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Lewis: Sean Marks expected back as Nets GM

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

With his second rebuild of the Nets well underway, Sean Marks is expected to return as Nets general manager next season, Brian Lewis reports Wednesday.

Despite overseeing one of the most turbulent campaigns in recent memory this season, Nets general manager Sean Marks is expected back for the next, sources told The Post...

[A] highly placed league source told The Post that “ownership has full confidence in that front office to build for the future.”

The apparent move to keep Marks in charge of Brooklyn’s fortunes comes a month after the team had to shed the centerpieces of Marks’ first rebuild, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, after both asked out within days, and four months after Marks had to dump Steve Nash, his hand-picked choice for head coach. The two trade requests, coming within hours of one another, forced the 47-year-old GM to make two trades that ultimately involved five teams and returned four players, five first round picks, a first round swap, four second rounders, and two large trade exceptions.

Although he lost KD and Kyrie, two of the league’s best, if controversial players, Marks seems to have acquired pieces needed for a rebuild, one of which, Mikal Bridges, seems destined to be not just a fitting piece for the new-look Nets but a possible superstar down the road. He also added stability to the coaching staff, extending Jacque Vaughn as head coach for four years after this one.

At the time of the trades with Phoenix for Durant and with Dallas for Irving, nothing looked certain. The failure of the Nets to hold on the Big Three “was lambasted in some quarters as the NBA’s worst failure in decades and had some speculating that Marks could end up being ousted,” as Lewis writes. But Marks’ relationship with Joe Tsai, described as being “in lock step” and “like peas in a pod,” seems to have carried more weight.

Helping his cause of course has been the performance of Bridges as well as two of the other players acquired in the big trades. Bridges, who Adrian Wojnarowski said at the time of the KD trade Marks had “long coveted,” has been a revelation. Since landing in Brooklyn, he has made NBA history by becoming the first player to ever average 25 points a game with shooting splits of better than 50/40/90 in his first 10 games.

Bridges, in fact, has been getting better. In the last six games, the last three of which the Nets won, he’s averaged 29.5 points a game, Similarly, Spencer Dinwiddie has averaged 21.0 and Cam Johnson 18.5 over that same stretch. The fourth player the Nets acquired, Dorian Finney-Smith, has had a bit of an up-and-down entrance but was a force in the Nets big signature win over the Celtics Friday night with 17 points, nine rebounds and five 3-pointers.

The “haul,” as many have written, was a good one, considering that Durant and Irving wanted out. According to ESPN’s reporting on how the KD trade went down, Tsai and Marks worked in tandem to the most out of the Suns’ new owner, Mat Ishbia, who desperately wanted Durant. Per Brian Windhorst and Ramona Shelburne, Suns GM James Jones initially resisted giving up Bridges and wanted protections on some of the four firsts but Marks said that was all non-negotiable. Then, near the end of the trade talks, Marks demanded that Jae Crowder also be included. He was able to roll Crowder and the other pieces into a big, four-team deal, getting two seconds for Crowder and (more importantly perhaps) an $18.1 million trade exception to facilitate a big deal in the summer or at next year’s deadline.

Of course, Marks still has a long way to go before he can build a roster like the one he put together in 2020-21 which had not only Durant and Irving but also James Harden. That group, heavily favored to win it all, instead fell well short due to injuries and Irving’s refusal to get vaccinated, a violation of New York City mandates. In the end, Brooklyn wound up with a sweep at the hands of the Celtics and Ben Simmons whose own injuries have limited his availability. Indeed, there are those who wonder whether Simmons, who still has three years and $114 million on his deal, could be an impediment to any serious rebuild.

Apparently, though, Tsai’s faith in Marks — and the GM’s record of success leading up to the Clean Sweep in 2019 — won the day. As Lewis notes, Marks arrived during the 2015-16 season and took over not just the league’s worst team but one without draft picks in the first or second round going forward. He rebuilt it into an attractive landing spot for free agents. Marks has other allies as well as Tsai in the organization, as Lewis points out.

“[H]e’s always made the most of the situation, whether that’s free agents coming and going,” Joe Harris, the longest serving Net player, told Lewis. “I feel like just genuinely across the board, he brings in sort of like-minded people where there’s a level of just humility, togetherness, unity, where, you’re trying to play and do stuff the right way. And that’s been a pretty consistent theme since I’ve been in Brooklyn.”

The status of Marks’ contract with the Nets is unknown, as Lewis notes. He originally signed near the end of the 2015-16 season, then was extended for an uncertain term in the 2018-19 season.