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Why the Nets hired Steve Nash

CBC Sports' daily newsletter explains why the Brooklyn Nets think Canada's greatest basketball player can be a great coach, even though he's never tried it before.

Brooklyn is betting Canada's greatest basketball player can be a great coach too

Hall of Famer Steve Nash is taking on a whole new challenge. (Elise Amendola/File-The Associated Press)

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Here's what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

Steve Nash is the new head coach of the Brooklyn Nets

This came out of nowhere. As a player, Nash's credentials are unassailable. He's a Hall of Fame point guard, a two-time NBA MVP and the greatest Canadian basketball player of all time. But he has zero experience coaching a team. And, until he took the Nets job today, there was no indication that anyone was interested in hiring him for such a role. No leaks, no rumours, no reports… nothing.

Now, to everyone's surprise, the 46-year-old from Victoria finds himself in charge of one of the NBA's most interesting teams, located in the league's biggest media market, after Brooklyn gave him a four-year deal to become its new head coach. "Coaching is something I knew I wanted to pursue when the time was right, and I am humbled to be able to work with the outstanding group of players and staff we have here in Brooklyn," Nash said in a statement.

The Nets may not have looked like much during their first-round playoff sweep at the hands of the Raptors, but they should be a completely different team next season. Kevin Durant will finally put on a Brooklyn uniform after taking an entire season off to recover from the torn Achilles he suffered in last year's NBA Finals with Golden State. It's possible Durant's best days are behind him (he turns 32 this month) but the former MVP is one of the best scorers in basketball history. The Nets should also get more out of last summer's other big free-agent acquisition, Kyrie Irving. The high-scoring guard played only 20 games this season and did not appear in the playoffs. Despite all that, Brooklyn's supporting cast was deep enough to post a respectable 35-37 record — good for seventh in the mushy Eastern Conference.

So it's clear what Nash sees in the Nets. But what might they see in him? There's the splashiness of the move, and the fact that Nash's stature as an all-time great player should command respect from Brooklyn's stars. Besides that, the obvious connection is that general manager Sean Marks played with Nash in Phoenix in the mid-2000s. He "witnessed firsthand [Nash's] basketball acumen and selfless approach to prioritize team success," Marks said in a statement today. Reportedly, Marks was also drawn to Nash because of his relationship with Durant — established during Nash's stint as a part-time player-development consultant with the Warriors. Durant and Irving are both known for their difficult personalities, and this is the player-empowerment era, so it's reasonable to assume they signed off on this move.

The Nash hire also has some definite Steve Kerr vibes. Though nowhere near the player Nash was, Kerr established a high profile during his days as a key role player with Michael Jordan's Bulls teams. Like Nash, he was highly respected, well-liked and considered a good communicator when Golden State decided to hire him with no coaching experience in 2014. Kerr helped unlock the Warriors' vast potential, and they went on to win three of the next five NBA titles while also reaching the Finals in the other two years.

Another thing Nash and Kerr have in common is that they're both white guys who replaced experienced Black coaches. In Nash's case, he bumped Jacque Vaughn from interim head coach back to assistant. As the New York Times' Marc Stein points out, this leaves only five Black head coaches in a league where roughly 80 per cent of the players are Black. That's concerning, especially in the wake of last week's NBA-wide walkout in protest of systemic racism in the broader society.

One more angle on the Nash move: what does this mean for the Canadian men's national team? Nash served as the general manager from 2012-2019 — a time during which a bumper crop of young Canadian talent entered the NBA. Hopes are high that, if there's an Olympics next summer, and if NBA players participate, the team can not only qualify for the first time since Nash dragged them to the quarter-finals in 2000, but even contend for a medal. Last year, Nash handed the GM reins to Rowan Barrett and slid into an advisory role. It's unclear whether he'll continue with that after taking on his extremely demanding new job in Brooklyn. Read more about the Nets' stunning move to hire Nash here.

WATCH | CBC Sports basketball analyst Jevohn Shepherd discusses Steve Nash hire:

CBC Sports basketball analyst Jevohn Shepherd joins Anson Henry to discuss Steve Nash's new position with the Nets. 3:54

Another young Canadian NBA player had a breakthrough moment

It's not on the level of Jamal Murray's recent scoring barrage, but Lu Dort dropped a career-high 30 points to lead all scorers in a clutch Game 7 performance for Oklahoma City last night. The high-energy rookie from Montreal, who averaged only 6.8 points in the regular season, hit six of his 12 three-point attempts and also helped limit Houston superstar James Harden to an uncharacteristically low 17 points. However, Harden got the last laugh when he blocked Dort's three-point try with 4.8 seconds left and the Rockets went on to win 104-102. Read more about the game and watch highlights here.

