sort of to be determined,” the new Nets head coach said.

Nash said he doesn’t want to get bogged down with too many hard and fast concepts and designs.

“I’d much rather come in with principles, with ideas that allow our players to collaborate with us and allow their personalities and the dynamic between them and the chemistry to have a role in how it evolves,” he said.

In short, he’s going to give Nets players what Kenny Atkinson could not: creative freedom.

That was the sticking point that got Atkinson ousted, the inability to be malleable, to listen to his stars and build a system that reflected their wishes. He ultimately lost his locker room after failing to adjust over the course of the season.

According to Nash, that was part of Mike D’Antoni’s genius.

Yes, D’Antoni — the former Rockets, Suns and Knicks coach who has been linked to a potential assistant role in Brooklyn — is known for the Seven Seconds or Less Phoenix offense that reimagined modern-day basketball. But Nash said that offensive scheme was a byproduct of the relationship D’Antoni had with his players.

The same can be said of coaches like Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra, basketball minds who tailor a system to the strengths and needs of their players, not confine their players to an antiquated system.

“People talk about the Phoenix teams I played on and this sort of revolutionary tone of how it impacted the game, but the truth be told, Mike D’Antoni’s brilliance in much of that was he allowed it to evolve instead of getting in the way,” he said. “I feel like a lot of coaches feel the need to design every aspect of something, and I feel you leave too much on the table that can be found through the personalities, the connectivity, the dynamic on the floor and in the room.”

That’s the kind of coach the Nets need. Kevin Durant’s talent and skill as a top-3 player is undeniable. Kyrie Irving is one of the three-to-five-best players at his position, an ankle-bullying, show-stopping demon of a point guard who bends defenses to his will. Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris — provided the Nets re-sign him — are more than capable scorers and play-makers. DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen put pressure on the rim on both ends of the floor.

The Nets don’t need a system. They need a game manager. They need their Popovich.

Enter Nash, who managed his teammates as a Hall of Fame point guard for two decades.

“There’s pieces for me to learn and build on from what they did, but then there’s also new players coming in here that are going to have a big impact, that are going to change the way we have to look at things in many ways and challenge us to create something unique that identifies with their skills and talents,” Nash said. “It is a bit of all those things, and I’m going to definitely lean on the experiences this club has had in the past, the development of the individual players and collectively how this new group, considering Kevin hasn’t been in the mix, is going to best perform and how we can use him as a cornerstone for much of that we do.”

Here’s what you can expect from this year’s Nets team: a lot of the same.

The Nets are going to play fast, space the floor, get downhill and make plays for each other. That’s exactly how they played under Jacque Vaughn in the Orlando bubble, and it’s how they played for stretches under Atkinson before his dismissal in March.

What will be different are the players on the roster — the influx of talent and star power set to officially take the floor when Durant and Irving return from their injuries. Both signed four-year max contracts in Brooklyn in the summer of 2019, but Durant was never expected to play while recovering from an Achilles injury. Irving’s year was limited to 20 games due to a right shoulder impingement that ultimately required season-ending surgery.

The Nets will be more than a two-man show. LeVert is a budding star whose emergence was on display in the Orlando bubble. Dinwiddie did not play in the resumption of the regular season at Disney World due to contracting COVID-19. The Nets also signed Jordan the same summer they secured their two superstars, and Vince Carter told the Daily News the veteran big man has X-factor potential. The same could be said for Allen, who reasserted his status as a starting caliber center with his play in the Orlando bubble.

The Nets, without Durant, Irving, Dinwiddie, Jordan, Wilson Chandler and Taurean Prince, won five out of their eight seeding games and secured the East’s seventh seed before the Raptors swept them out of the first round of the playoffs.

“So, the talent probably couldn’t match up with some of the top teams given who was missing, but the connectivity, the belief, the spirit and the principals were really strong, so lots to build on,” Nash said. “Also, you have to be careful, because you are now integrating five, six new players that didn’t play in the bubble or didn’t even play last year for the most part. We have a lot of work to do to figure out some of these things, but there’s a lot to build on. Jacque Vaughn did a great job in the bubble. I’m lucky that I get to collaborate with him every day on these things and take his experiences and talents and character and put that in the mix and it makes us better every day.”

Fully healthy, the Nets have positioned themselves to become Kings of New York, a team poised to bring the City That Never Sleeps its first championship since the Giants won in 2012. There’s also the uncertainty factor: Brooklyn could blow up its young core in a trade for a legitimate third star.

There’s also the possibility, and a strong one, of a trade, packaging any of Brooklyn’s talented young players and draft assets for a third, bona fide star available on the market.

What’s clear, and most important, is that there are no delusions of grandeur on the other side of the Manhattan Bridge. The Nets have a three-year window to make it happen. Anything short of winning it all simply isn’t enough.

“We’re playing for a championship. I don’t want to say that anything less than a championship is not a success because you never know what happens in life, you never know the way the ball bounces. Fortune is a big part of winning an NBA championship. But we are playing for a championship and we’re going to build accordingly,” Nash said. “We’re going to frame everything we do in the lens of, ‘Is this a championship characteristic or is this worth championship quality?’ Other than that, are we growing? Are we striving? Are we pressure-tested? Are we continually asking of each other and ourselves that individual collective growth every day and creating an environment that is fun but challenging and collaborative? If those tenets are being met, there’s a lot of success and reward in that. But we are playing for a championship.”

Nash, of course, never won a championship, let alone made it to the NBA Finals as a player, and enters this job with no prior coaching experience.

He does, however, have experience as a game manager, one of the best point guards in NBA history who orchestrated the most transcendent offense basketball had seen. And with the talent on the Nets roster, managerial experience might be all he ever needs.

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