In his interview with Evan Roberts not long after he was hired, Sean Marks said he would take a "wee while" before making staff changes, but that he intended to make a number of them well before free agency begins. He explained why...
"Agents and players will get wind that something different is happening there. I don't want people saying, 'It's the Nets, nothing's going to change.' There is going to be changes here. I want to get the right people in here, in free agency to lead this team forward..."
Marks is indeed moving quickly, becoming not just the first GM to fill a head coaching vacancy but adding to and re-jiggering his staff in hopes of alerting the NBA community that things are changing in Brooklyn. What do the most recent changes tell us? Here's a quick list.
--Marks is in charge. There's no indication any of the decisions he's made were at the request of anyone in ownership. Trajan Langdon may have played for Mikhail Prokhorov's CSKA Moscow 10 years ago, but Marks and Langdon know each other from San Antonio, where they were staff for the Spurs from 2012 through 2015. He has dipped into his Spurs background to hire not only Langdon, but Jacque Vaughn, who's reportedly the lead assistant to Kenny Atkinson, and Andrew Baker, the new coordinator of strategic planing. Charles Payne, hired as a scout, was an assistant coach at Cal when Marks played there. Payne also has been a scout for the Hornets and assistant at Stanford.
--Youth must be served. Like Marks previous hires, this group is young, particularly those basketball operations staffers. Ryan Gisriel, the director basketball administration, and Andrew Baker, the coordinator of strategic planning, are both 20 somethings. Natalie Jay, who's the new capologist is in her early 30's. Previous hires include Ronald Nored, the new head coach of the Long Island Nets who's 26; Langdon, who turns 40 this month; and Kenny Atkinson, who's 48. Vaughn, whose hiring has not yet been announced, is 41. Marks, of course, is just 40 himself.
--International experience matters, big time. As we've noted, Marks, Langdon and Atkinson played more than 20 seasons combined. Shelden Williams played the last three years in France and China. He retired at the end of the 2014-15 season after playing for TianJin Steel. Lately, he's been raising a daughter with his wife, Candace Parker, the WNBA legend. (Her brother, Anthony, was a European legend at Maccabi Tel Aviv and is now a scout for the Magic.) Natalie Jay, the capologist, worked in Brazil as a law clerk for a Rio de Janiero soccer club and for a big New York law firm's Sao Paolo office. Like so many of the new hires, she's mutli-lingual.
--The new broom doesn't always sweep clean. A number of staffers from the King era are being retained, chief among them Gregg Polinsky, the director of player personnel, aka chief scout. A number of people both inside and outside the organization believe he's been underutilized. He reportedly signed a new, multi-year deal recently. Also younger staffers like Matt Riccardi and Matt Tellem, both popular with the players, will be back, as will Aaron Harris, Gary Sussman's No. 2. He's now in charge of press relations. Ryan Gisriel went from Billy King's executive assistant to director, basketball administration, a big promotion. (We won't know the full range of who's back and who's not until the Nets repost their front office directory.)
--Expect the unconventional. How many people expected Marks to go with a 30-something Ivy League educated law clerk to a judge on the eighth circuit U.S. Court of Appeals as his capologist? That's easily the most intriguing choice so far. A sports lawyer with a bachelor's degree from Princeton and a law degree from Harvard, Natalie Jay must have had a TON of opportunities. How did she wind up with an office at HSS Training Center and not a white-shoe law practice three subway stops away on Wall Street? She did work briefly on cap issues as a Grizzlies legal intern. Andrew Baker is also trained as a lawyer. His degree is from Tulane (and his lineage is Spurs, having worked two years in San Antonio.)
--Define this. Titles on NBA teams often don't mean much, but the titles of this first group of hires seem quite defined, with each having specific responsibilities. Do expect there to be more strategic planning, do expect there to be more data-driven decision-making.
There are a still a number of hires still to come. Other than the reported (but not yet announced) hire of Vaughn, there are five or six assistant coach jobs available. The Nets still have to replace Tim Walsh as trainer. Shelden Williams and Charles Payne were added to the scouting staff, Williams as pro scout, Payne as college and pro scout. It's uncertain whether they are replacing King era staffers or are add-ons. It appears to be the former.
Now, he and the rest of the organization have to hope that players and their agents have to note what's going on ... and like it.