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Sean Marks: ‘I’m not gonna sugarcoat it’

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NBA: Chicago Bulls at Brooklyn Nets Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Sean Marks addressed reporters before the tip-off of Thursday’s game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Chicago Bulls. For the first time since trading away Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to the Phoenix Suns and the Dallas Mavericks, respectively, for Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Spencer Dinwiddie, five unprotected first-round picks, a first-round draft swap, four second-round picks, and two trade exceptions of $18.1 and $5.0 million.

He began by welcoming the new additions to the team.

“I’m extremely thrilled to welcome the new additions to the team. Spencer, Dorian, Mikal and Cam,” said Marks. “So we have been on these guys, watching them for quite some time dating all the way back to their college days and so forth. And to be able to bring in guys with this type of character, this type of competitiveness and the versatile nature that all three will bring to this team. So we welcome them to our Nets family, and I think they’re going to really thrive under JV’s system and with a current group that we have. So I’m excited. I know the group is excited about getting together and getting these guys out there.”

Of course, in doing so, the Nets had to trade away the guy who could very well be the greatest player in franchise history, Kevin Durant, who in three seasons made a profound impact on the franchise averaging 29 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 5.8 assists on a 53.5/40/91 shooting line in 129 games. Durant was moved to Phoenix, his preferred option, in the middle of the night on Thursday.

“Look, I’m not gonna sugarcoat it. It’s always difficult when you’re trading a player of that stature and that ilk; very difficult. My job as a GM and our job as a front office is to try and bring in that caliber of talent and so forth. So those decisions are not easy. They come with a lot of thought, a lot of process, a lot of systematic debriefs and discussions that go along with that,” said Marks. “But at the same time, to be able to move Kevin to a place where he will have success and they will enter into their championship window.”

Moving Durant became an option when Kyrie Irving put in a trade request earlier in the week. The Nets eventually honored that request and moved Irving, who averaged 27.1 points and 5.7 assists on 49.1/39.7/90.7 shooting, to Dallas. Irving and the Nets were unable to come to an agreement on a contract extension. The Nets wanted to include contract stipulations related to games played in Irving’s next contract, which Kyrie’s camp did not agree with, which prompted both sides to part ways.

“I don’t think anything has surprised me now. You know, just being in the NBA,” Marks said. “Things change on a daily basis. But again, it is our job to sort of know the lay of the land here. When a request like that does come in, it’s just to go back and to have done our due diligence and know whether it’s what the asking price is or where we want to go and also just have good communication with that particular player, with Kyrie.”

Marks was asked multiple questions about Irving and Durant’s motivations to exit Brooklyn, to which he quickly responded he felt it wasn’t his place to speak for either player.

Irving and the Nets’ relationship was tumultuous, to put it lightly, as the talented guard missed a multitude of games after refusing to adhere to New York City’s COVID-19 mandate in 2021-22. Then, a team-enforced suspension for posting a link to a documentary containing anti-semitic tropes on his social media channels caused him to miss eight games this season. Availability was always the question with Irving, which Marks touched on with a not-so-subtle shot when talking about the team’s future.

“My goal here, and our goal is from ownership all the way down, is to put something out on the floor that everybody can be proud of. You can see consistent effort, you can see availability, and you can see a competitive spirit,” said Marks. “Everybody playing a great brand of basketball.”

Talent was never the issue in Brooklyn. The Nets employed three superstars throughout the last four years—Irving, Durant, and James Harden—with those three supernova talents overlapping for just under one calendar year while chasing a championship. Ultimately, it was luck that doomed the Nets. Irving and Harden got hurt in the 2021 playoffs with a torn hamstring and a sprained ankle, respectively, causing Brooklyn to lose in seven hard-fought games to the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in the second round. Then, the COVID-19 virus robbed the Nets of the needed continuity to make a deep run in the 2022 playoffs, getting swept by the finalist Boston Celtics. Those two flameouts were to some degree the reason all three stars—Irving, Durant, and Harden—asked out of Brooklyn. Winning does, after all, cure everything.

