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How Nets latest ‘experiment’ is different from others — Spoiler alert: it could work

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Miami Heat v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Rustin Dodd, writing for The Athletic, provides a history lesson for Nets fans, calling the Nets an “experiment” from their beginning in the Teaneck Armory in 1967 to the arrival of “Big Three” in Brooklyn 54 years later.

Dodd relives every time the Nets tried something — anything — to breakthrough in the New York region, from thinking of signing Wilt Chamberlain at age 49 to getting East Rutherford to change its name to Nike (!) to changing the team name to “Swamp Dragons” to the last time the Nets tried a superstar-driven enterprise, the disaster that was the Celtics trade in 2013. (He doesn’t mention reversible jerseys, thank you very much.)

He quotes Irina Pavlova as saying the Russians underestimated how difficult it would be for the Nets to move the needle even with the move to Brooklyn and their willingness to spend, spend, spend their way into contention.

Now, though Dodd writes, may be different. The new “Big Three” isn’t just more talented than the group that made up the 2013-14 team, they’re also younger by roughly five years than their counterparts, giving the Nets a chance to keep building over the long term.

Richard Jefferson, who knows his Nets and NBA history first hand, used the “D” word in discussing the possibilities ... “D” as in dynasty.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” Jefferson told Dodd. “But this is a team that can be a problem for many, many years. We could be looking at a potential dynasty.”

Okay, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but RJ notes that with the Nets superstars being as popular as they are and in their prime, the franchise could be a durable top-flight brand.

“Ten years from now,” he said, “there’s a kid that’s in Jersey, or they might be in New York, or might be from Mount Vernon, and it’s like, no, I grew up a Brooklyn Nets fan.”

Indeed, the Nets popularity is rising not just in New York but across the country ... and the world. Brooklyn is now a staple on national TV and when they’re on, they’re getting big numbers, just as they (finally) are locally. Gear sales are up in the U.S. as well as in Europe and Asia. Social media too. The Nets are even winning the “Wood,” the tabloids’ back pages. A few weeks ago, the Nets surpassed the Knicks in Instagram followers. Twitter is more a long-term project.

At the center of it all, of course, is Marksism, the culture Sean Marks has built. Dodd quotes Pavlova on how different his pitch was five years ago from those put forth by other rising stars in the NBA executive corps or Byran Colangelo, a two-time Executive of the Year.

In his pitch, “Marks wrote about creating a culture for players, of creating ‘a world-class performance team,’ of giving the talent every opportunity to feel comfortable and empowered.’” as Dodd wrote.

But Marks noted something else. There was only so much you can do in a place like San Antonio, where he had played and worked for a decade. In New York, the sky was the limit. He predicted, accurately it turned out, that Brooklyn, New York, could be a destination where players could get recognition as well as success. (It’s not surprising that James Harden recently noted that he’s not doing anything different, “It’s just I get credit now, and previously I wasn’t getting credit.”)

The culmination of that plan came during a wild 18-month period between June 2019 and January 2021. Aided by the ample wallets of Mikhail Prokhorov and Joe Tsai, Marks signed Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, hired two-time MVP Steve Nash as his rookie head coach and traded for James Harden in a breathtaking, throw-in-all-the-chips, empty-the-clip move. A franchise that had been adrift (or worse) for much of its history was now the one that the best players in the world wanted, even demanded, to join. (Ask Blake Griffin.) Sean Marks five-year plan has worked. So far.

“What Sean has done is not splashy at all,” Pavlova told Dodd. “He’s created a culture that attracts superstars.”

Now, a championship is what everyone is aiming at. That is never easy and there are questions, at least for this year, about the defense, about health, maybe chemistry. Still as Dodd writes, “The next generation is watching. The experiment might just be working.”

There’s a lot more in Dodd’s story, all of interesting.