When Mikhail Prokhorov met with the New York media the day about he dumped Lionel Hollins and Billy King, he sat alone behind a simple table, dour and intense. No opening statement, he went straight to questions. It was the optics of accountability.
Friday night, when Sean Marks was introduced, he was seated next to Dmitry Razumov, the Nets chairman and self-described "man behind the scenes." There were smiles everywhere and both men gave optimistic opening statements. Call it the optics of partnership.
The relationship between ownership and management has been a theme of late, escalating since the "staff changes." Would ownership, Razumov and Mikhail Prokhorov give Marks the latitude he needs to rebuild the team? Would the team embrace a culture of openness which some, including us, had seen as a bigger problem than lost draft picks and bad deals.
Razumov and Marks, in subtle ways beyond optics, tried to defuse that and instead focus on the positive in a week that had seen the franchise open a $50 million training center in Brooklyn and would later Friday night beat the Knicks handily with a great team effort. There were references to the San Antonio culture where Marks grew up and the need to develop one in Brooklyn as well as to a "winning vision" shared by all. "Culture" was mentioned 15 times in the media session, "vision" 11 times.
There weren't a lot of specifics referenced by either man about either subject. Marks came closest to defining the culture he wants to instill in this answer, about what a culture means to an organization... and how it can't be infused from the top down, that it has to be a shared ethos...
"The people within the organization are gonna define this culture. So it's the hires that are going to be made over the next two, three, four months, those people are gonna be the right people to push that culture, to drive that culture, and you'll see that culture not only on the court, but It'll be behind the scenes, it'll be within the community. We'll all be on the same page with a clear vision."
It wasn't as if Marks (and Razumov) focused purely on overriding themes. There was some news, starting with his suggestion that there would be a big turnover in basketball operations, which has a number of staffers who owe their jobs and careers to the two men who are being replaced.
Marks promised as well that there would increases in staff.
"[T]he entire organization staff will be expanded without a doubt. Whether it's scouting, front office, we've got a D-League team, that staff will have to be built. There'll be staff members throughout that will be added to the list."
About the coach, he was clear in laying out what kind of coach ... and the pool from which candidates will be drawn... clearly suggesting he has his own list.
"Well you know what, there's a list of head coaches out there and we'll be looking worldwide. It doesn't limit it to just the US or anywhere, but that list'll stay with me for now, and as I go through the process, and then slowly include the bigger resources behind me, then we'll come to terms...
"[T]he coach is gonna have a defensive mindset and a system that gets them playing well and accustomed to where I've come from."
Razumov intimated who will drive the coach's selection... and made it clear that this time, the search will take time.
"[I]t will be a process that will be driven by Sean. We'll follow his vision and he'll be heading that process, but it'll be a process with due diligence, interviews, and reaching out."
As for the "small re-set" that Prokhorov described as the strategy for the immediate future, Marks was somewhat non-commital but optimistic.
"Well, the vision is to evaluate immediately. So it'll be evaluating the roster, the staff, the needs, finding out what can be put in in the meantime. By no means is this a wasted year. You can still get some things out of this year. We've got some really talented young guys on this team that need to be developed. We've got a culture that needs to be set and that starts from Day One."
As to all those lost draft picks --three first rounders and five second rounders, Marks said he saw ways around the issue and suggested the Nets might be looking to add picks.
"[S]ure draft picks are one way to build a team, but there are several other places and other ways to go out there and do it. Obviously you can go to free agency. 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 your players there. So yes for sure, not having a draft pick as we stand right now, but that doesn't change So we'll just wait and see. Time will tell."
Beyond the specific questions and answers and the optics and the focus on "cutlure" and "vision," there was Marks' personality: cool and very confident. Razumov noted it at the top of the list of reasons why he was hired, telling the media. "First, it's Sean's personality that I'm sure you're going to enjoy tonight."
There have to be questions, of course. Sean Marks has never run anything, other than the Austin Spurs for one year. He's been an assistant coach and an assistant GM and as he noted he has a lot of management issues, from hiring staff to standing up a D-League team to getting the coaching hire right ... and establishing a productive relationship --a "partnership" with ownership. It sure appeared daunting sitting out in the audience.
But of all eight candidates the Nets interviewed, only Marks has been an NBA (and FIBA) player, an assistant coach, an assistant GM, a director of player personnel and a D-League GM. He also has two rings, one as a player (2005) and one as an assistant coach (2014). So he knows about how the league works... and from the perspective of the best-in-class Spurs, which he referenced numerous times.
The choice was met with near unanimous praise this week and after the press conference, other than his geographic gaff referring to the Nets as "New Jersey," there were a lot of positive vibes all around. Marks will have some time and some latitude to develop a culture, set a vision. He has four years and a bargain contract of $9 million. No one expects a quick turnaround. Well, other than the owner!
We wish him the best of luck.