It was the biggest day in the Sean Marks-Kenny Atkinson (“Markinson”) era. Sitting together on a podium at HSS Training Center, they introduced the dynamic D’Angelo Russell and the gigantic Timofey Mozgov to a healthy amount of press, while staff and their new teammates looked on.
The rebuild was finally showing results. Of course, GM Marks, ever the skilled diplomat, called it simply “steps in the right direction,” but also admitted there was palpable excitement when the deal got done six days ago.
No one is raising glasses of champagne or designing championship rings. But this was a big press conference, no doubt the biggest since the ill-fated one July 18, 2013 when the Nets introduced Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to not only the media, but cheering season ticket-holders at Barclays Center.
The message Monday was “we’re making progress, but a long road lies ahead.”
Russell showed up in a conservative black jacket, white pants and a white shirt, Mozgov a black-and-white Nets polo shirt. (They got the colors right.) As Russell was asked a question, he would pause, then answer with a respectful, sometime humble response. Russell may have said he couldn’t control what Magic Johnson said of him, but by his dress, by his demeanor, he was saying something: Don’t trust what those guys said about me, trust me.
“I didn’t look at it as a negative,” he said of the trade. “I looked at it as a celebration.”
Marks told NetsDaily about how enthused Russell was about the deal.
“He was very appreciative, very excited, and the first thing he said was ‘can I come up there tonight?’ – I said no, hold on, get some rest,” Marks said, followed by a laugh.
“We’re not going to fly and get you on a red eye tonight, but we’ll get you up the next day. You can sense there was a hunger, a drive, a purpose to wanting to be here. Let’s be honest, I think we all play with a chip on our shoulder, and he has one.”
“I was surprised – I didn’t know what to expect, but I’m here now,” added Russell.
Marks didn’t quite dismiss what Magic Johnson had said, but he made his own point as well.
“You know, I respect him immensely for what he’s done on and off the court. That speaks for itself,“ Marks began, then quickly added, “But really, I’m not worried about that. I’m going to be concerned about our organization here. I’m going to bet on our organization here, I’m going to bet on the people we brought in, from top down, bottom up. We’re going to drive this culture together.”
And there’s more of a comfort level than you’d think, with both Russell ... and Mozgov.
Marks added that he has known Russell “for a while,” going back to when he was assistant GM with the Spurs, charged with scouting players for the 2015 Draft. And Atkinson’s spent time with Mozgov while the two were with the Knicks (Atkinson as an assistant coach) in 2010-11.
“Timmy fits perfectly. He’s a competitive player,” Atkinson said. “He’s a guy that loves to run the court. He’s a physical player. I think he rolls to the rim in the pick-and-roll, which we love.
“But really at the end of the day, I love the person. I was around him, obviously with the Knicks. Loved being around him, loved being around his family. So he fits a culture we’re trying to build and (is) a competitive, high-character guy.”
Mozgov returned the praise. “I worked with Kenny in New York. He is a guy who works hard. That is for sure. And i am too!”
“There’s a level of comfort knowing Kenny’s very familiar with them,” Marks added. “I’m very familiar with them, I’ve watched him (Mozgov) play for the Russian National Team” said Marks. “We’re obviously excited about what a guy like that brings to our culture. He brings a different dynamic. He hasn’t just been on the championship team in Cleveland but Worldly experience too.”
But for this trade to work as well as it needs to — and make no excuses, it needs to, it’s about Russell, who won’t turn 22 until mid-season.
Russell noted he has a knack for focusing on things he “can control.” It was his main discussion point in his introduction to Brooklyn.
“Can’t really control that. It’s in the past. I’m here now, it’s irrelevant,” Russell offered of Magic’s comments, metaphorically brushing that dirt off his shoulder. “Me proving anybody wrong is not my focus. I don’t feel like anybody’s going to have more pressure on me than me, or my family. That’s another thing that’s not really relevant to me.”
As for the organization itself? The new home for Russell and Mozgov, who are scheduled to be here for at least two or three more seasons? It’s like love at first sight.
“Honestly I’ve talked to all the players,” said Russell. “They’ve been great, reached out to me with open arms, J-Lin’s been good too. I’ve talked to him a little bit when I first got here, I haven’t really got to talking to him about playing with him but I’m looking forward to it.”
“The organization? I love it. It’s like a big family to me,” said Mozgov . “Let’s see if coach lets me shoot. I’m the guy that does whatever the coach tells me to do. If he says shoot from half court, I shoot from half court. You guys want me to shoot three’s so I’ve got to work on it.”
What about the next press conference, the one the Nets hold in mid-July where they introduce the year’s crop of new players? The rebuild has been slow, steady and patient. At this time next week, the Nets could already have an agreement in place with a veteran like J.J. Redick, or a younger core player like Otto Porter, which would, again, alter the identity of the franchise just a tad-bit.
“We’re always in talent acquisition mode,” Marks said. “We will be for a while. To get a young player like D’Angelo who’s 21, we could’ve easily drafted somebody a year older. The fact that we can get someone in here who’s 21 years, who we develop with Kenny and our player development coaches – that’s what I’m banking on.”
Suddenly, you may look-up a month from now when we’re introducing all of the Net free agents and or trade acquisitions, and the Nets may not be terribly far away on paper from a respectable, young, up-start, and potentially exciting team.
Something to think about moving forward.