The playoffs are starting to fire up, but the top leadership of the Nets, out of the post-season for the second straight year, is getting ready for meetings in Moscow and preparing for the draft. The players are doing what players do when they’re not playing, a little bit of everything. Brook Lopez and Joe Harris, for example, were in Fresno, Brook’s hometown, watching the local team, the Grizzlies, on Taco Night. Of course, they were.
So what about next year? Is it possible that the Nets staff, coaches and players could be playing after mid-April. Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson weren’t saying yes or no Mondy, but a read of what they told reporters seemed to indicate they’re looking at another season or two in rebuild mode. Patience, patience, patience.
The clearest indicator was what Marks said about going after a big free agent, of which they are quite a few this summer. No, he said, not going in that direction. The risk to the long-term plan is too big (assuming a top free agent would want to play for the Nets, obviously not a given after a 20-win season.)
“I think we’ve got to really evaluate the roster and if you go after one of the top-tier guys, you obviously would hope to get him, but does that really make you better?” Marks asked. “Does it get you to 30 wins, 35 wins?
"The objective for us is to be in the playoffs. When that comes, we’ll see,” Marks added, indicating they’ll go after the big free agent, after they make the playoffs. “You don’t want to go and sign free agents and then the next thing you know your payroll is capped out and you’re a 25-win team. We’re going to have to build this strategically, have patience with it.”
“We know we have a long way to go, so we understand that. We’re very realistic,’’ Atkinson added.
So, what are the next steps? Marks didn’t lay them out this time, but a month ago, when talking to Evan Roberts of WFAN, he was more specific. Roberts asked about how soon the playoffs and Marks gave him somewhat of a blueprint.
“The big thing, the way Kenny and I look at it, is the progress along the way,” Marks told Roberts. “It's important for us to be taking these steps and really building a foundation. If we go after it all in one year, potentially signing maybe the wrong free agent at the wrong time, then we're going to be back at square one in a couple of years.
“Let’s try to build this culture, let’s try to build this foundation and have a really rock solid one this year, develop these young guys, get Isaiah and Caris and Rondae and so forth growing up. Lets see where they are on when they're 25, 26 (They’ll be 23 next season.) As Kenny said before, literally they're kids, they're babies still.
“So lets develop those guys, add some nice pieces along the way, whether it's the good solid vets, or we go and make a splash in a strategic unrestricted free agent signing along the way and then let's see. Now it's going to take one more to get us over the hump.
“So, I would hope every single year, we see improvement, not only in the individual basis but from myself, my staff, from Kenny and his staff, we continually grow and in two years, we're sitting here going, ‘Alright, here we go, we'll make a run.’”
Was Marks saying he sees playoffs in another two years? It would seem so. Marks also admitted to Roberts that he has a timeframe in mind, but didn’t quite share it.
Does this mean the Nets won’t go for free agents this summer. Not according to what he said to Roberts although reporters seemed less certain of his plans after Monday’s press conference. It’s doubtful anything much changed between March and April.
“We'll certainly try and play in the free agent game, both unrestricted and restricted,” Marks told Roberts. “And obviously, if you're in the restricted game, you just roll the dice and see what happens. And that could be the way we go, but we have to be very strategic in who we go after.”
He wasn’t saying who and of course at this point, he can’t. All the NBA free agents are still under contract and any public discussion of names would open the Nets to charges of tampering.
So expect a low-key off-season for a while. After the Moscow meetings with ownership “and some scouting” as Marks said, the Nets will start working out draft prospects. That should happen soon. They’ll put together a list of free agent targets. Neither process will be public.
Of course, they could get lucky, too. It’s happened before ... and we are certainly overdue. In the meantime, there will be speculation among fans, a natural thing, and an adherence to a strategy in the front office, which wasn’t always the case.
Sounds like a plan.
- Marks, Atkinson on mission to Moscow - John Torenli - Brooklyn Daily Eagle