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The big change: Nets plan on going big-game hunting

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Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets - Game Four Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

A year ago, Sean Marks told reporters at the Nets annual post-season press conference that the organization had a “long, long way to go.” On Thursday, he spoke of this season as “a step in the right direction.”

The change is more than rhetoric. It’s a signal the Nets want to move to the next level of their rebuild: big-game hunting.

“I’m not sure there’s pressure to act frivolously or just out of the norm,” Marks said when asked if there was pressure not to add a star. “I think this is something, if the right player is available, obviously like any other team we’ll target those guys. But we’ll just see how this thing builds out. Again, it’s not fast forwarding, it’s not about skipping steps.”

Marks of course didn’t (couldn’t) name names, but the Nets have been reliably linked to Kevin Durant, as well as Tobias Harris, and maybe Jimmy Butler. He did speak, as he often does, about him being able to move in different differences.

“I think from Day 1 here, it’s always been about maintaining flexibility. We’ll see as these next few months unfold, as we get into free agency, into July. We’ll see where we have to go from there. Do we pivot? There’s a lot of different directions we can go. I can’t tell you now if we’re going to be signing one or two guys or 10 guys or however it goes. But again, we’ve got time to try and establish it and make good, sound judgment decisions. And we’ll see where it goes.”

One step he almost certainly needs to take to increase that flexibility is somehow dumping Allen Crabbe’s expiring $18.5 million — which almost certainly will require the organization to give up a draft pick or two or maybe a promising young player. Marks seemed to warn of that possibility when he discussed the Nets draft cache, the Nos. 17 and 27 pick in the first round and the 31st pick in the second.

“The fact that we have multiple picks is terrific,” Marks told NetsDaily. “It’s just more tools on our toolbox. I think it would be really irresponsible to say we’ll use it in this way or that way. I think you guys have heard me talk before; we really don’t know how we’re going to use it. We’re going to have to be flexible and see where it goes.

“And obviously if the right guys are there and the guys that we’re targeting in the draft, we’ll welcome him, we’ll develop him, we’ll love him, and care for him like we do everybody else. And if we feel that maybe strategically it’s more in line with what we’re trying to do is move one, two, or all, we’ll go from there and see where it goes.”

It’s difficult to recall a GM suggesting he might trade three picks, particularly the GM of a team that hasn’t had its own pick in seven years, and this high of a pick in nine.

Marks also expressed confidence that his team can attract big free agents after this season, with its winning ways and the team’s growing reputation for being player-friendly and just a fun place to work.

“It goes back to really establishing an identity and establishing that we’re going to go out there every night and our guys are going to compete,” said Marks. “Kenny and the staff have got them playing at a high level, competing, they’re never out of games. It’s going to attract free agents. People are going to want to play here. They’re going to want to play for Kenny. They’re going to want to play in Brooklyn. They’re going to play for this ownership group. And I think we have a lot of things going for us.”

Kenny Atkinson said that the organization will remain about character and culture no matter what opportunities arise.

“We got the right players, we signed the right players, we drafted the right players, we traded for the right players. That’s really the story of the season and now the challenge for us and Sean is, I know the message yesterday was we want more,” said the head coach. “I don’t think we’re sitting here satisfied.”

Marks and Atkinson spoke as well about the players they have on their roster. Just as Jared Dudley spoke highly Wednesday about Jarrett Allen, so did the GM and coach.

“I agree with Jared (Dudley),” said Atkinson. “I think it’s one of our priorities this offseason. Keep him on an improving plane. I was really impressed with how he improved during the playoffs alone from Game 1 to Game 5, and how he just kept getting better.

“His rebounding improved this year, but he’s a key cog, and still 21. I think in our exit meetings yesterday, we talked to him about the things he wanted to work on. I expect him to listen, and in two-three years, to be an elite center in this league. He’s going in that direction. I’m really thrilled with his development so far.”

Atkinson also said he wasn’t that concerned with his bigs’ rebounding, that the way the league is going, it’s a team issue.

“I think we have to be careful with the rebounding thing, the size thing, especially the rebounding thing,” said the coach. “It’s not just the center position, it’s all around the roster. You have to rebound at all positions in today’s game. When you look at the playoffs, I see a lot of 6-7 guys running around out there. I liked our roster this year and was pleased with the size we had. It’s not necessarily a target for us just getting one big guy.”

The two spoke as well about their three rookies, who Marks said had exceeded expectations. Marks had particular praise for Dzanan Musa who he said bought in, although spending so much time with Long Island after being taken in the first round.

“Dzanan – I’ve got to give him a lot of credit – he embraced the role that he was given in Long Island. There were close ties obviously between Brooklyn and Long Island with (development coordinator) Shaun Fein doing a heck of a job being the liaison between the two, so there was never a communication breakdown, which I think is clear in what we needed. And I think the player respected that too because he was never left in the dark. He knew exactly where he was.”

Atkinson compared Rodions Kurucs to a “cheetah” and said no one imagined he’d become a starter this year.

“Sean has done a helluva job in the draft. I’m just thrilled with every guy we drafted. It’s been really important in our improvement,” Atkinson added.

Now, as Marks hinted (as have others in the organization) the Nets will be taking the next step, looking for the star who can help them move beyond just the first round. And if not, Atkinson says that’s fine. They’ll just continue to do what they’ve done.

“I think we’re going to double down on the way we’ve been doing things no matter what our roster looks and a heavy emphasis on development and culture and all that and I’m really proud and convinced that this is the way to do it.

“Considering the predictions and everything before the season, it kind of confirms a little bit, ‘Hey this is the right way to do it.’ Our process is right and we’re going to keep it in the same direction.”