The Nets, like any other team, will have a pitch they’ll make to free agents —both restricted and unrestricted— this summer. Unlike the top teams, it won’t be about winning and the prospect of a ring and unlike those at the bottom of the barrel, it won’t be about playing time. The Nets are far from contending and a few steps above teams like the Hawks and Suns, who are just starting their rebuild.
So what did Sean Marks answer when asked about his pitch at last month’s end-of-season press conference?
“We’re not going to go into a whole bunch of details with that, but what I would say is it’s the emergence of some of the guys on our roster -- how they’ve obviously developed,” Marks said. “I don’t need to speak to about Brooklyn and the culture here because I think that’s well-versed and well-talked about already.
“I think the thing that’s been real positive for me is the guys that leave here – whether they go to another place through trade or lost through free agency or so forth. When they speak about their experiences here, when they speak about playing for Kenny and the style and so forth, that’s been terrific. It’s in a positive light – guys want to play here.”
Development will be the Nets’ key enticement. No surprise there. Look at Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Marks will say. They all got better ... and will all have a bigger payday at contract time. That’s a given. And players do talk about it. The interesting part is how much of a priority Marks put on having free agents talk to players who’ve left.
There has been a lot of that, too. Players like Randy Foye, Luis Scola and Trevor Booker have had kind things to say about the Nets culture ... and their development ... after they’ve left.
“I could play another five years doing what they do,” Randy Foye, who spent 2016-17 in Brooklyn, told Zach Lowe last summer. “Everything is about the players. But they are not going to follow you around. You are an adult.”
DeMarre Carroll, who’s still with the team of course, has said similar things about how his career was rejuvenated working with the performance team and Jordan Ott, one of the assistant coaches.
What about younger players ... beyond development. What can Marks offer them? One thing is the long-term commitment of the owners. Marks told the media that the partnership of Mikhail Prokhorov and Joe Tsai will have the patience to carry the plan through ... unlike in the past.
“We know with our ownership group, that’s a whole different ballgame there, where you’ve got owners that are committed to building this,” Marks noted. “Building this with a foundation that has some longevity and they are committed to this which is great. I think the fact that we get to do it in Brooklyn is great.”
Brooklyn is, of course, more than the team’s home. It’s part of New York and it symbolizes a lot of the youth culture, the music, the fashion. But like development and ownership, that’s not something you have to sell. It’s a known known.
The biggest and best part of the pitch, though, will probably be the players and how they are committed to one another. Last week’s trip to L.A., organized by the players, showed just how cohesive the Nets culture can be. The front office couldn’t organize the trip. It had to be on the players. And it wasn’t just about working out. It was about hanging out, being with one another, extending the experience they had during the season.
“Everybody was coachable this season, nobody got down or tried to isolate themselves from the team just because we were losing games,” D’Angelo Russell told NetsDaily after the season.
As we noted, four of the Nets free agents —Harris, Quincy Acy, Dante Cunningham and Nik Stauskas — were all there. Only Jahlil Okafor wasn’t on hand.
So was Isaiah Whitehead, who spent most of the season with the Long Island Nets and has a team option in June. Timofey Mozgov, who played in only 31 games this season, was a big part of the trip, taxiing his teammates around in his Rolls-Royce and opening his L.A. home to them.
Of course, the Nets will also have to convince free agents they’ll be competitive and that is not a given. Marks and Kenny Atkinson touched on that too at the press conference, suggesting the mark of the rebuild will soon turn from “progress” to wins and losses. Could be this year, he noted.
“At some point, that’s going to change. Whether it’s this coming year or a year in the future where we [say] wins and losses, now we’ve got to start winning games,” he told the media.
As Luis Scola said last year, that is crucial to the Nets success in bringing in the name players. All the other stuff is great but big free agents ultimately want a chance at a ring.
“Once they win, they will get everyone they want,” said Scola last summer. “But all those other things don’t matter until you have a good team.”
How good and how soon? No one is saying, but you can be assured that it’s likely to be the first question any free agent will ask after he hears “the pitch.”