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Marks extolls possibilities for 2019, tempers expectations for 2018

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Sean Marks discussed the moves Brooklyn made during this summer’s free agency. Most of it sounds like a strategic setup for the summer of 2019.

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Asked about how he feels about Brooklyn’s current situation, with draft picks and cap space, Sean Marks laughed and told reporters, “Well, it beats the alternative.” It was perhaps the first signal of Marks recognizing that he has finally normalized the Brooklyn Nets after years of basketball purgatory ... or worse.

Marks held a press conference Tuesday at HSS Training Center to address free agency on Tuesday. Despite some excitement and optimism about the future of the Nets organization, Marks, once again, tempered expectations for the upcoming season. It’s what he does.

“The patience, I can only give credit to ownership that’s stood by and hopefully there’s something down the road, so between Mikhail [Prokhorov] and Joe [Tsai] they’ve been terrific with how they’ve shown their patience and belief in us,” said Marks.

“And also, the coaching staff. They want to win right now, and I don’t blame them. That’s part of what I love about our group here, they’re competitive as any. But again, I got to rein them back in and say, ‘trust us, if we’re trying to build this long-term, it’s going to take some time.’”

Fair enough. Expectations tempered. But wait, there’s more.

“You can’t add everybody at once and it’s a slow process and a build, but we’re certainly excited to add some of those pieces this year that will help in that regard, for sure.”

The Nets added Ed Davis, Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur, all who have straight one-year deals. Then, they added Shabazz Napier, who has a team option on his second year as well. On paper, they committed to zero free agents for more than a year, excluding their two draft picks Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs. Joe Harris is the only free agent they agreed to commit to for more than one year. Gotta preserve that space.

They filled some voids and the hope is that continuity will keep them afloat while the new guys gel in Kenny Atkinson’s system.

The biggest gain of free agency, however, is that the Nets have two draft picks entering the summer of 2019 – their own and Denver’s, which is protected 1-12 through 2024. Last time they had two firsts? Ten years ago when they took Brook Lopez and Ryan Anderson. Perhaps even more important, the Nets could have enough cap space to max out two free agents.

Don’t get it mixed. It’s not a promise. Marks isn’t promising anything at all, but he also isn’t counting anything out, either.

“It’s about being able to stay flexible and that can happen in a year from now where we’ll have more tools. At the season-ending press conference, there were a different set of circumstances, so things have changed a little bit in the last three months. We have a year to prepare for summer of 2019.”

“We have a year to prepare for summer of 2019.”

This might be the most confident — or boldest, your choice — thing he’s said since taking over as GM, adding some more excitement to the summer of 2019, simply because they have options.

The Nets are projected to have approximately $50-70 million in cap space with the big contracts of Faried, Arthur and DeMarre Carroll, as well as Dwight Howard’s dead money coming off the books. They will have to make a decision on some of the young guys, namely D’Angelo Russell who will become a restricted free agent at year’s end.

He would not say how he might use all those assets, but he’s sure happy to have them.

“I think what we’ve done is we’ve strategically looked at various different ways to build and we’ve been able to pivot over the course of these last couple years, and that’s the same case of what we’ll do over this next year. Obviously the cap space and future draft picks and so forth that we’ve been able to acquire will help in a variety of different ways. Whether that’s in the free agent market, I have no idea. But it just gives us more tools in the toolbox.”

He did say one thing won’t change.

“I think first and foremost you look at players who fit in Brooklyn, fit with your culture, fit with your system, fit with what you’re trying to do. And part of that means the longevity of the team and the build and so forth,” said Marks, reiterating the importance of culture and continuity as it ties into 2019.

Marks was also careful not to concede possibilities for 2018. As much as he tempered things, he wasn’t giving up on the immediate future.

“I think you’ve got to be careful with just staying pat and saying this is what we’re going to do in a year from now,” said Marks, explaining the relationship between this season and the next.

“I think the group that we have now will certainly add to what we’re doing presently right on the court and the sky’s the limit to the expectations a year from now. I don’t know what’s going to happen; but these guys all have an incredible opportunity to play in this system with this coaching staff.”

Notice how Marks mentioned culture and opportunity to play within a system as an incentive. The Nets have developed a great rep with players around the league. Aside from the amenities, aside from the market and money, Brooklyn’s biggest lure is the coaching staff and how they treat people.

“He told me that they treat everybody like family,” Shabazz Napier said in his part of the press conference, recounting one of his conversations with former teammate Allen Crabbe. “No matter if you’re playing or not playing, you’re family.”

In fact, the first thing Marks does when publicly introducing new personnel is welcome their family, whether it’s a rookie or a veteran. We’ve discussed the theme of it several times when talking about culture, because it’s a huge deal to the Nets.

More importantly, it’s a huge deal to players, who, despite all that money, are humans too with loved ones they’re concerned about. It’s one of the most overlooked aspects of professional athletes – their lives away from the court and how it affect their psyche.

Most recently, less than a week back, most players on the team took a trip to watch the summer league team in Las Vegas. This has been a common theme since Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson took over. They’re all Nets and they want them to be there for one another, to stick around one another and hang out whether in Brooklyn or Las Vegas ... or southern California, as they did in May.

“It speaks volume to have all our vets come out there supporting the young summer league team,” said Marks. “That’s all about building the culture, the camaraderie when they go out and eat together after the games and socialize. You know, just breaking bread time, hanging out which is great.”

So, while they didn’t make any moves that necessarily moved the needle, they’re banking on continuity, cohesiveness and culture to improve from 28 wins last season. Internal growth is huge and building a culture only happens with winning and improvement. (It might be nice if they were healthy, too.)

Brooklyn has a reputation now and that’s as big an asset, if not bigger, than cap space or draft picks. It’s an attractive place to play for several reasons and it starts with the identity and reputation they’ve built. Maybe it isn’t worth getting overly excited about the 2018-2019 Nets, but it’ll be intriguing to see if they play well enough to attract some “names” next season.

Dare we call it... a Brooklyn bridge year?