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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Kristian Winfield

Kristian Winfield: The Nets' culture is in shambles

NEW YORK — Nets GM Sean Marks said he has not determined who will replace Steve Nash as head coach moving forward, but when asked about reports regarding suspended Celtics coach Ime Udoka, he danced around the topic.

The Celtics suspended Udoka, who just took Boston to the NBA Finals last season, for the entire 2022-23 season reportedly due to a sexual misconduct allegation with a female staffer within the organization.

Yet within minutes of the Nets announcing their decision to part ways with Nash, vaunted NBA newsbreaker Shams Charania reported the Nets not only received permission to interview Udoka, but that they also plan to hire him as their next head coach.

“There’s a reason why we made this move [to fire Nash] when we did because time is ticking,” Marks said when pressed on the potential Udoka hire hours after the franchise announced Nash’s dismissal. “So we do want this process to be a thorough one. We’re not going to skip steps on that, and we’ll do our due diligence [like we do with anyone else].”

If the Nets do their due diligence and still arise at hiring Udoka, it will be yet another indictment on the culture Marks claimed he wanted to restore.

The reporting around Udoka’s suspension has been vague, with the Celtics only announcing his infraction as “an unspecified team violation.” Shortly after, the Athletic reported Udoka had “an improper intimate and consensual relationship” with a female Celtics staffer. Multiple reports then surfaced suggesting not only that Udoka had relations with more than one female Celtics staffer, but that he also made “unwanted comments” toward one staffer which prompted an organizational investigation.

The fact that the Nets are reportedly willing to add Udoka’s sideshow to the dumpster fire that has been Kyrie Irving’s antisemitic comments speaks volumes.

Udoka is clearly a capable coach and basketball mind. After an 18-21 start to the season, he turned the Celtics into the NBA’s best defense and finished the year winning 33 of his final 43 games. His game-by-game adjustments lapped Nash’s as the Celtics swept the Nets out of the first round of the playoffs. Under most circumstances, he checks the box for the kind of coach needed for a ready-made championship contender.

“I think what you’re looking for is a leader. We’re looking for that for our group,” Marks said. “We’re looking for somebody to have poise, charisma, [and] accountability. … We’re not playing up to our expectations the way we should be. So you hope this new coach can come in here and put this group in the best possible place to succeed, whether that’s through basketball acumen, whether it’s through their character, whether that’s through their experiences, and all of those together.”

Yet for a team that once hung its hat on a bulletproof culture, the calendar year has been a deviation. Irving decided against getting vaccinated. Kevin Durant requested a trade then demanded the coach and general manager be fired. Irving then, not once, but twice posted links to antisemitic material on his social media feeds. And now the Nets are reportedly planning to hire someone who is less than two months removed from suspension due to sexual misconduct.

What’s next in Brooklyn? The Nets need to be more physical. Maybe the Nets pick up the phone and call Miles Bridges, who is months removed from domestic violence charges? They need depth at the point guard behind Irving. Why not give Josh Primo a call? He would be an extension of Udoka on the floor.

Nets owner Joe Tsai has two quotes in recent history that align with how the Nets are operating: When the team brought Irving back into the rotation after banishing him because of his anti-vaccine stance, Tsai reportedly said: “My only religion is to win games and to win the championship.”

And when he took to Twitter to publicly condemn Irving’s posting of the antisemitic film, Tsai tweeted: “This is bigger than basketball.”

If the Nets hire Udoka, it’s clearly about basketball and basketball only, because if they’ve done their due diligence, they’ll realize those are the only boxes he checks.

And it’s a tough pill for this franchise to swallow, because despite owning the NBA’s third-highest payroll and a star-stacked roster, the losses on the court have only been secondary to the L’s they’ve taken outside of basketball.

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