There surely is a scenario in which Ime Udoka fixes the putrid basketball product put out on a nightly basis by the Nets, a reality wherein Udoka’s familiarity with players he coached before and the brief professional reputation he built for having command of his locker room will somehow mold an unholy trio of supposed stars into some sort of cohesive unit.
That’s what the Nets are banking on anyway, poised as they are to slip Udoka into the still-warm head coaching seat pulled out Tuesday from underneath Steve Nash.
But let’s make one thing clear: Hiring Udoka cannot fix the Nets, the NBA’s most egregious embarrassment.
Hiring Udoka to replace Nash just continues to expose the Nets as a desperate, flailing franchise looking for any path toward salvaging what they still believe is a championship window. There’s a reason Nash didn’t seem to even contest the dismissal, writing a farewell note filled with gratitude and respect, no doubt relieved to escape the tangled web of idiocy, unhappiness, and confusion that is Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and Ben Simmons.
But there’s also a reason the Celtics apparently won’t look for compensation for Udoka, the man they suspended for the entire season for violations of team policy reportedly related to an inappropriate intimate relationship with a subordinate. That Nets owner Joe Tsai and his embattled (overmatched) general manager, Sean Marks, are so quick to turn to Udoka anyway sends quite a message to the people in their employ, particularly the women who deserve to have any questions answered about the climate the face of their franchise is going to set behind closed doors.
But the Nets long ago lost the battle for good messaging, proven by their inept, inert, utterly incompetent handling of Irving and his disturbing brand of do-my-own-research rabbit-holing that resulted in the sharing (and, whether he likes it or not or admits it or not, endorsing) of a blatant antisemitic “documentary” to his 4.6 million Twitter followers.
As usual, the mental gymnasts and personal pretzel-twisters defending Irving purely on the basis of his right to free speech conveniently ignore that while his speech is most certainly free, consequence from such speech is not.
If the Nets want to sanction him for his ugliness, they could do much more than shield him from additional scrutiny, which so far has been their only strategy, holding him back as they have from league-mandated postgame availability the past two games. The NBA and its players association are no better, issuing general condemnations of antisemitism and hate speech without having the guts to mention Irving by name.
The fans who sat courtside in Brooklyn Monday wearing “Fight Antisemitism” T-shirts did more to combat Irving’s dangerous, ridiculous ignorance about the Holocaust, Hitler, and hate than anything commissioner Adam Silver or Tsai has yet to do. Irving wants the right to declare his beliefs without the responsibility to defend them, simultaneously insisting he has the right to use his platform as he pleases but that he really doesn’t have a platform at all, that it’s purely a media creation.
By the time Irving and the Nets took cover under the Anti-Defamation League and promised Wednesday to donate a whopping $500,000 apiece “toward causes and organizations that work to eradicate hate and intolerance in our communities,” the statement closed not with an apology from a player with a four-year average salary of $34 million, but with a “wish to be only a beacon of truth and light.”
It’s almost hard to remember when Irving was with the Celtics, back when his flat-earth theories and empty promises to stick around were the worst of his lies. Much easier, of course, to recall the time of Udoka, when just a season ago he was taking the Celtics within two games of an NBA title. The Celtics are so much better off with both of them gone.
Maybe management could have done more, denying permission for the Nets to even speak to Udoka or pushing them for compensation. But it’s obvious the Celtics just wanted to move on, content to be on the winning side (again) of a transaction with Brooklyn.
The Nets are exposed once more, for either a complete lack of due diligence (Udoka’s name was leaked too fast for any real research to have been done) or a clear case of advance work that meant they were vetting Udoka while Nash was still the coach. This is the same franchise Danny Ainge fleeced to fuel the roster overhaul that built this current championship-caliber team, dumping Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce just in time for their transcendent careers to wind down in Brooklyn.
How long before the current GM, Marks, goes the way of former GM Billy King, who admitted his regret five years after the Garnett/Pierce trade in an interview with Sports Illustrated?
“I should have said, ‘Give me a day to think about it, let’s talk in the morning,’ ” King told Chris Mannix. “I should have regrouped everyone, and gone through it again. I should have told Danny, ‘Give me a day.’ I probably would have revamped it. I should have said, ‘Look, Danny, everything looks good. Let’s finish the draft and let’s talk in the morning.’ That’s one thing I would have done differently, for sure.”
Not that Marks’s dismissal would fix much either. The Nets are a dysfunctional mess, from the product on the floor (Irving was held to 4 points on 2-of-12 shooting Tuesday, his worst night as a Net and the first time in his career he scored fewer than 5 points while playing at least 24 minutes) to the constant distractions off it. Trading for James Harden, who then forced his way out. Taking on Simmons, whose anxiety issues in Philadelphia were compounded by a back injury upon arrival and who still has yet to reach any level of consistent productivity. Sticking by Durant, the sublime talent whose offseason request for a trade and demand for both Nash and Marks to be fired barely even register a ripple now.
Into the mess steps Udoka. He might get them playing better ball, but that doesn’t fix anything.