Sean Marks’s first move as Nets general manager was waiving Andrea Bargnani. OK, so that wasn’t a tough one. The next steps are a bit harder: figuring out how to make this mess of a team into something relevant in the NBA.
The Nets, as you probably know by now, are in one of the worst spots to improve of any team in NBA history. They currently hold the NBA’s fourth-worst record at 15-41 and fourth-worst net rating at -7.1 points per 100 possessions. Unlike the three teams behind them, they have no control over one of their draft picks until 2019. Their four building blocks a pair of solid 27-year-old big men (Brook Lopez & Thaddeus Young) & two players selected 23rd (Rondae Hollis-Jefferson) and 29th (Chris McCullough) in this past draft. Their biggest asset — $40 million in cap room coming this offseason — is something they share with many teams due to the NBA’s spiking cap. The team fired their head coach and “re-assigned” their general manager in January, which necessitated Marks’s hire.
Marks, like many before him and many still with the team, stressed culture without delving into specifics.
“I think you look for players that are going to fit within your culture. You can bring in a star player but if he doesn’t fit with the vision with where you’re going that can derail the system as well. So whoever we bring in here, they’re going to play team basketball, they’re going to be competitive on the floor, the coach is going to have a defensive mindset and a system that gets them playing well and get them, you know, things that I’m accustomed to where I come from.”
Some of what Marks has to do will be decided for him. Marks theoretically may have a vision for tearing down and getting every draft pick possible, but if the stars align and a top free agent suddenly decides he’s Brooklyn-bound, there’s your new strategy right there. That won’t be figured out until the June draft and July’s free agency.
“I can’t tell you if it’s going to be a star player, I can’t tell you if it’s going to be a young player, there’s certainly going to be some vets. Every team needs leadership. Whether that comes in the way of a star player, whether that comes in the form of a guy who is the 12th, 13th, 14th player on the bench, but we’ll have to wait and see how that roster pans out.”
Though we can’t be sure what “culture” means to Marks, his former boss Gregg Popovich made his thoughts clear: “guys who have gotten over themselves.”
The time Marks signed on only made it more awkward. He had less than five hours to evaluate his roster and decide if he wanted to negotiate a trade before the deadline. He also had to leave behind any talks in San Antonio, where he was working as an assistant general manager. “They quickly kicked me out of the room,” Marks joked.
As you might expect given the timeframe, Marks’s Nets didn’t make any trades at the deadline. “Sometimes the best thing you can do is not do anything, so for me it’s wanting to get up here to evaluate this roster. We didn’t want to jump to any conclusions, jump to do anything, anything drastic. Let’s get out feet on the ground here and see what we’ve got.”
Nets management — specifically Chairman of the Board Dmitry Razumov and owner Mikhail Prokhorov — repeatedly said Marks impressed them with his vision. That vision that apparently doesn’t include draft picks; not because it shouldn’t, but because it can’t. In their stead? Free agency and tapping under-the-radar markets.
“Draft picks are one way to build a team, but there’s several other places and other ways to go out there and do it,” Marks said Friday. “Obviously, you can commit to free agency. My staff, where I’ve learned, I’ve seen it done around the NBA where you’re building not only through free agency, you’re building through the European market, you’re building within your D-League franchise and developing players there.
“So yes, for sure, not having a draft pick as we stand right now – but that, too, can change. So we’ll just wait and see. Time will tell.”
Marks noted that he wants to expand the team’s front office, including the scouting department and building the front office for their new D-League team. But his next big decision will be one he makes collaboratively with his front office: hiring a new head coach. The Nets haven’t had a coach last longer than Lionel Hollins’s disappointing 1.5 seasons at the helm since they moved to Brooklyn.
As for his players, Young’s biggest qualification in a future coach is someone who will demand his respect.
“A guy that’s going to be a straight shooter, not going to beat around the bush, and a guy that demands out of his players each and every day,” Young said, when asked what he looked for in a head coach. “I think that’s one of the biggest things when you come in and demand the respect of your players and you give the respect to your players, and it turns the team into a better basketball team.”