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Nets GM won’t slam door shut on Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons returns within week

The All-Star break is in the books for the Brooklyn Nets. The team was back on the court Tuesday, getting ready for Thursday’s game vs. Boston at Barclays Center.

In a talk called reMARKS: A conversation with Sean Marks, the Nets general manager hosted more than 100 season ticket holders for a post-All-Star break look at the team’s situation, past, present and future. The event was held on the Barclays Center practice court.

In the thirty-five-minute conversation with YES Network’s Michael Grady, Marks provided details on the looming returns of Kevin Durant (left knee, MCL sprain) and Ben Simmons (return to competition reconditioning), offering a tantalizing possibility. The GM said the team is seeing how both stars respond in their respective quests to get back on the hardwood. He noted it would be “tough” for them to be “playing in the next three or four days,” but left the door open.

“Depending on when they go, we got to see how they respond to days like today and we’ll go forward with this. It’s probably going to be tough playing in the next three or four days but we’ll see how it all plays out,” Marks said, adding, “I’m certainly not going to bet against either one of those guys.”

The Nets play the Celtics at home Thursday then the Bucks Saturday in Milwaukee.

The comment, as vague as it was, seemed calculated to counter Ramona Shelburne’s comment on NBA Today Monday that “it’s going to be more like weeks rather than months” before Simmons gets on the court again. The 25-year-old All-NBA players hasn’t played at this season, having successfully held out while awaiting a trade.

“Just to have that versatility, and I’m going to keep harping on the versatility that he brings offensively and defensively,” said Marks, speaking about what Simmons can do whenever he takes the court. “It’s going to be a matchup nightmare for other teams.

“There’s no question that he’s already proved that he can do that, and it takes a little bit of a load off of Kevin. Maybe it puts Kevin in a different light. Maybe it puts Kyrie in a different set of circumstances where they don’t have to handle the ball all the time. They can get out there and run the wings and vice versa. Ben can run those wings and when we see how fast he is at spreading the floor, I think if we’re coming at waves against the opposition, playing at pace, that should prove good for us.”

That was the newsiest moment of the night, with Marks mostly reviewing the eventful trade deadline ... and what led up to it ... as well as his belief that the Nets are still in the mix for the Larry O’Brien Trophy come June.

While Brooklyn awaits the return of two of its stars, the status of the unvaccinated Kyrie Irving also presents a major obstacle for the team’s championship chances. Like all of us, the Nets general manager is closely watching the news nationwide — and around the globe — on vaccine and mask mandates. Although the City of New York has yet to budge on changing the rule that’s keeping Marks superstar guard off the court, the GM said he remains optimistic Irving can become a full-time participant instead of just playing on the road.

“I have to be optimistic like everybody here. We all know what’s at stake here,” said the Nets general manager Tuesday night at Barclays Center. “If you turn on CNN or BBC or FOX or whatever your flavor is, you see everything’s changing. I’m part of the (British) Commonwealth so I was watching BBC the other day and it’s looking vastly different over there than it is here right now in terms of their mandates and so forth.

“I think we see each city or state starting to change the rules. We’re starting to see a sense of normality again and getting back to life. We have to go on. The vaccine rates are obviously high so I am optimistic. I have to be optimistic. I think that’s the only way to look at this.”

The Nets general manager was also asked about the blockbuster trade deadline deal that brought in Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, and two first-round picks in exchange for James Harden and Paul Millsap. He said he believes the trade is good for basketball and the deal helps the Nets in the current chase for the first elusive championship and in the future,

“Philadelphia has moved their chips in the middle and we’ve done the same. You have to be slightly lucky without a doubt. There’s no question there to see how it all goes from a health perspective and so forth. We did this trade because we feel like it helps our team. It helps what we need not only this year and going into the future,” said Marks on the blockbuster. “Philadelphia did this because they feel like it helps their team right now.”

There’s no secret a number of things need to go in the team's favor over the remaining 23 games, beginning with health but also forging continuity before the postseason rolls around. Marks admits the biggest obstacle is forging continuity and chemistry before the post-season rolls around in mid-April.

“Our biggest dilemma is probably going to be that cohesion, chemistry, the bonds that are formed and getting as many minutes as we can,” Marks said. “I don’t know how many games these guys are going to play together. I think we saw it play out last year where half a dozen games were played together.

“We don’t want to be in that same boat so as many minutes these guys can play together on the court, and also for the coaching staff. This has not been an easy year for the coaching staff. Over the course of these next 23 games, we need to be building continuity and chemistry both on and off the court.”

Regardless, the Nets GM didn’t shy away from the ultimate goal: a championship.

“Championship. That’s it,” Marks said when asked about his expectations for the Nets. “I would be doing 17 players and another 60 staff members over there a massive disservice if I said anything other than that because that’s what we’re all here for. We have an incredible ownership group. Joe Tsai, talking about putting your chips in the middle, has supported us, supported us and has continued to support us. From that standpoint, we know what our expectations are.”

Marks touched on the team’s latest move, signing veteran point guard Goran Dragic following his release — and buyout — from the Spurs.

“We were with Goran in Miami over the weekend, spent some brief time with him, and it was really intriguing to me to see the relationship that Goran and Steve have, the respect they have for one another and really respect that Goran had for Steve for many, many years ago,” Marks said.

In closing the conversation, Marks provided a message to Nets fans ahead of the Nets anticipated return to the hardwood. He praised the fans for their passion and support throughout his tenure and hinted at the fanbase to “buckle up” for “one hell of a ride.”

“Personally, I’ve been here five and a half years. I know a lot of you guys out there and 18,000 people in this building have been Nets fans for decades. I’ve been waiting a long time and I’ve put blood, sweat, and tears into this but it pails in comparison to what you guys have done.

“I really appreciate it and it comes from myself, ownership, the coaching staff, and players. We really appreciate hearing you. We appreciate your support without a doubt. It’s impressive every single night we come out here and see the fanbase growing and how loud it is. All I’ll say is buckle up. Hold on. It’ll be one hell of a ride.”

Specifically, Marks said fan support for the team during the Nets 28-point comeback against the Knicks last week at Madison Square Garden. Indeed, the GM said the comeback wouldn’t have happened without the Nets fans who traveled to Manhattan.

“I have never seen anything like our last Knicks game. That was the impressive. No way we come back from down 28 without that Brooklyn group that was there.”

There was no discussion of Joe Harris’s possible return.