The Brooklyn Nets season came to an end on Sunday when they were dispatched by the Toronto Raptors in a 150-122 drubbing, the culmination of a widely expected first round sweep. As a result, the Nets coaching search can now begin in earnest and the team has a very interesting decision to make.
Jacque Vaughn guided the team on interim status through the end of the regular season and the restart in the Bubble, with an especially impressive showing from the team in Orlando as they went 5-3 in the seeding round, almost took the Blazers out of the playoffs, and battled in Game 2 with the Raptors before ultimately being overwhelmed by the talent disparity. Vaughn was always going to be a candidate, but the expectation was the Nets would flame out of the seeding round with a shorthanded roster and all but remove him from consideration. Now, however, he has a pretty strong point of reference for what he can do. The main problem is, it’s showed he can get a lot out of a scrappy group, not coach a pair of superstars who wield significant power in the hiring process.
As such, other top candidates for the job include Tyronn Lue, who coached Kyrie Irving in Cleveland during their championship season, but on Monday Shams Charania of The Athletic reported an even bigger fish has the eyes of Irving and Kevin Durant — and thus, the Nets as well. Per Shams, Gregg Popovich is the “dream candidate” of Brooklyn and they will at least try to gain permission to talk with the Hall of Fame coach.
The first priority of the Nets’ coaching search has become clear: They plan to seriously explore the possibilities with Popovich, sources tell The Athletic.
He is a favorite of Nets star Kevin Durant, league sources say, even dating as far back as the Oklahoma City Thunder’s coaching search process in 2015 (which ultimately concluded with the hire of Billy Donovan). There is known to be tremendous mutual respect between Popovich and KD. Durant’s presence and voice is powerful within the Nets’ franchise, and Popovich represents a bonding candidate between the two-time Finals MVP and Brooklyn’s front office. ESPN reported on Sunday evening that Durant and Irving have shown an interest in Popovich.
If your first thought was, “there’s no way Pop is leaving the Spurs for the Nets,” then you’re in the majority. It seems, for sure, to be an incredible long shot for the Nets to not only get a meeting with Pop but to convince him to leave and match whatever the Spurs require in compensation in return. Charania even called it a “pipe dream” in the piece, but it seems to be one Brooklyn’s willing to pursue. A lot of that pursuit seems to be simply proving to your two superstars that you’ll try anything for them, including making a potential Godfather offer to the league’s most legendary coach.
What this also indicates is maybe not the best of things for whoever the Nets do hire. If Durant is making a strong internal push for Pop, one has to wonder what coach he’d be happy enough with that isn’t Pop. Any coach who comes into the Nets was always going to have immense pressure to make them a contender immediately, but add in the pressure of “not Gregg Popovich” as a checkmark in the cons section for your biggest star and you better make quite the early impression to gain some stability in your new role.