NEW YORK — Sean Marks spent Tuesday talking about “unprecedented challenges.” Those were his words, his descriptor for all that Steve Nash had to endure in his two-plus seasons as the Nets head coach. They were in the Tuesday mid-morning press release the Nets sent out that announced they had parted ways with Nash — one euphemism to shroud another — five losses into a season where every defeat feels magnified.
A few hours later, Marks bemoaned that Nash never had a chance to coach on an even playing field with the rest of the league. Here was a coach given a bad hand and fired for it.
This is not an absolution of Nash. He wasn’t a great coach, but he wasn’t a bad coach. He was a coach caught in a storm trying to hang on long enough to see it die down. It never did. The storm was unceasing in Brooklyn. The storm is unceasing in Brooklyn.
The Nets are here now because they leaned in to the chaos and kept going further. Current 76ers president Daryl Morey likes to talk about upping the risk profile in times when a title is in view, and Marks has barely hedged. Sometimes that ends with massive profits. Sometimes you end up like Bear Sterns.
It’s understandable, of course. The Nets are not the first franchise to keep pushing further in search of a championship, to take the “it’s worth it if it all works out” approach. But the Nets haven’t just leveraged assets and draft picks. They’ve leveraged stability, sanity and, occasionally, credibility. In Brooklyn, Kevin Durant requesting a trade and that his bosses be fired — a meteoric crater for any other organization — is just a summer fling.
All the while, they couldn’t win, not at the levels that serve as a salve in times of stress. This season, they are just losing; they’re now 2-6 after a 108-99 fall-from-ahead defeat to the Bulls on Tuesday.
Marks used a passive tone when he spoke about all those challenges pregame, as if the issues all hit the franchise like a plague rather than coming as a result of their own devices. Even if calm does find Brooklyn, the storm will never pass.
Kyrie Irving has been silenced for now — he didn’t speak Monday or Tuesday — because of an organization trying to shield Irving from himself. The last time he spoke was Saturday night, when he showed no remorse for sharing a movie widely seen as anti-Semitic with his 4.6 million Twitter followers and only objected to having to take ownership for that decision.
“He’s not gonna do media tonight and at some point he will come up here and do media again,” Marks said Tuesday afternoon. “But I think at this point, we don’t want to cause more fuss right now and more interaction with people. Let’s let him simmer down, and let’s let cooler minds prevail.”
Irving will have his microphone again soon. He still has his Twitter and Instagram accounts, which he uses as weapons of disinformation. Irving has shown no desire for culpability, and he has no need for an apology, not when there are no repercussions. The NBA, the NBA Players Association and Nike may have made statements disavowing anti-Semitism, but none named a culprit, as if a random Twitter egg started this latest controversy.
This moment has been years in the making. Irving first dabbled in conspiracy in 2017, floating that the earth was flat before circling around to an apology. A year later, he said he learned some thoughts should be kept private; he hasn’t kept to that, either. He bemoaned last month that his anti-vaccination posture cost him a $100 million contract and cast a stigma on him. That same month, he posted an Alex Jones conspiracy to his Instagram.
The Nets have met all this with only feeble resistance, if not bleary-eyed optimism. Marks on Tuesday said he hoped the organization could be a leader for positive change, as if this were another teaching opportunity.
“We’re trying to separate the basketball side of things and what’s best for this team moving on and address that,” he said. “And then again, not to sugarcoat it, we need to address the other pieces to not only the organization but just honestly, how can we be a catalyst for what’s going on in the world? How can we help here?”
But instead of helping the world, the Nets have only revealed how it works. They have shown that impunity is earned and doled out by meritocracy.
Irving can Google the meaning of his name one day, find a movie that speaks to him, then send that out into the world. An archetype of how disinformation spreads in the world today, how it is shredding society and platforming hate keystroke by keystroke. Another cultural idol using his voice with no regard to those he’s hurting. Irving can be condemned by owner Joe Tsai on Twitter one day and play 40 minutes the next night. The Nets can tout that high-ranking executives have had talks with the Anti-Defamation League, but not Irving — a lesson without the student in need of it.
Most recently, word comes they are set to hire Ime Udoka, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Udoka, whose behavior was so egregious in Boston that the organization suspended the coach who just led the Celtics to the NBA Finals on the eve of a season in which they were title favorites. The Celtics investigated him and found something bad enough to effectively strip his job from him. The Nets are set to hire him and denude that punishment.
Marks denied any hiring decision has yet been made, but he was adamant the Nets will have done their due diligence no matter who it is. If it is Udoka, are we asked to believe their investigation was more thorough than Boston’s? Or that their workplace policies are less strict? Or their morals looser?
The Nets have already shown over these last three-plus years how much they will tolerate. Kenny Atkinson can be fired to placate two stars. Irving can be exiled for refusing to take a vaccine mandated by city rules in the middle of a pandemic, and then brought back when that had gone on too long. Durant can ask that the head coach and general manager be fired, and then the Nets can play it off like nothing is too bad to eventually overcome. And then Irving can cause another uproar, and they can be on the verge of hiring a coach who has already hurt so many in his own organization.
This, too, will quiet down at some point. But the storm will not pass.
(Top photo: Vincent Carchietta / USA Today)
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