The day Sean Marks walked into the HSS Training Facility for the first time as GM on February 16, 2016, the Nets were 14-40, going 4-16 over the previous 20 games. On Saturday, this year’s Nets are 19-40, but also 4-16 over the previous 20.
But beyond the record, which hasn’t gotten much better, the organization is in a better place. The draft cupboard has been restocked and for the first time since 2010, when Rod Thorn was still GM, the Nets have draft picks, both first and second rounders, in every draft going forward as well as a surplus pick. Next year, for the first time since 2013, they’ll have their own first rounder. More importantly, there is a sense that the franchise is moving in the right direction, has goals, etc.
But in an informal chat with NetsDaily on Wednesday, Marks was still preaching what he talked about when he walked into HSS on a gloomy February morning in 2016: Patience, patience, patience, not just for fans, but for the team’s soon-to-be co-owners, Mikhail Prokhorov and Joe Tsai. Marks still thinks the long-term rebuild, the development of a culture, is still the way to go. And he won’t predict when he thinks the Nets will reach that goal.
“We’re going to have to be patient, Mikhail’s going to have to be patient, Joe’s going to have to be patient,” said Marks. “But by the end of the day, we all realize, ‘let’s build the foundation, let’s build something that fits.’ What are all these pieces, how do they fit into this puzzle, this year, next year, the year after, how ever long it’s going to take, they have some solid footing to stand on.
“We’ve used the word, ‘culture,’ a hundred times, that’s always going to be evolving, it’s never done. We’ve got to continue to drive it.”
Marks wouldn’t talk —in any real detail— about what the Nets are planning for next summer and next season, stating that the Nets would be opportunistic ... within their plan. Two things stand out from the chat. Even though the Nets will have their own first round pick in 2019, there’s no talk of tanking to get an R.J. Barrett or Zion Williamson or Cameron Reddish.
“I think we’ve been pretty firm on our stance on that. We’re not trying to tank. We’re going to try to compete. That’s not in any of our DNA,” said Marks, first laughing in response.
The other thing is this off-season. Marks seemed to say the Nets aren’t expecting to make big moves, but can be expected to be “opportunistic,” —as favorite a word as “culture” in his vocabulary— should something big come along.
“I think we’ll be systematic in our off-season plans ... I think for us, it’s going be ‘look, we’re going to keep hitting singles’ and every now and then, we will tend to be opportunistic. Where can we strike, where can we make a move that we feel fits this organization as a whole and does that accelerate that build, that process.”
Could such a big move happen this summer, rather than further down the road? Again, Marks was non-committal,
“I’m not sure when those (moves) are going to come. They could come this off-season. I would never say, ‘look, we’re going to do absolutely nothing,” because why would we do that?”
He did hint at the kind of opportunities that might arise as teams look at their balance sheets.
“Are there a lot of sellers out there now? Probably. A lot more sellers than buyers. Now what does that mean? Who’s going to be the first time to zag when everyone else is zigging,” he said, adding a tantalizing smile.
One thing he and the front office are not going to do, he said, is panic and spend money because they have it. He cited the example of the Nets’ failed offer sheet to Otto Porter last summer. Washington matched the Nets $100 million offer. Then it was back to the drawing board.
“You’ve also got to weigh things and say, ‘look, this is where we’re thinking we’re going to go, the direction we’re going to go’ and all of a sudden, we have to reset. We don’t get Otto Porter.
“So what’s next? It’s not ‘We didn’t get Otto Porter so let’s go spend a lot of money in this direction, in that direction.’ knowing these are the non-negotiables that we’ve put out there on why we’re signing guys, why we’re not signing guys, stick to that plan.”
“That plan,” he said, remains a patient rebuild, using a lot more tools than the extreme solvency of Prokhorov and Tsai, who’s combined net worth is on the scale of the NBA’s richest owner, Steve Ballmer of the Clippers, that is $20+ billion. Been there, done that and all we got was, well, never mind.
“It’s also about finding those pieces, whether it’s in the draft, whether it’s finding guys through the G-league and developing our own,” Marks said. “That’s something our coaches have done a really nice job in and should be proud of, is developing these players. It’s one thing for our scouts to find them, and they’ve done a nice job finding guys, now you’ve got to develop them.”
He said he’s happy with the way so many of his players have improved over the course of the season and noted it wasn’t much of surprise. Players like Jarrett Allen —”look at him, he’s 19 years old”— Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, D’Angelo Russell and Joe Harris, were all in the gym last summer.
What’s that add up to for this summer? It would seem that the Nets are going to bank, for the most part, on what they’ve got, what they’ve developed and see what arises. (Of course, they no longer have a lot of cap space which permitted them to tender big offer sheets to Allen Crabbe, Tyler Johnson, Donatas Motiejunas and Porter.)
So has the timeline for the rebuild been shortened or lengthened by this season’s record, on and off the court? Marks wouldn’t say. Too much going on in the NBA to make a sweeping statement.
“I would say this, I don’t know because the landscape of the league is vastly different and is changing all the time,” he said, a concession perhaps to how other teams have gotten better, particularly in the Nets division and conference.
The Nets have changed, too, over the past two years. Marks and his coach’s reputation are far different in the league than their predecessors. So stay tuned.