Spring training doesn’t open until later this month, and the Dodgers left Brooklyn more than 60 years ago, but Steve Nash certainly has faced his share of hard-breaking curveballs in his first season with the Nets.
From the blockbuster trade for James Harden to COVID-19 absences of fellow Big 3 stars Kyrie Irving last month and Kevin Durant presently, Nash says the Nets are doing their best to welcome the adversity now in exchange for its importance later in the season.
“I think the most helpful part of it has been that I decided about two weeks into the season to embrace everything that’s thrown at us and to expect or even ask for it all to be thrown at us,” Nash said before the Nets departed for Tuesday’s game in Detroit. “It’s an opportunity to learn and grow, it’s an opportunity to not necessarily ride the roller coaster, but to stay on leveled ground and to say, ‘OK. This is this week. Let’s see what next week brings.’ And I think that allows me to stay a little more even-keeled.”
Durant is in the midst of a seven-day COVID-19 quarantine following Friday’s bizarre sequence in which he didn’t start against Toronto, played 19 minutes off the bench and then was pulled from the game for contact-tracing due to close contact with a team employee who tested positive for the virus.
Both Durant and Irving (sprained finger) missed Saturday’s loss in Philadelphia — dropping the Nets’ record to 14-11 for third in the Eastern Conference — although Irving is expected back in the lineup Tuesday, Nash said.
“From what I know, Kevin’s on about 90 negative tests. It would be wonderful if he could join our ball club as soon as possible,” Nash said. “Ky’s index finger is improving. I’m sure it’s gonna be, having played with plenty of those myself, the type of thing that sometimes doesn’t go away in the season, but is manageable.
“So we’ll see what level he’s able to attain as far as the pain and inflammation becoming manageable or not. But I think right now it’s in the manageable camp and he can play [Tuesday] night.”
Recent free-agent signing Iman Shumpert played alongside Irving and LeBron James on Cleveland’s 2016 championship team. The veteran guard was signed primarily to help the Nets team defense, but he believes his experience playing on star-laden teams also can be invaluable.
“It’s being able to get me up to speed quicker because I’ve played on multiple different franchises and with each franchise, I think I’ve had to play alongside some form of superstar in our league,” said Shumpert, who hasn’t appeared in a game since signing on Jan. 30. “Those guys understand that I want to understand the role enough to say that I can get this done and not take it personal.
“There’s a lot of times that in order for a star to be a star, a role player has to be a lesser version of themselves. Not a worse version, but a lesser version just to focus on the things that we’ve got to focus on to win.”
In the meantime, the Nets’ role players are being relied upon to help Nash continue to navigate the twists and turns of his first head-coaching job, especially when it comes to his biggest stars.
“It’s not easy. We’re all human,” Nash said. “We’re all trying to deal with all these different and new scenarios and parameters, things that have been thrown at us. But I definitely made a decision a month ago just to embrace all of it, to use it as a learning curve, an opportunity for growth.
“I think an element of this season is who deals with this stuff the best … I think that our group so far has survived the kind of mental, emotional and spiritual toll that this season brings, and that’s been key.”