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Long Island Nets Exec: It’s about building a culture as well as winning

The man charged with running the Long Island Nets, Alton Byrd, says while winning is nice, G League teams have to be developing, developing, developing and not just players but front office talent.

Officially, Byrd is Vice President of Business Operations. He was hired back in 2016 when the Nets got back into the G League after a two-year hiatus. By most standards, Long Island has been successful since. They play in the league’s biggest venue, Nassau Coliseum; came within a win of a league championship in 2019 and perhaps most importantly, one-half of the Nets roster — eight of 17 players — have spent time with Long Island. And while no one is suggesting the team is a money-maker, it’s made dramatic improvements in signing up sponsors.

As Byrd notes, the organization now has a process in place to seamlessly move talent, both on and off the court, between Nassau and Barclays Center, with both teams playing the same offense, same defense and promoting the same values.

Sean Marks is always talking to us about finding good people,” said Byrd, who played the game at Columbia, then 18 years in Britain. “Finding people with integrity, who work hard and consistently reminding people that no one will ever be bigger than the team and you can’t win on your own...

“Our focus is to develop talent, and develop the way forward for people career-wise both on-the court and off-the-court and work closely with our basketball folks to give them the tools they need to be successful.”

On the court, the Nets found two players who contributed to the Nets late in the NBA season: Timothe’ Luwawu-Cabarrot and Chris Chiozza ... and helped Nicolas Claxton, Dzanan Musa, Rodions Kurucs, Jeremiah Martin and Theo Pinson hone their skills when minutes weren’t available in Brooklyn. (Taurean Prince played for Long Island in 2016-17 while on loan from the Hawks and Justin Anderson had a 10-day gig in Brooklyn.)

Off the court, Byrd made specific mention of his General Manager Matt Riccardi who also serves as Brooklyn’s Director of Scouting. Riccardi’s most recent find was Chiozza.

“If you look at the people we have, our evaluating talent, our scouting talent, we think we’ve got really good folks. Our GM Matt Riccardi is a budding superstar in my estimation. He is working closely with Sean Marks who has really turned the franchise around in 3 years since he took over.”

The proximity between Brooklyn and Uniondale has helped the development process, Byrd added. It’s facilitated moving players between the NBA and G-League.

“We’ve had instances where someone gets hurt at a Brooklyn Nets practice, Sean [Marks] can make a call or Matt Riccardi can make a call and say, ‘you need to be in Brooklyn in two hours.’ Traffic permitting, we can get a guy from Long Island to Brooklyn in 45 minutes, and they’re ready to go.

“We’ve had players play for us at an education day/promotional game in the morning and then go to play for the Brooklyn Nets that evening. The proximity is really important, not every team has the proximity luck that we have.”

Asked by Evans if the goal is winning or developing, Byrd said both.

“We were disappointed not to win, but we had the best record in the G League last year, we were Eastern Conference champions last year, we had players that literally signed contracts all over the world as a result of how we developed them and how they played for us. Some with the Brooklyn Nets.”

That last point, Nets insiders have said, has become a recruiting point for Brooklyn when they face competition for an undrafted player or a player looking for a second chance. Byrd said it’s about “people, process, and product.”

“If we follow those and we get good people who create great process, our product will be really good,” said Byrd who pointed to the success of the 2018-19 team. “They were a good team and they liked each other and they got along well, hence the success.”

That same culture he says is used to develop talent for BSE Global, the Joe Tsai-led group that includes both Nets teams, the Liberty and Barclays Center. “We’re also developing sales people, marketing talent. We’re developing talent across the board.”

As far as the business said, Byrd noted that the team started with 0 sponsors, then 12 in the first year and went from 12 to 31 in the second year. Now, the team has more than 40 partners who are sponsors, many of them local Long Island businesses.

Overall, Byrd was optimistic about the G League in general. Next season, whenever it starts, the league will have 28 NBA affiliates plus a team in Mexico City and the new Select Team of top young prospects who have forsaken college and will play 10 to 12 games against G League teams. That. he thinks, could lead to better TV coverage for the league.

Byrd spoke to Evans as well as British basketball. Byrd was as big star as British basketball has ever had, winning four British championships and five Scottish championships in the 1980’s and 90’s. While hoops are growing in various countries around the world —and British basketball produced a few NBA players, Britain he said is not one of them.

“I’m saddened to see that the league isn’t more competitive, isn’t more financially sustainable, and quite honestly isn’t more commercially successful. I don’t quite understand why,” he told Evans, himself a British national.