Were the Nets ever interested in Damian Lillard? It was a recurring subject of punditry and fan debate over the summer, even as late as last week when it was revealed that Lillard’s agent had approached the Nets as well as the Bucks about the possibility. At the time, there were reports from various and anonymous sources that Brooklyn was not interested, “never involved,” as one league source told NetsDaily.
On Monday, in talking with Frank Isola and Bob Lorenz of YES Network, Sean Marks went on the record for the first time re any interest in Lillard, stating there were never any substantive talks between Brooklyn and Portland about a trade that would have sent the seven-time All-NBA guard to the Nets.
“I normally don’t comment on things like this — what happened — but no, there’s no substance there,” Marks told Isola, saying it had nothing to do with Lillard’s talent or value, but the Nets long-term planning.
“We talked openly, JV and myself and owner Joe Tsai, about how we’re going to build this thing, not necessarily taking our time but we’re always going to look under every stone and every rock and we’re excited about seeing this group, a young group going out there which to be quite frank all have chips on their shoulder, something to prove, for all different reasons at all different levels.
“He’s an amazing player, an amazing talent, an amazing individual. We’ve followed him for years. To have someone like that in your organization, yeah, everyone is going to say ‘why not? how can we do it,’ but you have to look at what fits long term for you, what’s your approach now? does that make you a contender? make you automatically a contender? what do you have to do as well as that? Because one move might not get it done. You have to do several to put yourself in a place where you are contender. For us right now, we’re excited about getting this group out there on the floor.”
Lillard, 33 years old, had his best statistical season in 2022-23, including the league’s highest scoring game, with 71 points, but he has four years and $216 million left on his deal, including a $62.3 million payout in the season when he turns 37.
Indeed, a league source not associated with the Nets told NetsDaily that speculation around the league was that the Blazers’ asking price would have started with Nic Claxton and include several of the multitude of picks the Nets received in the trades for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving at the deadline.
Marks admitted that the price tag for Lillard factored into the Nets thinking.
“Everything factors into it. Your time horizon, who you’re going to have to give up, what draft assets you’d have to give up and so forth. So you’re weighing all those factors, whether this is the right time to do all that.”
The Lillard discussion was part of the YES Network’s 11-minute interview of Marks who YES identified not just as general manager but also the team’s “alternate governor,” a league title that not all NBA GMs have. Although much of what Marks talked about had been gone over at the press conference the GM and head coach Jacque Vaughn had last week, there were other details Isola and Lorenz hit on.
Marks, discussing the deadline deal that sent Kevin Durant to Phoenix, said he believed that everyone won in the trade, the Suns got what they wanted for a championship run, KD got a chance at adding to his legacy while the Nets got assets for their reset. They may not have wanted to trade Durant — and in doing so, admit they had failed in their own pursuit of a championship — but believe they set the stage for their next steps.
“It’s always difficult when you trade a player of Kevin’s talent and ability and no one looks forward to moving off a player like Kevin but I think both sides win here,” Marks said.
“Kevin goes there and hopefully competes for a championship and more importantly for us, we’re absolutely ecstatic about the return we got to have those young players on our roster right now with the Draft assets and how we use them, whether we build through the draft or free agency or trades. It’s given us a pathway and given us opportunities and so forth. We’ll just see which avenue we go down.”
He said in fact that he has been surprised at Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, that they’re better players and individuals than he anticipated.
“It’s interesting. I never want to limit any on our players too,” he said. “You see them from afar and you think, ‘He looks like a heck of a player. Is he really that good? You see the intel. You speak to people and you hear, ‘he’s a tremendous teammate’. Then, you get guys like Cam and Mikal — and Spencer and Dorian and the rest of the guys we got in the trades — and you realize they’re actually better than we thought and it’s reassuring. They’re competitive and fire is probably not spoken about enough.
“Yes, they’re great guys but great guys can compete too. It will be exciting to see how they can take another step ... all of them.”
Nic Claxton also got praise from Marks who said he has not been surprised at his center’s progress, that the team has been high on his prospects since the 2019 Draft when Claxton was taken with the first pick in the second round. He added that he expects Claxton to take another step offensively.
“First of all, I’ve got to give our scouts a lot of credit. B.J. Johnson, who runs our draft and does a great job, was extremely high on Nic. We laugh about it all the time. So he obviously saw something very high on Nic and where he could get to and so forth.
“Has Nic exceeded our expectations? I don’t think so. I think we believed in him from Day One. We knew he’s such a versatile player ... both ends of the court. I don’t think he’s even shown what he can do offensively and again another guy who’s put in a lot of work in this season.”
Marks also told Isola and Lorenz that Claxton is not intimidated by anyone, including the East’s top bigs, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid.
“Absolutely. When you’re in the East, he’s going to have to go up against a lot of different bigs which is great for Nic and he’s never shied away,” he said.
The GM also praised his two biggest off-season acquisitions: Lonnie Walker IV — a “hired gun” — and Dennis Smith Jr. — “holding everyone accountable,” noting a number of those signed to deals whether vets minimums, non-guaranteed contracts etc. are playing with “chips on their shoulders.”
As for when the next window will open for the Nets to contend, Marks had this to say:
“You never really know when your window is, when you need to really go jump back into it. We’ll wait for those opportunities,” he told the YES interviewers. “But again, I don’t want to discredit the guys who we have. It will be fun to see who can take the next step with this group, who’s going to be a Net for a long term, who’s going to be worthy of that, who rises to the occasion and so forth. It’s fun to have these draft assets. We love the Draft and we love looking forward to that in the future.”