When Sean Marks arrived in Brooklyn in February 2016, he entered the middle of a terrible 21-61 campaign. His first full season as general manager of the Nets, they were the worst team in the NBA, finishing 20-62.
Now the Nets open the 2021 playoffs as favorites to win it all.
How did this turnaround happen?
It was about reading the pitch, feeling the direction the league was heading – that it all became about player empowerment. And then figure out how to build a foundation and a culture that could attract independent stars.
You can almost imagine a disembodied voice echoing the rafters at Barclays Center, saying, “If you build it, they will come.”
“Sean Marks laid the foundation with guys like Caris [LeVert], Jarrett [Allen], Joe [Harris] and Spencer [Dinwiddie]Nets owner Joe Tsai told The Post.
“This core group allowed us to attract the best free agents in the summer of 2019 with Kyrie [Irving] and [Kevin Durant], while retaining the assets necessary to trade James Harden. Looking back, this “process” was brilliant, but I certainly didn’t see it coming then. “
Few could have seen how brilliant it was on February 18, 2016, when Marks – a junior general manager – was hired by Mikhail Prokhorov and tasked with turning around a melting franchise.
The Nets were strapped for talent, had bought their star, Brook Lopez, and had no control over their first-round pick until 2019 to get a new one.
All thanks to former GM Billy King’s ill-fated 2013 deal with Boston, which set the Nets back for years. But ironically, there were silver liners to come out.
“The main asset that Brooklyn has obtained as a result of indirect [and other calamities] was Sean Marks, ”tweeted Irina Pavlova, who represented Prokhorov in Brooklyn and led the GM search that found Marks. “Without him there are no Nets as a title contender in 2021.”
The climb that seems miraculous on the outside was meticulous on the inside.
The Nets didn’t have the kind of plethora of top five picks that cave dwellers typically enjoy, so Marks knew he had to be creative.
“The first thing that allowed this to happen was that their direction on how they could do good was set for them,” said TNT analyst Greg Anthony, “which meant they knew they couldn’t. not build thanks to the project, because of the agreements that had been concluded before. “
The Nets have therefore taken the painful measures of waiving wages to obtain assets. They ripped Harris and Dinwiddie from the proverbial junkyard and both grew to be stars, the last men standing after the rebuild.
They hit picks in the 20s like LeVert and Allen. This pair helped the Nets break through their 2019 playoff drought, which paved the way for Durant and Irving’s lure to be successful. Then LeVert and Allen became the megadeal foundation for Harden.
“Obviously the road to get there is not an easy thing to get to this point. It is not an easy thing to bring the organization to a level where it is attractive to free agents who want to come, ”said Harris. “At the end of the day, the guys want to come where they see the best in terms of culture, quality of the players.
“It’s a testament to Sean and what he was able to instill very early on with [coach] Kenny [Atkinson] and the rest of the staff in terms of solidifying a foundation … getting people to come together, creating that environment of people wanting to come and work where it’s positive, a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of great energy, over years when it was just a fun place to play.
“It has made it an attractive destination for guys like Kevin and Ky and so on who really want to play here. And now that we’re a championship caliber, a lot of people want to come and play and be a part of a team like that.
This empowerment of players was something that Marks correctly judged.
It was not part of his time when he played from 1998 to 2011, or even when he was an assistant coach of Spurs. But he read the prevailing winds and leaned into them.
“The other thing that has enabled this is the empowerment of the players. … In our time, we haven’t even appreciated our true worth as players. We’ve never looked outside of our own world, ”said Anthony, who was the NBPA’s first vice president during the 1999 lockout, when even stars like Karl Malone have sold short. “They didn’t understand what their real value was. They just wanted to make sure they didn’t lose that year, not thinking, ‘Dude, I can get this back depending on who I am. They didn’t know their worth. Today’s guys are completely different.
“Guys back then weren’t talking about teaming up, going to a new city, building their own thing. They did not see each other as team partners. Kyrie Irving took a long time when he said, “We don’t have a head coach. People killed him for it, but he wasn’t lying. And I’m not saying Steve Nash isn’t the coach, what I’m saying is that they do all of this by committee, a lot of their decisions, because they trust their stars. They know how good these guys are and understand their basketball IQ and their worth. So it’s more of a partnership.
“You couldn’t have had something like what happened in Brooklyn 20 years ago, it’s just the evolution of the situation for the players. … In the end, it’s Kyrie and Kevin Durant who decide to come. What if these guys decided not to sign there? We wouldn’t have had this conversation, there wouldn’t have been a trade for James Harden, none of that would have happened. So they were able to buy a competitor because these guys wanted to play together. They wanted to control their own destiny, their own destiny, and succeeded.
The Nets realized that it’s not just about finding talent anymore, it’s about creating a situation where your players attract more players.
Teams still need stars to win in the NBA. But if they want to get them – and keep them – they can’t just control them, but have to work with them.
“The players know which teams are on the rise,” said Reggie Miller, analyst at TNT. “Brooklyn was a growing team, a great arena, Brooklyn is a great city; they understood it. This is why Kyrie and KD, they want to control their own destiny and put more shine on Brooklyn. Then you go out looking for James Harden, and now you’re one of the most marketable teams in the NBA. “