With Dort and OKC teammate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander now eliminated (SGA scored 19 last night and averaged 16.3 in the series), only three Canadians remain in the NBA playoffs who have seen playing time: Murray, Miami's Kelly Olynyk and Toronto's Chris Boucher. Olynyk had 11 points and five rebounds last night to help Miami take a stunning 2-0 lead on top-seeded Milwaukee in their second-round series. Murray and the Denver Nuggets open their series vs. the L.A. Clippers tonight at 9 p.m. ET. Boucher's Raptors, who have played him only 31 minutes in the playoffs, will try to climb out of their 2-0 hole vs. Boston at 6:30 p.m. ET.

Nathan MacKinnon continues to amaze

With a gorgeous assist…

… and the clinching empty-net goal in Colorado's elimination-avoiding 4-1 win over Dallas last night, the NHL's hottest player now has at least one point in all 14 of his playoff games this year. That ties Bobby Orr (1970) and Mark Messier (1988) for the second-longest scoring streak ever to open a post-season. Only Brian Trottier (18 games in '81) has gone longer. Eight of MacKinnon's games have been multi-point efforts, and he now has 25 points. That's five more than anyone else in this year's playoffs and already two more than anyone had in *all of last year's playoffs.* That's right. And MacKinnon might still have two more full rounds to go. But first, he and the Avs will have to win Game 7 vs. Dallas tomorrow.

For more on MacKinnon and his also-brilliant teammate Cale Makar, who has already broken the record for points by a rookie defenceman in the post-season with 15, watch Rob Pizzo's two-minute recap of last night's NHL action.

Tonight brings us a pair of Game 6s. Philadelphia hopes to again avoid elimination by the Islanders at 7 p.m. ET, and Vancouver will try to do the same vs. Vegas at 9:45 p.m. ET.

Quickly...

Canada suffered its first losses at the U.S. Open. The lone Canadian in the women's singles draw is out after Leylah Annie Fernandez fell in straight sets to No. 2 seed Sofia Kenin today. The outlook is better on the men's side, where 12th-seeded Denis Shapovalov advanced to the third round last night and either Milos Raonic or Vasek Pospisil will join him. It'll come at the expense of the other guy, though, as they're playing each other this afternoon. Tonight, No. 15 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime faces former world No. 1 Andy Murray, who's slipped to 115th in the twilight of his career. In non-Canadian news, women's top seed Karolina Pliskova lost to 50th-ranked Caroline Garcia yesterday.

Brazil's soccer federation says it's going to pay its women's national team players the same as the men. This is a pretty big deal, considering how revered the men's team is in the soccer-crazed country and how rare the move is. Of the 159 countries playing women's soccer under the FIFA umbrella, only seven have equal-pay agreements. The others are Australia, England, Fiji, Finland, New Zealand and Norway. The Canadian and (famously) U.S. women's teams don't have such a deal with their federations, though they both negotiated agreements that include other considerations such as subsidies for players' salaries in the National Women's Soccer League. The Canadian team, which has won back-to-back Olympic bronze medals, also receives funding from the Own the Podium program. The issue of equal pay for national soccer teams is perhaps more complex than it seems on the surface, but Brazil's move is a sign that times may be changing and other countries might have to adjust. Read more about why Brazil's equal-pay deal matters in this piece by CBC Sports' Signa Butler.

Tom Seaver died. One of the greatest pitchers of all time, Tom Terrific was perhaps best known for having the highest percentage of Hall of Fame votes (98.84 per cent in 1982) until Ken Griffey Jr., Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter surpassed him over the last five years. A power pitcher with the personality to match, Seaver was the 1967 National League rookie of the year and went on to win three Cy Young awards — all with the New York Mets between 1969 and '75. He was the ace of the famed '69 Miracle Mets team that rolled to a surprising World Series title after the franchise finished at or near the bottom of the NL for the previous seven seasons of its existence. That same year, Seaver was the opposing starter for the inaugural Montreal Expos game on April 8. Seaver also played for Cincinnati and the Chicago White Sox before ending his career at age 42 with the doomed '86 Boston Red Sox. He was the Opening Day starter, but a knee injury kept him from appearing in the post-season, where Boston would blow Game 6 and 7 of the World Series against the Mets after Bill Buckner's infamous error at first base. Seaver was 75. Read more about his life and career here.

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