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Waiting on 2015: Sean Marks (sort of) provides updates on Okafor, Russell

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BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Sean Marks is waiting on 2015 ... that is, he’s waiting for his two big trade acquisitions, the Nos. 2 and 3 picks in that year’s draft to be ready, show what they can do, when healthy and in game shape.

Joining Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts on WFAN Radio Thursday, Marks offered somewhat specific and somewhat optimistic views on how soon D’Angelo Russell and Jahlil will be back on court.

Asked if Russell, recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, would be back this season, Marks said he expects the former No. 2 pick will be ready “sooner rather than later.”

“The plan definitely is to see D’Angelo again,” Marks told Evan Roberts, WFAN’s resident Nets fan. “I wouldn’t tell you when exactly but hopefully it’s sooner rather than later. He is progressing well and again, the more of these young guys we can get out there and get them in the system, running and playing together, bonding on the court – we’re looking forward to that.”

“He’s five weeks’ post-op now,” he continued. “I think the timeline was between seven and eight weeks depending on how things go so we’re still a couple of weeks away.”

Roberts threw out a reasonable date, February 1st, and Marks didn’t deny it as a possibility, saying it wasn’t crazy. “I mean, again, I hope it’s a pleasant surprise that it’s before that.”

Would he delay things until later in the season, like mid-March, to be extra cautious, Marks used the example drawn from Jeremy Lin’s 2016-17 injury. Lin finally returned after the All-Star break and played his best basketball of the year, at his healthiest.

“I guess you could look at the Jeremy (Lin) situation last year,” Marks said. “Jeremy came back from his hamstring the second time – every time a guy gets an opportunity to play on the court with his teammates, I think that’s a great development piece.

“There’s nothing like actually playing in a meaningful game rather than doing three-on-three or four-on-four drills – for D’Angelo, if we could get him out there, which is definitely the plan, we’ll stick to that. We want him out there with his teammates.”

On Okafor, taken right after Russell in the 2015 draft, Marks was a bit more specific.

“Depending on how he feels, we’re going day-to-day,” said Marks. “I would assume he’s still probably a week and a half or two weeks away from where he feels comfortable out there and be able to play at the pace in which Kenny and his staff want to play him.”

Marks acknowledged that the 76ers trade —Okafor, Nik Staukas and the Knicks 2019 pick for Trevor Booker was about getting a good look at the two 20-somethings before having to make a decision on them at the end of the season.

Noting the deal came together quickly, Marks said the Nets lost a few days of observation because it came when he and the team were in Mexico City.

“Unfortunately, the timing was never great,” added the GM. “The fact that we’re in Mexico, that adds a whole different wrench in the workforce down there. But again, this gives us an opportunity to look at a couple of young guys with Jah and Nik, and get a pick in the deal as well.

“So you’ve got some opportunities for people you can move forward with. It’s obviously difficult moving a guy like Trevor (Booker) who meant a lot to the franchise, his family and so forth, but at the same time it’s a long-term view for us, to be able to take a look at those players.”

Roberts suggested that the Nets may not be playing Okafor to keep his price down come July. Because of a kink in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Nets can’t pay Okafor any more than he would have made in the final year of his rookie contract: $6.2 million.

Not so, Marks replied.

“We’re definitely not trying to keep his value down, that wouldn’t be wise,” said Marks. “For us, it’s going to be, ‘how do we give Jahlil the best opportunity to succeed out there?’ Which means he gets to know his teammates, he gets to know the system, and once again, the guy hasn’t played in several months...

“This was a decision that came about for obviously our coaching staff, our performance team, but also with Jah himself. He’s involved in this and he knows. He was quite open about, ‘Hey, look, I’m probably not quite ready right now.’ He got a few minutes in Toronto and realized ‘look, I could be in better shape’ and he’s working really hard right now and we like what we see.”

Marks did acknowledge that Okafor could potentially come in, have a big impact, and be gone next year, though. But he didn’t seem particularly concerned. (One reason might be that there are only a few teams out there who will have the cap space to sign him to a big deal.)

“I mean, sure, it’s definitely something that we’re aware of,” he admitted. “I don’t think it’s something that we’re focused on. I think in the grand scheme of things as I sort of mentioned before, to bet on the coaching staff and development staff here, they’ve done a heck of a job for close to the last 18 months here with some other players, and their role is to develop not only Jah but everybody else here as much as they can.

“They’ll get credit for the job they’re about to do and the job they’ve done in the past, so kudos to them. Whatever happens, happens.”

In short, Marks said that while all three players in the deal —Booker, Okafor and Stauskas— have expiring deals, the latter two have long term potential. And there’s an additional asset, the pick. Until the trade, the Nets didn’t have a second rounder in the deal.

Bottom line, it’s about being patient, on both fronts. You can listen to the full Marks interview here, where he also discusses what the Nets liked about Spencer Dinwiddie before signing him, life after Booker and how he and Kenny Atkinson being each other’s soundboards.