It was the question — and answer — most fans were waiting for. After 30 minutes of a conference call with season ticket holders Wednesday, Sean Marks was asked about the “P” word, the playoffs. Did he think the Nets have a chance?
Marks went through a long wind-up, talking about the Eastern Conference and how it wasn’t for him to say whether the team should make the playoffs or not, etc. but then noted how his players in their interviews have talked about playoffs.
He echoed their comments. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t make a push for the playoffs. Isn’t that the objective here? We’re not sitting here trying to win 20 games so let’s put our best foot forward and push each other and see where it goes. Anything can happen. You never know where it’s going to break...”
“It’s great coming from your players,” he added, implying he doesn’t disagree.
At another point, he seemed to address the possibility of tanking, although he didn’t use the “T” word. “This is not a year we’re just going to sit there because we control our own pick and say let’s just hope that pick is as good as it possibly can be. It’s important for the fans to see the trajectory we’re on.”
In short, go for it.
The conference call, moderated by Ryan Ruocco, was among Marks’ most revealing, with ticket holders asking a variety of questions about the Nets immediate and long-term future.
He spoke eloquently about what drives him.
“There will be nothing like winning in Brooklyn. There’s going to be nothing like being able to turn this franchise around” because he said, “the fans stuck with us.” He noted that both he and Kenny Atkinson (who he praised repeatedly during the call) talk about the fans’ patience almost daily.
The 42-year-old GM said that in general he was happy with the Nets off-season which saw a much bigger roster turnover than fans expected ... and a much bigger haul of draft picks and veteran players as well. He said that he was particularly proud of his staff’s ability to “pivot” among scenarios, adding that as a staff, the Nets do a lot of “role playing” starting in “dog days” of winter planning for free agency.
He wouldn’t talk about specific targets in 2019 or whether he was leaning toward improving the team via free agency or trades. He stressed the importance of winning as a recruiting tool. Winning more games this year is “absolutely” important for next year’s free agency. If Nets don’t show that winning “trajectory,” he argued, it “can be used against us” by competing teams.
“You never want to have a losing culture here, he said.”
He did talk about recruiting tools like HSS Training Center — “When you see it for the first time is certainly eye-popping” and “can’t be duplicated anywhere.” Mostly, thought, he talked about development. “Agents want their guys around our coaching staff, around our performance team. They see bodies changing, abilities realized. So that’s certainly a selling point,” said Marks.
Specifically, he spoke about how Joe Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie had developed. Harris, he indicated, “probably could have gone elsewhere for more money,” but he wanted to stay in Brooklyn.
“Joe epitomizes what we want to be here.” He revealed that the unassuming Harris “rides the subway to work.” He also pointed out that players had to “buy in,” citing Dinwiddie’s success.
Marks says a critical part of Dinwiddie’s development was the performance team “and he bought in.” Spencer had “intangibles” that make him stand out in his size, his speed, athletic ability but bottom line, “He put in the work.”
He also revealed which players are putting in the big effort, first citing Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen, noting that the gym at HSS Training Center is “open 24 hours for them,” adding many of the players show up late, “after the city life is over for them.”
As for D’Angelo Russell, Marks said he “has worked extremely hard” on his “health and his body” this off season. Ed Davis, he added, has been in the gym since he signed with the Nets and DeMarre Carroll since May.
He emphasized “there is no ‘face of the franchise,’ no one guy we’re building around ... It’s a team sport.” It’s about how we want to play, he said.
What’s Marks see as biggest improvement this year? “Ability to close out games.” The team is now accustomed to each other’s skills, he argued.
He also pointed out that he will not be afraid to make deals during this season to improve the team. “You never know what turns we might take this year,” suggesting Nets could be active during the season, noting he’d be watching the team’s progress after training camp, then again on December 15 when free agents from this summer can be traded for the first time, the February trade deadline and Draft Night.
Asked what was his most unanticipated success, Marks said it seeing LeVert and Allen, who the Nets had very high on the draft board, available board “when we picked.” Also he cited the development of Allen. “Didn’t anticipate he’d be starting in the league as quickly as he did.”
The 11-year NBA veteran also discussed why he focused early on building a culture in Brooklyn. “It’s because it was something we could control,” Marks told Ruocco. “We couldn’t control draft picks, couldn’t control free agency.”
And the future? How does he envision the Nets of 2023, five years from now? Marks hopes that the franchise will be “winning, competing at a high level,” having established an “identity” of “grit” and hard work.
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