Steve Nash hoping to guide Nets to a title that eluded him

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Steve Nash pulled Nic Claxton to the side before Nets practice this week and relayed the story of a Hall of Fame player who never won a NBA title despite coming so close so many times.

His name is Steve Nash.

“He told me he’s been to the conference finals four times throughout his career,” Claxton said, “and this is my second year in the league, and I’m in the rotation [for a championship favorite]. I definitely don’t take any of this for granted.”

Nash’s playing career easily parallels that of Nets stars James Harden and Blake Griffin — two perennial All-Stars chasing that first championship ring on their third different team — but his journey is a cautionary tale to everyone in the rotation for the team he coaches. There are not an unlimited number of opportunities.

“We’re all kind of a product of our experiences, so it is inevitable whether it’s conscious or subconscious that my experiences will kind of dictate how I see and respond to the playoffs,” Nash said.

“While I’m not going to necessarily make straight lines from everything that happened to me to this group, you are influenced by what’s happened to you, and you try to take as much of that forward. That’s where the knowledge and wisdom comes from.”

Steve Nash
Steve Nash
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Nash was an eight-time All-Star and two-time MVP during his first 16 seasons as a point guard with the Mavericks and Suns. Four times Nash’s teams lost in the conference finals, including once as a No. 1 seed (2005) and twice to the Lakers. So, he joined forces with Kobe Bryant late in his career hoping to finally get over the hump with the Lakers, but it didn’t happen.

Sure, Nash got a taste of the Promised Land as a player development consultant for the Warriors during his first five years after retirement, but that’s not the same level of contribution and camaraderie. Even coaching isn’t the same as playing, so it’s not a redemption quest. Just a chance to make something positive out of old heartbreak.

“I think it’s a little bit different,” Nash said. “For me, I’m here to see these guys succeed and try to give them the best opportunity to play their best basketball and go as far as they can and try to win a championship. That is something I find a lot of reward in and motivates me to work hard and to lead this group.”

The Nets will have the talent advantage in every playoff series. But will Nash provide an edge against more experienced counterparts in close games when it comes to pulling the strings for substitution patterns, timeout usage and other areas where coaches make a difference? He passed the regular-season test juggling 37 different lineups through injuries.

“It’s not really black and white. It’s kind of gray. There’s an art and science to it all,” Nash said. “I also want to be adaptable and willing to understand my group may not represent the experiences I have. You have to be ready to put your team in its best position to be flying on all cylinders at the right moment.”

The Celtics’ Brad Stevens has 73 games of playoff experience — and that pales in comparison to the 76ers’ Doc Rivers (180). Then again, neither of them earned the respect of his veteran players by going head-to-head on the court as players — as Nash did facing Kevin Durant, Harden and Griffin in the Western Conference meat-grinder over the years.

“You never know how coaches are going to be, let alone first-time head coaches, and I think the thing that impressed me the most is his poise for being such a young head coach,” Griffin said. “I feel like poise is one of those things that you learn and develop over time at your position. He has a game plan. He has a message to relay to us.”

Nash used clichés to describe the playoffs — “lights are brightest” and “everyone raises their level a bit” — but they ring true from his mouth. He upped his career averages from the regular season to the playoffs in points (14.3 to 17.3), assists (8.5 to 8.8) and rebounds (3.0 to 3.5) per game.

“He is great about picking the things to get on us about,” Griffin said. “You can’t control everything, you can’t stop everything, but I think as a former player that’s now coaching, you sort of have that mindset. And I think that serves the team well especially in playoff situations where you’re playing against some of the best players and they’re going score, but you can’t overreact. You’ve got to be smart about that.”

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