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Sean Marks rebuild getting noticed

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Sean Marks has had a notable off-season and now as it nears an end, others beyond Nets fans are noticing. Getting a potential star in a salary dump; drafting a player at No. 22 who many should have been plugged into the lottery; adding two picks in 2018 when last week there were none ... and still having more than $17 million to play with. That’s an accomplishment!

Danny Chau, writing for The Ringer Monday, is the latest to take a look. He portrays Marks transformation of the Nets as a rescue mission that saved a drowning team.

The Nets for years were in a dark, dark place and have now stumbled into an area notably less so. To understand what GM Sean Marks has accomplished in his year and a half with the team, you have to hold your nose and take a dive back into that abyss. In other words, you have to put yourself in his shoes.

Referring to the situation Marks walked into as a “half-decade of hall-of-shame-level mismanagement by then-GM Billy King and his co-conspirators,” Chau writes the result was “a level of purgatory that almost defies the parameters of the sport.”

The former Spurs assistant coach and assistant GM came up with a plan to turn things around, a multi-year plan that had to be different from the “awfully regimented” model of using draft picks to crawl back into contention. The Nets had none.

There they were on the absolute fringe, an outlier whose situation denatured the very objective of professional basketball: Winning didn’t matter because they couldn’t; losing didn’t matter because there would be no compensatory relief. It was a Kafka story played out on hardwood.

Relationships, Chau writes, has a lot to do with the plan. Take the Nets insistence on making bids on restricted free agents, which some see as a fool’s errand, particularly after this weekend’s match on Otto Porter. The Ringer writer sees a method to the madness.

[I]t almost feels like the failure is by design — a “tanking” of free agency that engages in brinkmanship, forcing opposing teams into difficult choices, while endearing the team to agents who suddenly see it as a place that is willing to do the most for their clients.

Marks doesn’t just enrage his counterparts. He leavens things by being a willing partner in salary dumps.

[A]s to not completely alienate themselves from the rest of the league with their pettiness, they’ve also become willing accomplices for teams eager to get rid of a body in exchange for assets. That, more than anything, has laid the foundation for how the Nets have crawled out of no-man’s-land.

It will NOT lead to any quick returns, Chau warns. It’s going to take a while. How long? Take a look at the timelines of the players he’s accepted in the salary dumps. Only Mozgov’s extends beyond the 2018-19 season when the Nets are back in the Draft with their own pick. That’s the goal line for what Chau calls “beautifully executed 3-yard gains, a sign of forward progress.”

So far, the fans are on board. Marks is also disproving that axiom, you can’t rebuild in New York. We don’t have any data on season ticket sales or corporate partnerships, to measures of how fans and clients feel. We have only our own anecdotal data taken from our comment boards, our viewership. It’s almost all positive.

And now, Marks is starting to get that notice. Stories here and there, comments by pundits offering nods of affirmation. As Chau concludes...

Sean Marks has flipped the script entirely, carving a future out of the abyss by taking a longer view. He’s shepherding, in my opinion, one of the most interesting teams in the league. True to their strategy, in proving that there is no such thing as an untradable contract, the Nets are also proving that there is no such thing as an unsavable team.

Chau is not alone either. Shaun Powell, writing for NBA.com, calls the pre-Marks Nets a “shipwreck” rather than an “abyss,” but makes the point that the new GM has used his creative side quite well.

Armed with virtually no assets except salary cap space, Marks has swung deals to add Draft picks and players in whom the Nets can invest – the main one being newly acquired 21-year-old former Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell. Suddenly, a plan is in place and if you squint, you can visualize the day when the Nets are no longer victims of one of the most egregious franchise collapses in recent memory.

Right now, the life-saving is the story. At some point, we and everyone connected with the Nets hope the next stage will follow, that there will be a celebration of success. Until then, we’ll all just sit back and watch the lifeguard at work.