BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson spoke with a group of reporters Tuesday, most of whom were around for last year's press conference, also one week before the official Media Day. A lot was said, and a lot of things have changed since last year, but the tone and attitude of the GM and head coach has not. Progress is still their most important product.
We offer some observations...
1. Sean Marks continues to temper expectations, despite the team adding talent.
“I think you’ve got to be careful with that because as we saw last year, one major injury can derail every plan you may have had. So for us, it’s gonna be about staying fluid throughout the year, see what happens — I’m obviously a big proponent of development and the guy next to me, that’s what he does. So it’s how he develops these guys over the course of the year. They buy in, they bought in last year, they buy in this year and you’re seeing guys, that progress throughout the year. I’m more excited about that.”
2. There is no ‘face’ of the franchise. Everybody pulls their weight in a team-oriented culture.
“I don’t think we worry about face of the franchise,” Marks said. “That’s not something where me and Kenny go Jeremy you’re the face, D’Angelo you’re the face. We don’t do that. This is something that ultimately the fan base, the media anoints these people, right or wrong. For us, It’s always been about team. It’s the way he wants to play. It’s team basketball. It’s pass first, and that’s the way we want to do this. There’s nobody that expectations or rules apply differently to anyone else. It’s flat across the board, and I think guys appreciate that. We both came from franchises that — look everyone knew that it was Tim Duncan’s team, but he was treated exactly the same as Rasho Nesterovic or even lower, Sean Marks way down the line. Your expectations are the same, and I think guys buy into that.”
3. D’Angelo Russell and Jeremy Lin will co-exist and share time at point guard.
“I really believe that we can make it work,” Kenny Atkinson said. “They’re both gonna play. There’s 48 minutes out there. I think if you put it on a spreadsheet, you can figure out they’re both gonna be playing a lot of point guard. The great thing abut both of those guys is they both play the wing in this league too.”
4. Isaiah Whitehead is not a lock to get minutes in Brooklyn. This comes as little surprise as there’s a logjam at the 1 and 2 positions.
“He’s gotta compete. He’s gotta compete for minutes, compete for a job. I thought Isaiah had some really great moments last year. I really believe in him,” Atkinson said of Whitehead.
5. The Nets value DeMarre Carroll more than you think. He IS the veteran leader they need for this young team. Sean Marks is enamored by him.
“Obviously you have a guy like DeMarre Carroll — when a guy like that who, Kenny and DeMarre are close. DeMarre’s been on 60-plus win teams for the last 3 or 4 years so he knows what he’s doing out there and he didn’t come here to lose,” Marks said. “So he’s gonna hold these guys accountable, set some expectations and so forth, how they do things on the court, and Kenny, because of his relationship with DeMarre, won’t be afraid to hold him accountable. So it’s sort of that trickle down effect where Kenny can coach DeMarre hard and DeMarre expects it, and he’ll in return do the same thing for his peers.”
6. D’Angelo Russell’s defense is a work in progress, among other things.
“He wants to come in here, he has a chip on his shoulder, he knows defensively he’s got to get better, but he’s got to get better at a lot of different things," said Marks. "His all-around game. We all know that he makes players better. He’s got a high basketball I.Q. Now how does he take that on the court with a new group of guys that he’s never played with before and how do they develop trust together? How does Caris and him develop trust together? How do Jeremy and D’Angelo get along on the court? Trevor Booker and D’Angelo, and so forth. How quickly does he pick up on their tendencies and where they like the ball and so forth? The leadership? That’s in his court."
7. The G League will certainly be utilized for certain guys.
Atkinson: "I think there will be plenty of opportunity to develop the whole roster. For some guys we have our D-League team for the second year — G League, excuse me. I’m gonna get that right. I don’t know how long that’s gonna take — so there will be plenty opportunity. I think we have a plan in place. Obviously, we have our guys that’ll play the big minutes, but for some of the other guys, they’ll get their opportunity.”
Marks: “I think the G League if you use that one strategically, whether it’s Jarrett or whomever, it affords you the opportunity to get minutes. And that’s the way these guys are gonna develop. It’s hard to develop once you really get into the heat of the season and there’s a one-hour practice here and then there’s a 20-minute shoot-around then there’s a game and then you’re playing the game. So I think we’ll certainly be trying to strategically use that, the G League, and our close proximity to it as much as we can.”
8. They are very high on rookie Jarrett Allen.
“We’re excited about our rookie, I think he’s gonna be really good. I think we’ll have to do it by committee at the big guy position,” Atkinson said.
“I think you’re seeing a guy, his athletic ability is pretty impressive. How fast he is up and down the court, how quick he is off his feet. How well he moves. We’re talking about a modern 5 man in this league. He kind of fits the bill. I’d been bothering Sean like, ‘Hey can we get a guy, that kind of player, in our system.’ Listen, I don’t wanna make the guys Kareem Abdul-Jabbar right off the bat, but definitely excited about him. The last thing about him, I just like his demeanor. He’s a quiet, competitive guy and we’re excited to see him get on the court.”
9. Atkinson and Marks need one another to turn this ship around. It’s crucial the GM and coach are on the same page the way these two are. Reassurance and positivity is needed, especially when you’re in a situation like Kenny Atkinson.
Atkinson: “I lean on Sean all the time for that. The other thing is I’d say we’re two pretty positive guys. We turn things in a positive way. Sean talks me off a cliff a lot of times because it’s emotional, especially after games. I lean on him a lot and he’s got such a positive outlook and a positive vibe. And that’s been huge for me, personally. So it’s great to go in his office after a tough loss or a player’s not performing like he should. And then it’s like, how are we going to come to a solution as a group? And he gives me ideas all the time, I go into the coaches room.”
Marks: “One way we do it is we spend an awful lot of time in each other’s office. I dont know if we wanna combine the 2 (offices), but I think it’s important that we know our doors are open to each other and Kenny can come in there and vent to me about whatever’s on his mind. Or just ideas. I think when you know or find guys that are basketball purists and just really love the game, Kenny’ll come to me and say, ‘Hey I was watching this game and I saw this, or you’ve got Oklahoma City, what are you doing?’ The point is he’s got some ideas out there, some fresh ideas he can always bounce off me — ‘what do you think about this player?’ — and vice versa. I can come back in there. I think we’ve both seen it from different seats.
10. There is no looking back at what could’ve been.
Marks: “Had you not told me where that pick went, I wouldn’t have known. I mean, it’s not our pick right? So, if I focus on what could have been, I wouldn’t be here, Kenny wouldn’t be here. Our focus is on what we have right in front of us, is those 15 guys. I’d be doing them a complete disservice if I was focused on what Boston’s gonna do with that pick. What Cleveland’s gonna do with that pick. Our focus is on those guys at hand and they appreciate that.”
Nothing earth-shaking was said, nor did we even get the slightest hint of who is going to start —Atkinson said he has a lineup "way in the back of my head"—- and who is going to be in what role. Marks and Atkinson are in this together. They both came in a matched set last year, neither with any experience as the top guy. That’s no longer the case. They’ve built their relationship and trust, so much that they’re close to finishing each other's sentences.
The key is that, while everybody is expecting a fun season, and as we said, the ‘p’ word will not be spoken. They appreciate the players’ having an optimistic outlook, but neither will commit to that kind of talk, by any means.
Development, development, development.
Get used to it. They are.