“If you go back and look at what’s happened to the entire world, I’m not in the business of making excuses, but you look at what we’ve all been through over three years, right? There’s been ins and outs through our daily life with COVID and everything else and we’ve had—a pulled hamstring, we’ve had a rolled ankle—we’ve had a lot of frustration with not being able to get that group on the court consistently and see what it really looks like.”

Marks got reflective on the last three years of contention, entertaining the idea that it’s easy to say the Irving and Durant era “didn’t work.” That said, he was proud of the work the organization did to put itself in the best possible spot to compete for championships. That said, he later noted he was “sad” that things didn’t work out with Brooklyn ultimately hoisting the Larry O’Brien championship trophy.

“We’ve done a lot of thinking and soul searching on this and we’ve said, ‘Well, we did everything we possibly could to maximize this organization’s potential. To have ourselves in the competition for a championship,” Marks said.

When looking at the road ahead, Marks expressed confidence about being able to rebuild into a championship contender once more. With a cadre of assets—Bridges, Johnson, Finney-Smith, Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, expiring contract Seth Curry, Royce O’Neale, and Ben Simmons—and a chest of draft capital that’s been replenished thanks to the deals for Irving and Durant, Brooklyn should be in good shape to build something sustainable. The Nets can also just keep the players currently on the roster and attract the next unhappy star with an intriguing supporting cast.

“I think we have this front office and this organization, and honestly with Joe (Tsai) and Clara (Wu Tsai), have shown the ability to put full resources behind making Brooklyn the championship contender, and that’s exactly what the goal is going to be moving forward here. So we’ll go about building it a little bit different way, yeah, cause the last time I took over I didn’t have anything (in terms of draft picks). So it definitely looks different. What we’re starting with right now it looks different. But again, I don’t want to say this is not a total retool. I mean, we have guys in that room that I’m extremely proud of and they’re going to compete.”

Obviously, losing three superstars in one calendar year is a tough pill to swallow. Fans of the team have not been happy, to put it lightly, with the front office after the conclusion of this era. Marks was asked if he feels he needs to “win back the fanbase,” to which he responded:

“I don’t think we’ve ever taken anything for granted. I’ve talked to hundreds of fans here on a game-by-game basis, and I don’t take that for granted. We’ve got an incredible opportunity to do something in this borough and that hasn’t left me from the minute I wanted to come here and be a part of something, build something here in Brooklyn,” said Marks. “Nothing’s changed. I think we certainly owe it to these fans on a daily basis. I think that’s the way we approached this—is put something out there that the fans can be proud of and find young men that this borough can really get behind. To do something special in Brooklyn, there’s gonna be nothing like that.”

Then finally, Marks showered the two additions from the Durant blockbuster, Johnson and Bridges, with praise. He touted both players’ versatility and upside. Bridges is in the midst of a career year, averaging 17.2 points on 46.3% shooting and 38.7% from three. He’s also an iron man and has played in 400 consecutive games, including the postseason. Johnson, meanwhile, is shooting the lights out of the three-ball at 45.5%, a career-best.

“Well, watching them over the course of their careers, you know, just the versatility, the improvement. They’ve continued to make jumps every single year in different areas, different facets of the game. I mean, we’ve talked internally about how great a defender Mikal is. He guards multiple positions out there, we love his versatility. I think he’s really underrated and I look forward to him just watching him kind of explode here, to be really honest,” said Marks. “And then Cam, we’ve watched him all through college again, and you see the size and the versatility of what he can do. The shooting percentages, his ability to stretch the floor, the length, and so forth.”

He then gave his scouting report on Dinwiddie, who spent five seasons in Brooklyn from 2016 to 2021, and Finney-Smith. Like Bridges and Johnson, Marks loved their versatility as players. Dinwiddie, in particular, is having an excellent season with 17.7 points on a career-best 45.5% from the field and a career-best 40.5% from three. Finney-Smith, meanwhile, has continued to uphold his reputation as a tenacious defender.

“We know Spencer extremely well. So the size of Spencer at a point guard position, his speed, his ability to touch the paint. He knows the lay of the land here. There’s something to be said for that,” said Marks. “And Dorian is one of the premier defenders in the league, who is also able to extend that... To be able to add those guys to this group, we’re really thrilled about this.”