Sean Marks said it at the Brooklyn press conference introducing D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov last June. “We're still trying to get best available, talent acquisition. Kenny and the staff have done a great job of fitting guys together.”
Fast forward to Thursday night in Mexico City and Marks is explaining why he’s “banking on Kenny and his staff” to reinvigorate the careers of new Nets Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas.
“Look at what Kenny and his staff have done over the course of the last 18 months with a lot of the guys, the guys who’ve bought in. The coaching staff has done a heck of a job and I expect nothing less than with the two guys we’re bringing in.”
There you have it: the core principle of the Nets rebuild: Sign them all, let Kenny sort it out. Faced with a lack of your own picks, trade for other teams’ picks, even if they’re flawed ... especially if they’re flawed. It’s an unconventional rebuild, but it may just work. The move to get Okafor and Stauskas is very typical, minimizing risk while looking for that diamond in the rough.
“I think we get an opportunity to get a look at two young guys, we get a pick, and we replenish some of the assets that we need and move forward with these guys,” Marks said Thursday.
“We’ve been following him for a long time,” he said of Okafor. “Maybe a change of scenery . . . we’re looking forward to getting him in our environment, around our coaches, our development coaches. And I could say the same thing about Nik. I’m going to bet on my staff for sure.”
Marks and Atkinson were quick to note that Okafor, taken at No. 3 in 2015 (just behind of Russell) and Stauskas, taken at No. 8 in 2014, will have to fight for minutes. And as others have noted, neither have played much this season so their conditioning might delay a real test of their abilities. But that’s a short-term issue.
The long term issue is how quietly but inexorably Marks has been shuffling and reshuffling the roster, using unconventional means to rebuild the team, not perfectly but enough to show that steady progress.
Don’t have any of your own picks? Find ways to snag others’ recent picks or acquire picks for players who are risky.
No picks in the 2017 lottery? Trade franchise icon Brook Lopez to L.A. and take on Timofey Mozgov’s big deal in order to acquire D’Angelo Russell, then send Trevor Booker to Philly for Jahlil Okafor. The two players, taken at No. 2 and No. 3 in the 2015 Draft, are both younger than a majority of the players taken in the 2017 draft.
Take a shot on Jarrett Allen, a teen-aged seven-footer who dropped from No. 8 on mocks early in the college season to No. 22 on Draft night.
Wondering how you’re going to make up for a lost 2016 pick? Trade a fan favorite in Thaddeus Young for a late first, then surprise everyone by taking Caris LeVert, an injury-prone senior who no mock draft (other than your own internal projection) had above the middle of the second round.
Mine the minor league for overlooked players like Spencer Dinwiddie, who dropped to the 38th in the 2014 Draft, then after stints with the Pistons and Bulls, was playing in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, or like Joe Harris, another 2014 pick who the Cavs gave up on after sending him to Canton, or Quincy Acy, wasting away in Plano, Tex. Sean Kilpatrick, who was waived Thursday, averaged better than 12 points for Brooklyn after Marks called him up for a 10-day in 2016.
And be willing to take on salary dumps like DeMarre Carroll to help replenish that draft cupboard Billy King left empty. In general, snag a pick here, a pick there.
Then once you get them — each of them, all of them — set out plans to develop them individually and as a fit in your system. It’s not spectacular like a Woj Bomb in the middle of the day, but it’s at the core of this rebuild.
Talking about how he will develop his newest players, Kenny Atkinson told reporters in Mexico City that the development regimen will not be cookie cutter, but customized and based not just on their physical acumen, but their mental make-up.
“I think part of the on-boarding process, part of the development process is to map out a specific plan for these guys,” Atkinson said. “It’s our job to get them to fit into our system ...
“We’re going to welcome both these players with open arms. Any misconceptions or ideas anyone has about these guys whether it’s their work ethic or character, we judge them on our terms.”
None of it is without risks. Mozgov’s $48 million contract is an albatross. Russell also cost the face of the franchise and a first round pick that proved to be valuable. There’s doubt that Allen Crabbe will ever be worth the close to $20 million he’ll make the next three years? Both Russell and Okafor had controversies that hastened their departures from the teams that drafted them.
But so far, the risks seem manageable because players like Russell, Dinwiddie, LeVert, etc. have shown character, an adherence to a culture. After Thursday’s win over Oklahoma City, there was little complaining about how the rebuild was going.
Trust the Progress.