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How ‘comforting’ culture and connections made Patty Mills decision easy

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Men’s Basketball Medal Ceremony: Day 15 Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Patty Mills may have joined a championship contender in the Nets, but it wasn’t just the chase of a second ring that lured him into different black and white threads.

Although it’s common for players outside of their prime to join contenders, Mills said he valued something more when it came to writing the next chapter of his professional career. It was the culture Sean Marks and the Nets have forged in Brooklyn — along with some familiar faces — that attracted him the most.

“I think it was an opportunity for me to turn the page on a new chapter,” Mills said on Thursday when speaking to media. “And speaking about Brooklyn, and everything that I’ve learned on the court, off the court, the culture of the city I think it was something that was very attractive to me and my wife.

The 33-year-old is no stranger to the basketball culture of course. Mills spent nearly a decade with the San Antonio Spurs — an NBA franchise known for its organic culture, winning five championships across a two-decade span and headed by Gregg Popovich since 1996. To Mills, it’s the culture within an organization that helps drive the motor.

“I’m a culture guy: That’s who I am and what makes me tick,” Mills said. “So to be able to dive in deep to the culture of Brooklyn, and everything that’s great about that and what it has to offer was the next step,” Mills said.

San Antonio Spurs v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

While culture played a huge factor in Mills’ decision to sign with Brooklyn, connections played nearly an equal role.

“So to be able to make a next step I guess in our life was very exciting for us. The familiar faces around the organization are something that was very comfortable as well, especially for my wife.”

The number of familiar faces Sean Marks brought from San Antonio to Brooklyn provided the point guard with a sense of comfort and welcome. He knows his family will be taken care of in Brooklyn.

“To know free agency was going to be right in the middle of it definitely did make it quite tough,” said the 33-year-old Mills, who won a bronze medal with the Australian Olympic team. “The thing for me was not being able to have the conversations I wish I would’ve had leading into such a big decision,” Mills said.

“But turning to a new chapter and going to a new place, it was definitely something that knowing that we know people throughout the organization and in the city as well, it was comforting to know there are people there that look after us and look after my family.”

The most notable connections are the most important ones. Marks was an assistant coach and assistant general manager during Mills’ early years with the Spurs. In addition, Jacque Vaughn — the lead assistant for Brooklyn — was also an assistant and scout with San Antonio. Tiago Splitter, now an assistant coach and scout in Brooklyn, was Mills teammate. Andy Birdsong, assistant GM in Brooklyn got his start in San Antonio, then returned to be director of basketball operations.

When it came to recruiting Mills to Brooklyn, it was a team effort filled with genuine conversations that resonated with him, Mills said.

That familiarity was even more important considering how he spent free agency: representing Australia in the Tokyo Olympics. While in Japan, the veteran point guard admitted he couldn’t have the conversations most free agents would have with interested teams. Although not having the ability to meet with teams in the traditional sense, his familiarity with the Nets was clear.

“It was a group effort. I think that everyone made a genuine impact. I was really blown away by everyone’s individual effort and it seemed so genuine and raw at the same time.

“I felt so welcomed even before everything had actually happened. So again, I think it speaks volumes on the organization, the culture and the family of what Sean Marks has created there. It’s something that me and my wife are attracted to. That family sense and that culture sense. All the little pieces that make all of that up. It’s already feeling like a fit in that sense,” said Mills on the recruiting by Brooklyn during free agency.

It wasn’t just the familiarity either. The Nets had an advantage in Tokyo: the best recruiter any team could have: the best player in the world! Mills noted how important his conversation with KD had been.

“The conversation I had with Kevin was so pure and so genuine, being able to understand that he’s such a pure hooper, and to go back-and-forth about basketball specifics. It’s exciting for me to know there’s an opportunity there for me to try to be who I am,” Mill said.

“After a good Tokyo Olympics campaign, being able to ride the wave of that momentum and take it into Brooklyn is something I’m looking forward to. That style and freedom of what Steve does such a great job with and obviously now being amongst the best players in the world, it’s just such an exciting opportunity that I’ll be able to thrive off. To share the court with guys like that, I’m really going to continue to learn about the game and continue to get better myself and find little ways that I can do that.”

2020 Tokyo Olympics: United States v Australia Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

And beyond all that, the Nets even had a secret weapon sitting on the Boomers bench in Tokyo: Adam Caporn, who had recently been hired as the head coach of the Long Island Nets, was an assistant coach for Australia. When asked about Caporn, Mills said he’s happy he got the opportunity with the Nets organization.

“He’s a pain in the ass, mate. He’s the Aussie you guys got to look out for,” Mills said with a bright smile. “He’s great. I’ve known Adam Caporn for a long time. The AIS (Australia Institute of Sports) days in Australia. Saint Mary’s (College) as well. That connection is strong and to be able to work with him on the national team and at the World Cup in 2019 and in this one. It’s those connections that you make and you continue to grow and see how he operates on a professional level as a coach. A great opportunity for him and a great opportunity for everyone else to see how he goes about his craft. His attention to detail. His knowledge about the game. High basketball IQ and his ability just to have feel for his players, his team and the ability to connect with his players. It’s good to know he’s got that opportunity.”

Aside from the Nets team effort to recruit the veteran point guard, Mills explained how Steve Nash was his favorite player to play against during his early NBA years. The 33-year-old was fascinated by how the Nets head coach approached the game and seeing Nash’s brilliance in person. The connection to the Nets head coach didn’t stop there. Mills worked with Nash closely after he retired in 2015.

“I’ve worked close with Steve in the past since he’s been retired. To be able to really dive into the details of what it takes to be able to continue to learn about the game and to continue to learn about your body. For me, it was about that. I’m not the biggest player in the NBA or the strongest so, finding little nicks here and there to be able to continue to get better. That’s stuff you’re able to get out of his book. I’m really looking forward to picking Steve’s brain and continue to learn from him,” said Mills.

Mills could’ve gone elsewhere. The Lakers and Warriors play a lot closer to to Australia and his off-season home in Hawaii. But the Nets provided him with some things more important than geography.