It’s a rare interview of an NBA GM that doesn’t touch the team’s roster at all, but that indeed is what happened when John Schuhmann of NBA.com sat down with Sean Marks to talk Nets.
Instead, Marks and Schuhmann spoke at length about how Marks is creating a culture —it’s not an exaggeration to say he’s carrying out an experiment— as he directs the Brooklyn rebuild.
As Schuhmann writes...
Marks wants an open office, both literally and figuratively. Diversity -- in regard to who the people are, where they've worked, and what they think -- is important. Thinking outside the box is encouraged.
In fact, what Marks notes over and over in his discussion of what he’s done is the importance of relationships among the staff he’s crafted from the remnants of Billy King’s front office and the two dozen hires he’s made. It encompasses not just chemistry but sight lines between and among staffers.
"More important than numbers is the relationships. Are people talking? Is my door open? Is there sight lines between various different offices? How often am I going to run into the head coach? Is he going to see me five times a day, because he needs to know that I'm here. I need to know that he's here. If he has a problem, he can always come in here. And that's not just for the head coach. That's for everybody. That's for the entire building."
As others have mentioned, everyone from the assistant GM, Trajan Langdon, and the head coach, Kenny Atkinson, can have a say on a wide variety of decisions.
Marks spoke at length on that nexus encompassing performance, analytics, cap evaluation, player development, both in terms of who to choose and how to manage the big data that emerges from all that slicing and dicing of play and practice.
In discussing perhaps his most intriguing hire, that of Natalie Jay, a fast rising legal mind trained at Princeton and Harvard Law. Jay was a clerk at the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals when Marks hired her. Marks wants Jay, who once worked as a sports writer in California, to rethink how to look at the CBA, at the salary cap. His inspiration came from a few boroughs over.
"I had spent some time with Brian Cashman over at the Yankees and I'd seen how he had done some things. And he has a very similar setup there. I thought why not get a fresh set of eyes on the CBA? Somebody who can really just dive into it head first and come up with some new ideas."
"We've got a group of them. It's not just Natalie. Natalie's doing a great job, and it's also Andrew Baker from the Spurs, who's also a young lawyer. The two of them are hopefully tearing it apart." (We count at least five new hires with doctorates of some kind and another working on one.)
On performance, where he hired away the director of human performance from Navy SEALS to direct his crew, Marks said he wanted a diverse staff, not one that marks territory.
"We've got two athletic trainers and three physios (rehab specialists) on staff. So they're a big group, but they're versatile. They can move from training room to strength room to on the court. It's not that ‘My job is solely in the training room.’"
The player, he believes, are buying in to the whole experience --and a number have said so. They can’t be seen as guinea pigs."
"What I've seen is if you're going to ask players to do a certain drill or activity, wear something, sleep a certain way, recover a certain way, you now have to show them the results and you now have to ask them for feedback. Because if you don't, they're not going to do it."
There’s a lot more there. it is, as we’ve noted, an experiment, can an NBA team with a roster filled with players whose talent has been overlooked, underestimated, misused, under utilized or just plain lacking succeed with great player development, performance, medical and coaching staffs? Not to mention character and culture.
The players seem to have bought in. Just this week, Sean Kilpatrick told SLAM that the Nets "are a lot better organized" under Marks.
"When you have your GM in the gym with you everyday, just watching to see how your progress is. He's asking the strength and conditioning coaches, what's going on with you or your body. How you feeling? I mean that's something that goes to tell you he cares.
"When you have a guy like Sean Marks that's actually showing that, it's a huge confidence booster within our team. Everything he does doesn't go unnoticed at all. We're seeing him. Every day he's coming in the weight room, asking how you feeling, tell me how you're feeling so we can accommadate you guys with anything you need."
Will it all work. We (and he) are about to find out.