Running basketball operations is not a one-man game. Sean Marks is obviously the main guy, but he has two 30-something assistant GM’s — Jeff Peterson and Andy Birdsong — who work with him. The simplest (and admittedly not very accurate) way of delineating their duties is that Peterson is Mr. Outside; Birdsong Mr. Inside.
The two were named assistant GMs within days of each other back in the summer of 2019, replacements for Trajan Langdon who left Brooklyn for New Orleans, where he’s now the Pelicans GM.
Peterson is the more prominent of the two, his duties including amateur, aka college, scouting and acting as a “sounding board” for Marks on a number of issues. Mike Vorkunov profiles the 33-year-old for The Athletic’s inaugural “40 Under 40”, a list that also includes Matt Tellem, the Nets director of strategic planning.
In talking to Vorkunov about his No. 2, Marks extolled Peterson’s skills and personality.
“There are people who can have honest conversations, peer-to-peer — I could have a conversation with the GM, players can talk to players, coaches talk to coaches. Jeff is a rare breed that can talk across platforms,” Marks said. “So he can have a very honest conversation with a player. He’s had that multiple times. Get the message across, he’s not afraid.
“He’ll have the same conversations with coaches. He’ll have the same conversation with the front office. He’ll have the same conversation with our ownership group. So when you’re able to like be true to who you are across all of that and not be afraid. That’s a talent.”
it was a talent honed in Atlanta where he spent seven years, ending up as an assistant GM for what a successful Hawks rebuild. Marks said that he hired Peterson after noticing his easy rapport.
As the person in charge of the Nets scouting operations in recent years, he obviously played a big role in getting Brooklyn to take Cam Thomas, easily one of the top steals of the 2021 Draft as well as Kessler Edwards who started 20 games this season.
The sounding board role cuts across a variety of responsibilities in Marks’ position-less management system.
“He is not afraid to get a little dirty,” Marks said. “Just because you’re the assistant GM doesn’t mean you can’t do some of the other tasks, and I think for what we do here, we’re responsible for everything. Titles don’t mean anything. So it doesn’t matter who has a great idea, whether it’s a draft pick, a free agent, or whatever or trade and Jeff is somebody who’s a great listener.
“I think that certainly helps you know, if you have a leader that listens to people, and I think that he does that really well. I think that that’s why his peers look up to him.”
He has also played a role in recruiting others to Brooklyn. His (and Birdsong’s) connections with Kyle Korver from their Atlanta days helped Marks recruit the recently retired sharpshooter. Also, although Vorkunov doesn’t mention it, Peterson is also the highest ranking Black in the Nets organization.
One reason Peterson liked the idea of Brooklyn was its ability to attract superstars. By the time he was hired in late May 2019, the Nets had moved into contention for free agents Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving who they got to sign a month later. KD was no stranger to Peterson. They had known each other since they were teenagers in Maryland, playing on the same AAU team.
“So much of this business is being able to have that relationship, especially those quote-unquote star players, whatever it may be, but it’s being able to see how those guys interact and communicate with them on a daily basis,” Peterson said.
What’s the future for Peterson? Very likely a team of his own. He was interviewed for the open Pistons GM spot in 2020 and as Vorkunov writes, he prepares for that opportunity every day.
Peterson keeps a running document on his phone in an app. He’ll jot them down while at home or on the team plane, pulling ideas not only from his experience but from books and podcasts and listening to general managers in others sports. He labeled the notes “Thoughts” — on team building, basketball operations and everything else.
The Nets have, as The Athletic notes, “a talented and busy front office,” and despite their current predicament. They keep producing people like Peterson and Tellem. whose “strategic planning” job encompasses everything from working with Matt Riccardi, the Long Island GM, to capology to gathering intelligence on what’s happening around the league.
In the latest episode of “The Bridge,” the organization’s video magazine, there’s a quick sequence of video clips from the trade deadline. There’s a lot of young faces interacting with Marks: 30-somethings like Peterson, Tellem, Birdsong, Riccardi, Ryan Gisriel, director of basketball operations, and Rami Antoun, who models player contracts as part of his analytics work. There are even some 20-somethings like Makar Gevorkian, the new capologist.
Bottom line: Like Peterson, some of them may find other, bigger jobs but the lure of New York and the Nets rep should keep that talent pool full.
- NBA 40 under 40: Nets assistant GM Jeff Peterson may soon run his own team, and he’s got some thoughts on how to do it - Mike Vorkunov - The Athletic
- NBA 40 Under 40: The executives, coaches and agents shaping the basketball world —and the future - Mike Vorkunov - The Athletic