Sean Marks has made few promises since being named Nets GM on February 18. That's probably for the best. There have been a lot of promises made in the last few years that never came close to being fulfilled.
He's been direct in talking about the need for a "culture" an "identity" with no "skipped steps" going forward. He acknowledges that the lack of first round draft picks -- none this year, a swap with Boston next year, then none again in 2018 -- will hurt. Success in this year's free agency market, he has said, will be "difficult." As Adrian Wojnarowski said of his plan, "big game hunting is a fruitless pursuit for the Nets."
He has not been negative, just direct, and he has praised what the Nets do have --a committed ownership in Mikhail Prokhorov et al, a big market in New York, a great home in Barclays Center, a top-flight training facility at the HSS Training Center and after a two-year absence, a D-League team, one that will practice and play in Brooklyn for its first year.
Everything, it seems, except a team.
There are reasons for optimism, some subtle like how many top-flight candidates applied for the GM job ... and you have to assume that will be replicated when the head coaching process begins. Marks has already fulfilled one promise, that to compensate for the lost picks, he said he'd scour Europe and the D-League for replacements. Sean Kilpatrick, signed to a two-and-a-half year deal, sure looks like a success. If he can find other diamonds-in-the-rough like Kilpatrick, it's a start.
Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young are solid players who can put up near all-star numbers and are young. A number of the players given end-of-the season chances have looked good. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris McCullough are developing nicely after missing 50 games each to injury.
So, what can we expect now that the season is over?
The search for a head coach, the most important job Marks has to fill, will accelerate. There's been rumors, but Marks has kept what he called his "short list" under wraps. From what little has been said, it would appear that Marks will winnow that short list even further and then present candidates to what became known as the "Gang of Four" during the GM search: Mikhail Prokhorov; Dmitry Razumov, the team chairman and ownership's point person on basketball operations; Irina Pavlova, president of ONEXIM Sports and Entertainment and Prokhorov's New York rep; Sergey Kushchenko, a member of the Nets board and Prokhorov's long-time sports advisor; and Brett Yormark, chairman of the Nets and Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, which encompasses the team, arena, Nassau Coliseum, etc.
There are rumors that Ettore Messina, Gregg Popovich's lead assistant, is the top choice, but other names keep filtering in and out. David Blatt was once seen as a possibility but now apparently is not. Tom Thibodeau doesn't appear to be a top candidate, with Marks noting to Evan Roberts "he’s going to have plenty of options." Thibs apparently wants more power than a normal head coach would get. Kenny Atkinson, the Hawks assistant, is another name thrown about, as are a number NBA assistants.
If you look at the one big move Marks has made --the hiring of Trajan Langdon as assistant GM-- there may be some hints of where Marks will go with the coaching search. Langdon was a surprise pick. He had little NBA experience, other than three years with the Spurs and less than a full season with the Cavaliers, all in scouting and administrative jobs. He's young, a year younger than Marks. He also had close ties with ownership. Langdon's best years in basketball were in Russia where he played with CSKA Moscow, owned by Prokhorov and run by Kushchenko. He speaks Russian, too.
Then there's what he said at his introductory press conference. "There's a list of coaches out there and we'll be looking worldwide. We won't limit it just to the U.S. or anywhere,'' Marks said.
All that would seem to argue strongly for Messina, but that line of reasoning seems too easy. The choice of Langdon also could argue for a young, off-beat pick, someone who would end the Nets coaching merry-go-round, someone like Ime Udoka? That was the plan with Kidd's hire:bring in someone young and well-known, let the NBA know there's a commitment to the future. There are lots of possibilities if that's the way Marks (and ownership) is going. Jeff Van Gundy? Maybe but would it be too much like the ancien regime that valued marketing buzz over a plan?
Expect other incremental changes, small steps in the coming weeks. There will be staff changes. Langdon was the first. Frank Zanin, Billy King's No. 2, is now gone and King himself has no role. His unspecified "reassignment" announced back in January tuned into an exile. He has no office, no open line.
Look for staff changes, particularly in several areas: scouting, where King populated the ranks with loyalists; performance, that is training, strength and conditioning, where it's been suggested new blood is needed; analytics, which needs beefing up, and planning. Marks quietly added Andrew Baker, a young lawyer who he had worked with in San Antonio, as his "coordinator for strategic planning." The Nets dependence on opportunism, to the detriment of planning, has long been a complaint inside the King front office.
How soon the changes? Maybe very soon. Marks has repeatedly said he wants free agents and their agents to see a change in culture. That would mean between now and June.
"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," he said at his introductory press conference.
Marks will also have to stand up the Long Island Nets: new GM, new head coach and assistant coach, new trainer and new philosophy. Whoever he adds will have be in sync with their counterpart on the parent club. The LI Nets will have to be ready for the D-League expansion draft in September and the regular draft in November. Moreover, the L.I. Nets will have to be part of an actual development strategy. A D-League team is nice, but what about skills coaches and staff devoted purely to development? How about a plan?
Then, with his culture, his staff in place, he will have to turn toward players. He has said he hopes players will notice what he is doing.
"My task is to find the people that are going to implement that culture … (so that) the players, not only in Brooklyn but around the league, will say, ‘Hey, look, I want to go play there. I want to be part of that. There’s something special going on,'" Marks said in February.
It's anyone's guess what will happen on Draft Night. Marks has hinted that if there's someone they really like, they might look to make a deal but with the Draft so top heavy and ultimately so thin, is it worth trading Lopez or Young or Bogdanovic for an unproven quantity. (Marks has the advantage of two teams' scouting reports. As assistant GM in San Antonio, he had some knowledge of this year's class.)
The Nets have one pick. After last night, everyone knows it's No. 55, a spot usually reserved for Euro-Stash. Of course, the Nets also have $3.5 million to buy picks, but with picks becoming more and more valuable --the rookie salary scale hasn't caught up with the TV rights-infused salary cap-- don't expect anything above No. 40 ... and again, it's a weak draft. The Nets could in fact use the draft to find long-term prospects for the Long Island Nets.
Free agency? Don't get too excited.
In his interview with Evan Roberts of WFAN, Marks said he was hopeful the team would do well in free agency, but made no guarantees.
"I would hope so. I know that's going to be difficult.," he admitted but added, "I think Brooklyn has a lot to offer. I think some of the changes we make, even prior to free agency. Agents and players will get wind that something different is happening there."
The names are out there. Big names like Kevin Durant. Potential max players like Nicolas Batum and DeMar DeRozan. Interesting names like Jeremy Lin and Evan Fournier. But also the Nets can sign European players as well after July 6. Marks talked about plumbing "the European market" in his introductory press conference. More names. Miloš Teodosić, Nando deColo, Jan Vesely.
There will be other decisions along the way, finding a cap guy, filling out the coaching staff, summer league and training camp invites, what do do with Juan Pablo Vaulet, who is almost certainly not ready for the Brooklyn Nets, but might be ready for the Long Island Nets.
It's a long, long way from now until the ball goes up on the 2016-17 season. The roster will be different. The head coach and coaching staff will be different. Basketball operations staff (and philosophy) will be different. Wouldn't be surprised if the Russians sold a chunk of the team.
One thing is (fairly) certain. No one thinks the Nets will be able to join the list of championship contenders with "one or two players" and "a lot of luck," as Mikhail Prokhorov suggested back in January. Marks seems to have disabused him of that notion. And that is a start in the right direction.
See you in October!